NASCAR Group Road Course Qualifying: A Step towards More Road Course Races?
Road courses in NASCAR were formerly the equivalent of a distant family member, someone who appeared a few times a year, only to be scoffed at and ignored. Yet, over the course of the past few years, as NASCAR has shifted out of the Car of Tomorrow platform, the quality of racing on road courses Sonoma and Watkins Glen has increased astronomically.
The fans have been absolutely won over, even going as far as to recommend that a road course be seen in the Chase for The Sprint Cup (which features a distinct variety of courses … as we are told to believe).
Nonetheless, many fans were excited, myself included, to hear that NASCAR would be incorporating a group-style qualifying system, akin to the system already in place at the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series level.
Drivers are placed into groups based on practice speed, and then run on track at the same time with the fastest laps from the session counting for starting position. Although not as dramatic as a knockout system of qualifying, this does boast an incredible strategy change in not only how teams attack fuel load, tires and aggressiveness of setup, but also where a driver should position themselves as to avoid any traffic on the target fastest lap.
If the interpretation of the rules currently available is to be believed, NASCAR will also implement a system similar to an impound system at road courses. Despite cars being able to be modified, teams will not see any track time between Saturday qualifying sessions and the Sunday race. Surely, this will create some differing forms of strategy and make the open laps of the Sonoma race more interesting and uncertain than before.
Obviously, more road course races are still too far off to be realistic. The logistics of shipping a full race weekend to Montreal is not possible, and Road America is an incredibly difficult track with limited facilities to hold a full race weekend.
Yet, the hype, excitement, and aura of stock cars on road courses is now prevalent in the minds of race fans, and exciting qualifying sessions will only help boast that sensation, meaning a win-win for not only the tracks themselves, but NASCAR as a whole as it looks to expand its audience.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486