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NASCAR modifies knockout style qualifying starting at Bristol Motor Speedway

Ty Dillon (left), #3 VF-Jiffy Lube Chevrolet, speaks with Richard Childress, owner of Richard Childress Racing, in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Ty Dillon (left), #3 VF-Jiffy Lube Chevrolet, speaks with Richard Childress, owner of Richard Childress Racing, in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

NASCAR moved swiftly to address the safety concerns brought about by the drivers. Tuesday, NASCAR banned cool-down laps and will allowing teams to hook up a cooling unit to the engines on pit road, this is the first major change to be made to the new knockout qualifying format unveiled in January to take place after the running of the Daytona 500.

NASCAR modifies qualifying for teams
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

NASCAR advised all its teams that effective immediately NASCAR has applied the following modifications to all of its national series qualifying including the breaks:

  • One cool down unit connected through either the left side or right side hood flap/cowl flap is allowed to cool the engine.
  • The hood must continue to remain closed
  • Plugging in the generator will not be allowed
  • Two crew members will be allowed over the wall to support the car and driver
  • No cool down laps will be permitted

Prior to today’s announcement teams were prohibited from using cooling units to cool the engine on pit road as it would mean opening the hood. NASCAR inspectors would then have a difficult time making sure adjustments were not being made to the vehicle.

The new knockout format has fans tuning in to watch the proceeding and buying tickets to watch in the grandstands. But with the announcement today NASCAR believes that the modifications from the decisions that were made during a conference call with crew chiefs should help make the qualifying even better and more compelling.

“The qualifying is new to all of us and as we have said over the past several weeks, we are looking at it from all aspects,” said vice president of competition and racing development Robin Pemberton. “Following discussions, both internally and with others in the garage area, we moved quickly to make a few revisions that will be effective starting with our two national series events at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. We believe this will only enhance and improve what has demonstrated to be an exciting form of qualifying for our fans, competitors and others involved with the sport. Moving forward we will continue to look at it and address anything else that we may need to as the season unfolds.”

Driver were concerned, while some drivers were going 30 mph to cool the engines in the racecar, other drivers were roaring past them doing 160 mph or faster, thus creating a number of dangerous near misses.

Brian Vickers, driver of the #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota, called it ‘the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done in a race car.’

Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-Hour Energy Toyota, reflected the concern shown by fellow teammate Vickers, ‘Our normal deal is to be scared once a weekend,’ talking of the previous one-lap qualifying format. ‘Three times is a lot to ask out of us. You know, it is really exciting.’

With the response to the complaints about the dangers of slow cars cooling down on the apron of the track, Bristol Motor Speedway is one track with a lack of space for the 0.533 mile track. Bristol is known to have the highest number of yellow flag caution laps in the season, with so many cars in such a small space, contact is almost inevitable.

“It’s going to be a tough one. I think the cooling will be obviously a little bit better this week just from the fact that it’s 15 second laps. The engine temps won’t get quite as high,” said Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Brad Keselowski, earlier Tuesday. “Trying to go out and cool down at Bristol, that could be a potential issue, there’s really no room to get out of the way.”

Wolfe continued saying, “Every week is bringing a new challenge, different style of racetrack and tire changes that up some, and like I said, we’ve just got to prepare for the best.”

NASCAR said the cars will still back out at Bristol, in part because of procedures already in place at the track. Also both crew members, who are chosen to service the race car, must be wearing helmets when cars are on the track. And teams still will not be able to lift the hood, only use the cooling units through a flap on either side of the car. There is to be no cool down laps.

Qualifying will be on Friday, March 14, 2014 at 4:30 p.m. eastern standard time on Fox Sports 1.