If there was ever a time where knockout qualifying resembled the previous one-car-at-a-time qualifying format, Friday at Auto Club Speedway was it.
Beause of the abrasive nature of the asphalt at ACS, most teams elected to make one qualifying lap in each of the three qualifying rounds, much like in a regular one-and-done format. The man on top after the third round? Matt Kenseth, who will start first for Sunday's race after he won the final session.
Brad Keselowski continued Team Penske's run of good qualifying form and will start second. His teammate Joey Logano is seventh. Between them are Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon.
Teams are not allowed to change tires in NASCAR's new qualifying format. While speeds may increase throughout qualifying at other tracks due to minor adjustments and drivers' adrenaline, that wasn't the case Friday. The rough track meant that every additional lap on a set of tires meant a a slower maximum speed. If a driver didn't get the most out of his or her car on the first lap, a second qualifying attempt was monumentally tougher.
Some were successful at it thanks to cooling track temperatures, like Greg Biffle, who was able to knock out Jamie McMurray from the top 24 at the end of the first round. But most drivers didn't even elect to try a second lap.
ACS has been become a darling of NASCAR over the past couple of years, and for good reason. In addition to the great finish of last year (wreck excluded) amongst Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, the tire wear and multiple grooves at the track produce ample passing, especially for a two-mile circuit. But the same ingredients that produce a great race may not produce a great qualifying session.
Friday's qualifying wasn't unentertaining, but it may be proof that the recipe for what makes a good 400 or 500-mile race doesn't necessarily taste good for a qualifying format such as this. This qualifying format is predicated on drivers making multiple runs in a session. Granted, many drivers waited until the middle and end portions of the first 25-minute session to make their qualifying attempt, but it's obvious that a majority of 40+ drivers making a single lap in 25 minutes isn't the most dynamic of sessions. (With two minutes to go in the final session, just four drivers had completed a run.)
But just like the races on the Sprint Cup schedule, not everything can be incredibly entertaining. If qualifying drama is ratcheted down just a bit at the expense of the drama and qualiity of the racing that is to follow, you're not going to find too many people complaining.
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