The normal Monster Energy NASCAR Cup weekend is generally a three-day event with the haulers unloading on Friday morning and the teams immediately begin prepping their cars not only for the race but also the all-important qualifying process. A good qualifying effort results in not only starting up front in the race but also being able to pick a good pit stall that can be the difference late in the race when track position becomes so important.
NASCAR has done a great job of packaging qualifying into a neatly bundled one hour time slot that is perfect for its TV partners and in the process put on a good show for the handful of fans that elect to watch it in person. That was the thinking behind the sanctioning body's move to a group qualifying format over five years ago to add some excitement to the process that had grown stale with its single-car format.
Competing in the MENCS series has always been about each team and crew working to get an advantage for their driver and qualifying is no different. This season with the new aero package, every team realized that it no longer was a benefit to go out and just turn laps in qualifying but to take advantage of the draft created by the new aerodynamic package.
Every driver knew that they just needed that one lap during each of the three rounds of qualifying to advance so it became the norm for drivers to stay parked on pit road to wait on a pack of cars to take to the track. Every driver was looking for the pull that they got from just one car in front of them on the track to post the time that they needed to have the opportunity to put their car on the front row. There was nothing in the rules to prevent the tactics being employed by every team but NASCAR, its TV partners and fans were not happy with what was taking place.
The breaking point for NASCAR came at California in March when all twelve drivers waited on pit road so long before beginning their lap that they did not have enough time to register a lap. That was not only the low point of that weekend but as it turned out it was the low point of the season as NASCAR knew they had to quickly make some changes so it would never again suffer such an embarrassing moment.
The sanctioning body did tweak on the multi-car format but eventually conceded that there was no fixing the problem and this weekend at Dover, the series once again returned to the single-car qualifying format. The change was met with little opposition from teams and maybe more importantly FOX and NBC that had to show the one hour qualifying session each week.
The single-car format did not hinder the speeds at Dover as Chase Elliott broke the track record when he posted a single lap speed of 165.960 mph breaking the old record of 164.444 mph set by Brad Keselowski. Elliott was joined on the front row his Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron.
Beginning with Dover, one-car qualifying will be used at every track with the exception of the road courses that will still be using the multi-car qualifying format. The change to single-car qualifying favors no team or driver as now it all becomes about the package that the crew chief puts in the car and the ability of the driver to hit his marks once he is on the track.
Although it has been reduced to just one lap, qualifying can still play a big part in the outcome of a race. It's all about track position and there is no quicker way to obtain track position by being able to start up front and having the choice of a pit stall that gives a driver an advantage when leaving pit road.