DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – We can count Clint Bowyer as someone who isn't a fan of knockout qualifying at restrictor plate tracks.
Bowyer was taken out in a crash in the first round of pole qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Sunday. It's the first time NASCAR has tried the knockout qualifying format (introduced in 2014) for the Daytona 500. Instead of cars running one-by-one and the two fastest cars on raw speed earning the top two starting spots for the Daytona 500, cars are bunched into groups and drafting is imperative, just like it is in a race.
Bowyer got into the back of Reed Sorenson's car a lap earlier. The Impact crumpled Sorenson's right rear fender and a lap later, Sorenson got turned in front of Bowyer, collecting the driver of the No. 15, J.J. Yeley and others.
After being released from the infield care center (and animatedly having a word with Sorenson immediately after the crash), Bowyer unleashed his frustrations about what happened and the circumstances surrounding it.
"I wasn't behind [Sorenson]," Bowyer said. "He come flying around, come up on the apron, jumps in front of me then runs over [Justin Allgaier] in line, stacks us all up and I run in to him. It's idiotic to be out here doing this anyway. There's no sense in being able to try to put on some cute show or whatever the hell this is.
"And then you've got a guy out there in desperation doing this crap like this. I mean, it's just, there's no reason to be out here. These guys have spent six months working on these cars, busting their ass on these cars to have some guy out of desperation do that crap.
"But it ain't his fault. It's not. It's NASCAR's fault for putting us out here in the middle of this crap for nothing. We used to come down here and worry about who's going to sit on the front row and the pole for the biggest race of the year. Now all we do is come down here and worry about how a start and park like this out of desperation is going to knock us out of the Daytona 500.
"We've been in meetings for 45 minutes just trying to figure out what in the hell everybody's is going to do just so we could make the race. It's stupid. There's no sense in doing this."
Bowyer was caught up in a crash in Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited, meaning he totaled two cars in less than 24 hours. Sorenson's No. 44 team came without a backup car for Daytona and he said he was unsure of his team's plans after the crash.
Sorenson's team, an underfunded small team that doesn't attempt the full season, doesn't have the benefit of a high standing in NASCAR's owner's points to benefit from a provisional starting spot if the team had a poor qualifying effort.
“Yeah, [Bowyer] came up to the window," Sorenson said. "He was pretty upset. He has a right to be upset. I was trying to block. I think what he saw is what I was trying to do. I was just trying to stay in front of him to get that good lap. I didn’t think that he was all the way up to me yet. And, listening to my spotter, I was going high, and then he says going low and I went low as soon as he said that. The next thing I know, I’m spinning. I guess I didn’t think he was quite that far up. It’s just a product of trying to run that one good lap and I was trying to stay in front of that line. That was our only shot to run a good lap was to stay in front of him. You see blocking here all the time. It’s part of this racing and now it’s part of the qualifying here.”
While NASCAR has previously said it doesn't like drivers criticizing the on-track product (and drivers have been fined for doing so), Bowyer was hardly the only driver to disapprove of the qualifying format. He just was, understandably, the most vocal. Sunday afternoon, NASCAR Vice President Steve O'Donnell said drivers would not be fined for their comments about the qualifying format.
"I think what [NASCAR CEO Brian France] said is you can take us on," O'Donnell said. We're NASCAR, that's part of our job. When I look at the comments that Clint made or Tony made, those are based on wanting to see the best racing out there."
"So certainly tough to hear. But those are things we have to have conversations with them on and work with those guys to figure out if there's a better way to do it. We will do it. But it's not something we're going to fine the drivers for today."
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