With new rules in effect that ban cool-down laps during qualifying, Matt Kenseth is looking forward to a less stressful knockout session this afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Earlier this week, NASCAR enacted changes to their new qualifying format that also allowed teams to use cool-down units on pit road. The changes came in the nick of time, as the tight half-mile of Bristol Motor Speedway would’ve afforded little room for drivers to run slow laps in order to cool their engines.
“…I think it’s going to look more like a normal qualifying session except there will be more cars out there,” Kenseth said this morning before practice according to USA Today’s Nate Ryan.
“Everybody should be able to be more patient and pick and choose your time when you want to get rolling. Be able to wait for a clean lap and go.”
However, he did not have to go to a backup car like four others had to: Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier, Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle.
This morning, he noted the importance of keeping on top of the track conditions at this challenging course in addition to working in confined quarters.
“It definitely changes a lot during the weekend,” Kenseth added per Ryan. “I think the track is going to be drastically different here in a little while, and it probably will again in qualifying later this afternoon, and it will be in the race again. You always have to pay attention to that.”
The former Cup champion has been relatively strong in recent years at Bristol with a win, four Top-5s and seven Top-10s in his last nine visits to Thunder Valley.
He’s also led in each of his last five Bristol races for a total of 414 laps – the most of any driver in that span.
Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.
Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.
On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.
One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.
After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.
The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.
Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.
“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.
“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”
But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.
“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.
“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”
Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.
“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.
“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”
The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.