2014 has quickly become the year of change and experimentation for NASCAR. Now, just three races into the season, comes another adjustment, but one that certainly makes plenty of sense.
According to the Associated Press via ESPN.com, NASCAR has "banned drivers from making cool-down laps following their qualifying attempt" in the new, more exciting knockout format. The decision was made with driver safety in mind and will instead allow teams to set up cooling units to their engines on pit road.
Unsurprisingly, the change was met with plenty of praise from drivers and those closest to the sport:
Good move by #NASCAR to fix this issue. No reason to wait to make a change in the name of safety.— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) March 11, 2014
Great move by @NASCAR for reviewing the qualifying rules and making the change, allowing teams to use cool down units, starting this week— Jamie McMurray (@jamiemcmurray) March 12, 2014
The change was announced in the wake of criticism by some drivers who felt the new qualifying format was extremely dangerous.
The new procedure, which was put into place this year, forced drivers to slowly make their way around the track after their qualifying run in order to cool down the engine, which is extremely hot as a result of teams taping up the nose of the car to create more downforce. The problem is that other drivers are qualifying at the same time and speeding past the slower cars. Needless to say, the new procedure, which originally prohibited cooling the engines on pit road, needed to be altered.
Brian Vickers was one of several drivers who spoke out about the issues with the new format last weekend at Las Vegas, per USA Today's Jeff Gluck:
Riding around the bottom – we've got to do it, it's the only way to keep the engine cool – but that has got to be the most dangerous thing I've ever done in racing. (Reed Sorenson) went by me at 170 mph faster than I was going. Had he slipped or hit me, I'd be done. It would be so bad.
Fox Sports' Jeff Hammond, who is in favor of the adjustment, explains the motivation behind NASCAR's decision:
In a qualifying session, the teams really want to maximize their car's performance. So they tape up the nose to allow for maximum downforce on the front end and maximum speed. NASCAR could have very easily said there would be no tape allowed on the noses.
Had they done that, though, it would have taken away from the potential for these teams and drivers to attempt to break existing track records, because the cars are slower without the noses taped up.
Both Vickers' and Hammond's points highlight why NASCAR made the right decision in this case. There's no doubt the new knockout format made for a more exciting and entertaining session. But the added risk to the driver safety was undeniable.
Was NASCAR's change warranted?
By taking a safer route and allowing cooling units on pit road, NASCAR will still allow drivers to maximize on their car's performance, but also do so at a limited risk.
Although any successful professional sports organization must take into account the fans' desire, by listening to the drivers, NASCAR has boosted its reputation and credibility while at the same time providing a more exciting product.
As with any format changes, NASCAR was bound to run into problems. The solution won't always appeal to everyone, but in this case, NASCAR made the right decision to address the dangers of the new qualifying format and quickly implement a safer procedure.
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