PHOENIX, Ariz. — Blog by Race Chaser Online West Coast Correspondent Ryan O’Hara — Matt Sullivan/Getty Images North America photo —
Three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon will lead the field to the green flag in his final appearance in the Great American Race, but that’s not what everyone was talking about on Sunday night after Coors Light Pole Qualifying.
Instead, the bizarre games of the group qualifying format — and the carnage that ensued — has been the talk of the town.
An incensed Clint Bowyer criticized NASCAR and the knockout qualifying format used for the Daytona 500 following a wreck that knocked out several cars during the first segment Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
Sorenson, driving for Team Xtreme Racing, was leading a group of cars on the outside lane when Bowyer made a daring move to the inside. Bowyer’s 5-Hour Energy Toyota made contact with Sorenson’s Golden Corral Chevrolet as he was being pushed by the BK Racing entry of J.J. Yeley, triggering the accident.
Bowyer exited his car before safety workers got to him, a violation of NASCAR rules, to speak to Sorenson — who was still in his race car.
Bowyer’s ire was triggered when Sorenson passed Bowyer coming off pit road and ran into the back of the No. 51 of Justin Allgaier, who was checking up from a slowed car ahead of him, causing an accordion.
“I was not behind the 44. He came flying around, came up on the apron, jumped in front of me, then runs over the 51, stacks us all up, and I ran into him,” Bowyer explained. “It is idiotic to be out here doing this anyway. There is no sense in being able to try and put on a cute show for whatever the hell this is.”
“These guys have spent six months working on these race cars, busting their (expletive) on these cars, to go out there and have some guy in desperation do that crap. It ain’t his fault,” Bowyer said. “It is NASCAR’s fault for putting us out here in the middle of this crap for nothing.”
Now, both Bowyer and Sorenson are scrambling to put together backup cars to be ready for Thursday’s Budweiser Duels. Bowyer, who also lost a car in Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited, said his team is in a very tough spot heading into the rest of Speedweeks.
“We’ve been in meetings for 45 minutes just trying to figure out what in the hell everybody is going to do just so we can make the race,” Bowyer said after qualifying on Sunday. “It’s stupid.”
Sorenson’s Team Xtreme Racing said on Twitter Sunday night that they are “in the process of getting a back up car to Daytona. Thanks (to all the fans) for all the well wishes and support.”
Add to the Bowyer/Sorenson crash the mind games played on pit road — where drivers would wait until the last possible moment to head out in the draft and Jimmie Johnson crossed the line as time expired in the final round to end up on the front row — and fans and drivers alike were left scratching their heads and asking “What on earth is this?”
Three-time series champion Tony Stewart echoed Bowyer’s frustrations with the group format on Twitter.
“Today used to be about showcasing the hard work from the teams over the winter, Stewart said. “Now, it a complete embarrassment for our series.”
As a champion of the sport, the duty of being an ambassador is a torched passed on down the line, which gave room for defending series champion Kevin Harvick to offer his thoughts.
“(I’m) excited about Thursday’s races — our car is extremely fast!” Harvick wrote. “(It) sucks that 56 years of tradition at Daytona where fast cars ruled (has) ended.”
The clamoring was loud enough that NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell had to address the media and drivers alike following qualifying, and O’Donnell admitted NASCAR will look into the format to make the qualifying experience the best possible for drivers and fans alike.
“We don’t want to see wrecks of any kind. It’s not lost on us how much work goes into these cars by the teams, the efforts for our biggest race of the year,” O’Donnell said. “When you hear from Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, that’s passion. This is the biggest race of the year. They want to make the race. We understand that. So it’s 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.”
“I believe we’ve got a really good track record of making adjustments where we need to, so we’ll certainly evaluate what took place today, we’ll continue to get feedback from the industry, from the drivers as we did to get to where we were today.”
At the end of the day, the drama that unfolded at Daytona International Speedway during pole qualifying made a lot of noise. A little bit of it was good, in the form of Jeff Gordon giving NASCAR a fantastic storyline heading into the 57th Daytona 500. But a lot of it was chaotic and frustrating for drivers, fans and even the sport’s top brass to hear.
But through all of the ruckus, it did tell me one thing.
Group qualifying is electrifying when it is on a non-plate track.
Group qualifying at a plate track is ludicrous.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.