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Knockout Qualifying at MIS

June 14, 2014 - Al Stephenson
I ventured up to the Irish Hills yesterday to watch Sprint Cup qualifying at Michigan International Speedway. I have been to MIS on numerous occasions both for Friday qualifying and Sunday races. It is a special place as evidenced by the fact that it is the only place where I actually participate in a wave. One of the stupidest ideas sporting fans ever came up with, at MIS they do it BEFORE the action begins. That makes the Michigan Wave, as it's called, cool.

I have not been to a race for several years, but do like to go up on Friday just to take in the scene. I was there last year. This year I wanted to see if knockout qualifying was all it was cracked up to be. Nascar changes rules frequently and most are either for driver safety or trying to give the fans a better experience. I have watched the new qualifying format on TV, but wanted to see for myself if it enhanced the fan experience.

I arrived in time to see the only Sprint Cup practice before qualifying would take place and the speeds were outstanding from the start. 21 drivers broke the 200 mile barrier in practice with Kasey Kahne leading the way at 203 mph. Kevin Harvick was close behind in practice though he would dominate in qualifying.

The format calls for a 25 minute session to open with and all 44 cars attempting to qualify can run as many laps as they want. The top 24 in speed would advance to round two. The second session would be 10 minutes long. The top 12 would go to the third and final 5 minute session where the top 12 times would win the top 12 spots in the field.

All the cars were lined up with the hood facing the pit wall and when the green flag dropped opening the first session, the fun began. Around 40 of the 44 cars all backed up at once and the race to get on the track began. Drivers wanted to get out and establish a good lap quickly so they could come back to pit road, cool the engine, and make another try or two, if needed, in order to advance.

Kevin Harvick ran one lap in the first session and had the fastest time. That would not win the pole however, it only got him to the next round. Of course he had the fastest time in round two and backed that up with a track record of 204.9 in the last round. That did win him the pole.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the new format is watching cars on or near the bubble in each round try to make one last ditch effort to run another and better lap before each session ended. Joey Logano, not happy with his ninth place time in the third session, took to the track with very little time remaining. He had to reach the start/finish line to take the green flag before the time expired. Unfortunately that time did run out as he went into turn three and he had no recourse but to shut down his engine when he realized the effort would not count.

The view from my seat suggests that the new format is much more interesting than the old way and probably a lot fairer as all cars run at pretty much the same time. Will it make me go back year after year. No, it was not that entertaining. However if you are up at the track for the entire weekend, it does make Fridays a lot more fun than before.

 
 

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