Drivers lobby NASCAR to let them cool cars in pits during qualifying

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After making its debut today at Phoenix International Raceway, we can say NASCAR’s new knock-out qualifying format is more interesting than its former single-car qualifying format. But it’s definitely still a work in progress.

For example, one of the more notable instances from today’s session was drivers turning slow laps and cutting their motors on the track in an attempt to cool their cars down enough for one more hot lap. Under the rules of the new format, teams are not allowed to cool the cars down on pit road.

The slow laps made for a bit of a lull in the session, but more importantly, they’re a potential safety issue.

“When you’re going out there and you’re going 100 mph slower, the closing rate is really fast, so it gets kind of scary,” said Team Penske’s Joey Logano after qualifying on the front row for Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500.

Jamie McMurray (pictured), who qualified third on the inside of Row 2 for Sunday’s event, believed that the sanctioning body should consider allowing the teams to be able to cool their cars in the pits.

“When we do normal qualifying runs and you shut the car off at the start/finish line and coast back to the garage – when you start the car back up, it’s had enough time to push the air through the radiator that when you start it up, it cools down 20 degrees. Everybody already knew that and I think it’d be hard to police on NASCAR’s side,” McMurray said.

“I mean, I’m answering your question with a statement – I think they need to let us cool the engines down so we can run full tape [on the grill] the whole time and eliminate that.”

McMurray believes that such a scenario would make it easier on teams to adjust their cars knowing they don’t have to gauge the temperature and decide if they need to pull tape off.

Furthermore, he believes it would be less costly for the teams as well.

“To me, what this will start is people buying expensive batteries so you can run better fans on the radiators to push more air – to me, it’ll just save everybody more money if we can just do the cool-down unit.”

Logano, perhaps noting the down time in the session, chimed in as well: “The cars would also go out more often. It takes so long to cool, so if you can do it in five minutes and go back out, there would be more cars on the race track to do a hot lap.”

As for NASCAR’s viewpoint, vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said that the reason for not having cool-down units used was to ensure that the hoods would stay closed and illegal adjustments to the car would not be made.

“Like everything we’ve been able to do the last 4-6 months, we’ll continue to talk to the drivers and teams, and solicit feedback on how, if anything, we can improve,” he said.

“We heard some of the same [feedback] and we also heard drivers within the last 30 minutes stop by and say, ‘Don’t let anybody talk you into hooking up the cool-down units.’

“Because they feel it’s part of the strategy of how much tape you run, how many laps you run, how many times you run in the entire session. There are a whole menu of things that people want to work on and not work on.”

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.