Following Sunday’s Daytona 500 group qualifying session, NASCAR made some key changes to the format ahead of qualifying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series. You can review those changes by clicking here.
One of the drivers happy about those changes is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who applauds NASCAR for looking for ways to improve and tweak the format.
“It works really well at all the other race tracks to try to find the right mix of excitement and professionalism and all those good things that you want to have in a show and in a qualifying segment,” he commented. “It’s going to take a pretty unique set of circumstances and guidelines and rules for group qualifying at the plate tracks. And I’m glad that they’re open to making moves and making changes and trying to learn from those changes.”
Earnhardt Jr. added that it’s nice to see NASCAR try and search for something that works for the drivers, but is also exciting to watch.
“We went away from single car runs for several different reasons and it wasn’t just choice by NASCAR itself,” he continued. “Owners had some influence and several different factors had influence on moving away from that and I understand that more than likely we’ll never go back to single car runs. So, if that’s the case we’ll be proactive in trying to find the solution that works for everybody and that’s exciting and professional on TV and from the cockpit of the car it looks good. So, I’m looking forward to how this works.”
While frustration was among the drivers about how the format worked, Earnhardt Jr. thought the final segment last weekend was exciting.
“There were only about 12 cars in that particular segment and we didn’t know if everybody was going to make it back to the line; sitting there and trying to go at the right time,” he said. “I thought it was pretty exciting, to be honest with you. And I’m sitting there coming to the flag stand for the green. TJ (Majors, spotter) is counting down the seconds in my ear. I’m wondering whether the rest of the pack is going to make it across. It was touch and go there. I enjoyed that.”
While that was exciting, though, Earnhardt admitted that it was “a little worrisome” watching guys drive through the grass and almost wreck on pit road as they tried to get in line. That has been addressed in the changes, as the NASCAR press release states “worth noting that the vehicles participating in the next group session, will be staged single file starting at pit stall one, with their left side tires just outside the outer line of the pit box. There will be adequate spacing between vehicles to allow drivers to advance to the track at their own discretion”, as well as “once a vehicle moves from the staging area, it must continue to the track and cannot stop”.
NASCAR also shortened the segments from five minutes to two minutes and 30 seconds to avoid the time that drivers spend sitting on pit road waiting out the clock. Earnhardt Jr. feels that is a good change as “waiting on pit road feels kind of clunky and unnatural”.
“Everybody wants to be last so you can get the best draft. We all understand that. So, obviously it’s almost pointless to have the extra time if you’re going to wait until the end anyway,” he expaliend. “So, cutting down the segments may work well and just alleviate some of that waiting and anticipation. Guys are still going to wait until the very last minute. We’re really trying to do exact math to understand exactly when we need to leave pit road to be able to cross the finish line and get the green in time to make a lap. So, you want to wait until the last possible minute. Hopefully some guys, like myself, jump a little too early like we did in that last segment. We went when we thought we needed to go, but it was still too quick.
“It’s a bit of a new audience and I’m told it’s a new time and a new place and a new era. And so thing have got to change and things can’t always stay the same. I definitely had hoped that the changes we’re making improve the situation and make it better for everybody.”