By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Qualifying in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has become the true hot bed of controversy in recent weeks.
Many drivers have been critical, but for one team, they’re as vocal than most and that’s Stewart-Haas Racing, who’s quartet competitors of Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Suarez endured the emotions and drama the latest qualifying format provided Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.
The best way to describe the session is none other than Clint Eastwood’s classic 1966 film “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” as the only good outcome from the four-car effort was Suarez, who was the only member making it to the final round with a wise strategy, running his qualifying lap alone in the early stages of the final round, good enough to end up fourth quickest at 187.885 mph.
Suarez stated the whole idea of running solo was his, knowing that everyone was going to sit in the pits until the closing minutes of the final round, so he took advantage of the time and didn’t have to put up with the madness.
“I was planning to go by myself without helping anyone, so I waited until everyone was shut off so I could go quick and they didn’t have time to re-fire and then go. That part played out well,” said Suarez. “The part that we just missed a little bit is that we were expecting them to make more mistakes or to wait a little bit longer, but they didn’t. It was a good effort. That was our gamble. We were out of trouble and the car was good, fast and we didn’t have to work as hard as they did that’s for sure.”
Despite being one of the only drivers that appeared happy, Suarez added that he’s not all that satisfied with his car on race trim, but a strong qualifying run boosted the morale of he and his entire No. 41 team.
“I feel pretty good, but not for the race yet,” said Suarez. “I feel good about the speed our car showed today, but tomorrow we’re gonna focus on the race and see what we’ve got. But for today the guys did an amazing job. The car had top five, top 10 speed all day long by itself and that’s what counts.”
As for the remaining trio, two SHR drivers dealt the bad side of qualifying, failing to make the top-12 as Almirola and Harvick qualified 21st and 23rd respectively.
For Almirola, he was on the verge of a flyer but didn’t cross the line in time for his lap to count as time expired in the second round, giving him no other choice than to give up his run once he got the word from his spotter.
“Lap one my spotter said that the NASCAR tower said we didn’t cross the line, so I quit and did the right thing, and I guess I should have just kept going,” said Almirola.
Furthermore, he added that clogging up the pits wasn’t enforced that he thought it was going to be and, like many other drivers, intends of getting more answers.
“I learned some things today. I learned that we can clog the middle and that’s OK, and they’re not going to enforce that and they won’t penalize anybody for that, which I thought was gonna be pretty strictly enforced, especially this weekend with the new rules rolled out. I’m confused,” Almirola explained. “I’ve got to go up in the hauler and ask some questions because I did what I thought was “the right thing” attempting to leave pit road with two minutes to go and not even being able to leave the exit of pit lane with less than a minute left. I’m just frustrated. It’s chaotic. It’s silly.”
Harvick’s reflection also confusion and unable to really answer his thoughts about the format, suggesting to ask those who actually understand what’s going on.
“You just can’t qualify these cars this way. I love group qualifying, but I just laughed all the way out to the race track,” said Harvick in a sarcastic remark. “You’ll have to ask somebody that’s much smarter than me, obviously, because we’re not smart enough to make the rules. I thought the rules didn’t get enforced again for all those cars stopping in the middle, but I’m not 100 percent clear on the rules.”
Bowyer got the ugly end of the stick, not making it past the first round after missing the 24th and final spot by one position. After getting out his No. 14 Ford Mustang, he blasted NASCAR regarding the qualifying format.
Clint vents about the qualifying clog.
"An epic failure." pic.twitter.com/V1TjujEb3z
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) March 30, 2019
It’s far from the first qualifying system Bowyer criticized as he was on the spotlight after ranting about the 2015 Daytona 500 group qualifying session, where he and multiple drivers collected in a multi-car crash, stating that there’s no point of running together at a track like Daytona. The concept was dropped and went back to single-car qualifying session that’s stuck around ever since.
Four years later at Texas, Bowyer’s main criticism going into qualifying was the fear of cars clogging up the pit lane, which came into fruition after he tried going out to make a qualifying run, but Ryan Newman prevented him from getting out earlier and felt more frustrated for the fans, who may have been robbed from a quality session.
“I guess this a make-up-the-rules-as-we-go event in qualifying. It’s sad,” said Bowyer. “Those people up there paid a lot of money to bring their families here to watch a qualifying session where people try to go out and do their best and you’re just sitting around waiting because you know your best is only good enough if the guy in front of you does a good job. That’s not qualifying. Whatever.”
Bowyer commented that in order to make the “epic fail” session better is to learn from it and figure something out, otherwise his encounter with Newman will be common ground, to the point that clogging can cause a wreck.
“Yeah, learn from your mistakes. That’s how you get better,” said Bowyer. “Learn from your mistakes. We already had this failure and here we are doing it again.
“You’ve got to figure something else out. When it doesn’t work you just can’t keep trying it. We’re lucky that these keep happening.Wait until a wreck happens on pit road. We all know it’s coming. You can’t go too fast because you’ll be caught speeding, but you can’t go too slow because it’s discretionary. Well, what the hell speed am I supposed to go? Just tell me when to go and maybe I’ll just do that.”
Jimmie Johnson will lead the field to the green flag for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, his first pole since 2016. The race will be televised live on Fox, with radio coverage coming from PRN at 3:00 pm EST. The race will be 334 laps.