NASCAR has updated its qualifying rules after a debacle at the Auto Club 400 event in Fontana, Calif., on March 17 that saw none of the final 12 cars set an official time.
The cars all parked at the pit road exit waiting to leave at the last possible moment for the 5-minute session because no one wanted to attempt a lap on their own without being able to draft off other cars to gain speed. Unfortunately, the group waited too long to pull onto the track and didn’t make it to the start/finish line before time ran out.
“If there’s 12 cars, you want to be the 11th or 12th in line,” Denny Hamlin said. “Being second is worse than being third. Being third is worse than being fourth, and on down the line. It’s really just a domino effect.”
Fans booed, and the starting order was determined by the best times set in the previous session.
“I have seen it in other sports, but never seen it in ours,” Clint Bowyer said. “We just got booed, and it is disappointing.”
It’s only an issue on the superspeedways where drafting is important, and a similar scene played out at Las Vegas two races prior, but that time it worked out for everyone. There was no repeat on the slower, half-mile track at Martinsville this past Sunday, but the next race is at Texas Motor Speedway, one of the fastest tracks on the circuit.
So, NASCAR has decided that all cars must now post a lap time in the last session or start at the rear of the field. Once a car leaves its pit stall it cannot stop on pit road. Any driver who blocks pit road and prohibits other drivers from exiting pit road will incur a penalty.
The Associated Press contributed to this report