NASCAR: McMurray, Allmendinger focusing on new qualifying format at Sonoma

Leave a comment

NASCAR’s knockout-style qualifying format will make its Sprint Cup road-course debut tomorrow afternoon at Sonoma Raceway, and it has many in the paddock wondering about their strategy for it.

Among that group is Jamie McMurray and A.J. Allmendinger, who are also among the winless drivers that are searching for a win that can get them into the Chase.

McMurray won the pole for last year’s Sonoma race, but that involved a different format.

In 2013, NASCAR used a group qualifying format on road courses in which groups of five or six cars had five minutes of green flag time to set their fastest laps.

But this year, Sonoma will utilize the two-round version of the knockout format that took hold in Sprint Cup following this year’s Daytona 500.

For his part, McMurray expects to see most guys run one flyer and have that be their best for each round.

“When we look back to last year, it was about a second a lap slower your second time on the track, so I think it’s all about getting that perfect lap,” he said this morning before Cup practice got underway.

“It’s a little different now, because last year they started the [group] qualifying where you’d get to have multiple laps. But your best situation is to put the most tape on the car for one lap and have the air pressures up for just one lap and put it all on the line.

“Even though you have the option to run more, I really think the pole guy will do it with the most tape on and then, his first time by.”

As for Allmendinger, who many are keeping an eye on as a dark horse this weekend, he’s particularly concerned about the matter of running into slower cars that can ruin a potential pole run.

For the most part, Allmendinger feels that teams have done a good job this year working with each other to make sure that conflict doesn’t emerge.

But on Sonoma’s narrow circuit, the best intentions may not be enough.

“You can sit here on pit road and say ‘There’s nobody coming into Turn 11 for 10 seconds, roll out and you’ll have a clean lap,'” he said. “But by the time you get back to 11 and start your lap, how many cars have rolled out?

Indeed, in the first round of qualifying, getting a clean lap will likely be the most perilous challenge of all.

“The first group, you’re going to have a lot of cars that are on a cool-down lap or trying to get their tires in when somebody’s on a hot lap,” he said.

“It’s hard to hide around here. You can’t really hide and get out of the way, so I think that is what will be the most critical.”

Davison, Daly, Kaiser, highlight underdogs of Indy 500 qualifying

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

James Davison and Kyle Kaiser had uphill battles ahead of qualifying for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Davison, in a one-off joint effort involving A.J. Foyt Racing, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, and Belardi Auto Racing, appeared to have enough speed to make the “500” field, but a crash on “Fast Friday” put all those hopes in big jeopardy as the team needed to scramble to repair the No. 33 Jonathan Byrd’s Chevrolet in time for qualifying.

However, thanks to a herculean effort that saw the team stay at the track until the early hours of Saturday morning, the car was repaired in time for qualifying, and the team survived a chaotic final hour that saw Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe, and Pippa Mann all vying alongside them for the final two spots in the field.

In the end, Davison survived the bumping to make the 33-car field, taking the 33rd and final spot in Saturday, and saw a dramatic increase in speed on Sunday to average 226.255 mph, putting him a very solid 19th on the grid.

An emotional James Davison walks back into Gasoline Alley after making the Indianapolis 500 field on Saturday. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s been an incredible weekend for the team after our mishap on Friday,” Davison revealed after Sunday’s qualifying.

He continued, “We had to endure a very long night, obviously it’s always depressing when you have a crashed car around here. We punched above our weight on bump day, and got ourselves in, but didn’t show our hand. We really laid it down on pole day to move from 33rd to 19th. It’s basically two days in a row the team has been rewarded for their hard work, making the show and moving up 14 positions on the grid. Unexpected results are always really nice in motorsports and we got that today with our improvement, substantially. Just very proud of the entire team and want to keep the momentum going next week.”

Conor Daly, too, had a stressful Saturday, as his No. 17 United States Air Force Honda – a joint effort with Dale Coyne Racing and Thom Burns Racing – lacked speed most of the week.

“Fast Friday” yielded some promise, as his quickest no-tow speed was 226.752 mph, good enough for 26th on the no-tow chart that day.

Saturday, however, proved a struggle. Unable to find the speed on his first two runs – he was bumped out of the field after his second attempt – he needed a third and final effort to make the field.

A four-lap average of 224.874 mph didn’t leave him much wiggle room, but it was just enough to get Daly into the field, as he took 32nd on the board. He’ll start 33rd after averaging 224.429 mph on Sunday.

Conor Daly survived a stressful qualifying weekend to make the Indy 500 field. Photo: IndyCar

“No dramas (on Sunday), but we’re fighting for miles an hour. All I can do is put my foot down and do the best we can for our incredible partners at the U.S. Air Force. It’s incredible to be here with them and at this point, I’m just thankful to be in the field. I’d like to be a lot quicker, but we’ll see what we can do in practice tomorrow to improve our race car,” Daly detailed after Day 2 of qualifying.

Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing faced a similar uphill battle, but theirs was down to experience. Juncos was entering its second “500” after debuting last year, and their debut wasn’t exactly a smooth one.

Spencer Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra only qualified 29th and 31st respectively, though Saavedra was able to finish on the lead lap in 15th. Pigot, meanwhile, fought major handling issues all race long and languished six laps off the lead at race’s end, finishing in 18th.

The 2018 outing didn’t appear much easier, as the team tackled it with rookie driver Kyle Kaiser, with last year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champ trying to make the “500” in his first attempt.

“Fast Friday” looked to be a bad omen, as they were 33rd on the no-tow speed charts at the end of the day.

But, Saturday qualifying saw a drastic turn in fortunes, and to the positive side. Kaiser qualified with a four-lap average of 225.934 moh, good enough for 21st at the day’s end, and putting them well clear of any bumping drama.

His Sunday run of 226.398 mph exceeded expectations even further, and he will start Sunday’s race in 17th.

Kyle Kaiser during Indy 500 qualifying. Photo: IndyCar

“What an amazing day. I am in shock right now that we are going to be starting 17th for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500,” an elated Kaiser exclaimed after Sunday. “It was a stellar performance by the team. They gave me a super quick car for qualifying. The conditions were very challenging as the wind picked up and it got really hot, but we made it through and put in the best lap in these conditions. I am so proud of the entire Juncos Racing crew and I am thrilled to represent NFP in the race next weekend.”

Follow@KyleMLavigne