Knockout qualifying is a step in the right direction for NASCAR

3 Comments

Depending on the track, NASCAR’s former single-car qualifying format could be a real yawner. NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying format for its top three national series won’t be.

For those of us that follow Formula One and the IndyCar Series, we’ve long been used to the knockout style. F1’s had a three-round format since the 2006 season, while IndyCar’s had their own since 2008.

To those NASCAR fans that aren’t as familiar with this form of qualifying, we say to them: You’re gonna have fun with this. And you can look forward to drama through both pure speed and plenty of strategy.

The best laps from each round get erased after each session, which means drivers will be forced to stay up on the wheel throughout the proceedings.

Meanwhile, their crew chiefs will have lots to think about, from when they’ll want to have their driver lay down a fast one (immediately or after they see how a few of their rivals fare) to how they’re gonna make it all work on a single set of tires.

But as NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton (a former crew chief himself) said on Wednesday, that will lead to multiple situations they can take advantage of.

“I think as we move through the season, it will take on a life of its own at different places where they will have different strategies, whether it’s working on the race set-ups, or if they want to be aggressive in one round or kind of lay-up in the other round, saving tires to just squeak into the final round and have the best tires,” he said.

With a limited number of adjustments only permitted during short breaks between the qualifying rounds, those crew chiefs must make the right calls. And if their drivers make a mistake and damage the car, crews won’t have the ability to make repairs on pit road or in the garage.

It’s a different beast for sure, and it will be fascinating to see how the teams figure out the new format in the initial race weekends following the Daytona 500 in March – Phoenix, Las Vegas, Bristol, Fontana, and Martinsville.

As for fans, they will get to taste both flavors of the format in March: A two-round version on the shorter tracks (One-mile Phoenix, and the half-miles of Bristol and Martinsville) and a three-round version at the bigger tracks (1.5-mile Las Vegas and two-mile Fontana).

Either way, the Top 12 left standing by the final round will get to settle the pole, as well as the first six rows of the starting grid, among themselves.

The fastest driver gets to start P1 at the green flag on race day, like always. The road to getting there will just be a little different.

And that road won’t be a boring one.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
1 Comment

Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.