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DATE News (chronologically)
03/08/14
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Drivers say qualifying format creates dangers
NASCAR's new knockout qualifying format has been universally hailed as more exciting and interesting than the old single-car system. But for the second week in a row, drivers also said it's extremely dangerous. Since the only legal way for teams to cool their cars is to drive slowly around the track, there's a dramatic speed difference between drivers making qualifying runs and those driving as if they're in a construction zone.

"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," #55-Brian Vickers said after Friday's session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "(#36-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."

Teams need to cool their engines between attempts at fast laps in order to keep their cars from overheating. Teams are not allowed to cool their cars on pit road in between runs because it would require opening the hood to attach a cooling box. NASCAR does not want teams to make adjustments on pit road during the knockout sessions and since policing every open hood would be difficult, it is not permitted. As a result, the disparity in speed created some dicey situations - several of which occurred again Friday.

#15-Clint Bowyer, who qualified third, said he nearly collided with #88-Dale Earnhardt Jr. during one run and called for a change due to the "dangerous" difference in speed. "We've got to stop that," he said. "...I about smoked him. That's not the guy you want to hit at a 140 mph deficit. (A collision is) going to hurt me and it might hurt Dale Jr., and that would be bad for business."

#1-Jamie McMurray, who was among the drivers to raise the safety issue at Phoenix, said he texted NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton a few days ago and was told, "Let's give it a couple weeks and just see what plays out." [NASCAR spokesman Kerry] Tharp echoed that sentiment in a statement to USA TODAY Sports on Friday. "We're only two race weekends in with the new qualifying format," he said. "It's something new and it's something that will take time to get used to. We will continue to look at it." USA Today

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