I’m not at all surprised the first change to happen to the 2014 knockout qualifying format is coming down only three weeks into the new format.
This past week, several drivers, including the No. 55 driver, Brian Vickers publicly were concerned with the difference of speed in qualifying. The new knockout format ends up being a bit chaotic, making for a more entertaining set of two or three sessions, but it had some room for improvement after its first couple weeks.
Most of the teams qualifying tape up the front grille for maximum aerodynamics and front down force. This obviously limits air flow to the engines, making them heat up. Teams typically have external cooling units that swap and circulate the radiator’s water with ice water that helps rapidly cool the engines down.
But these units, until this week at Bristol Motor Speedway, have been disallowed during the new knockout qualifying sessions. Ever resourceful within the rule set forth, many teams were coming into the pits after their qualifying runs, removing all grille tape and then going back out on the race track, running super slow at the bottom of the racetrack.
Vickers pointed out though the inherent danger this put drivers in, with some cases, there being a 170 mile per hour difference in speeds between those qualifying and those cooling. It made for a few close calls, and it was only a matter of time before one of those near misses became not a miss at all.
NASCAR is good about balancing the entertainment of the sport without compromising safety and this is an adjustment that really had to be made to keep the knockout qualifying as fast and as furious as possible, needlessly endangering its drivers.