NASCAR Cup Series' two-day event at Pocono gets mostly thumbs up
Reviews were mostly favorable following NASCAR’s first two-day Cup show in more than four decades — the Overton’s 400 at Pocono. In another attempt to cut costs, teams unloaded and practiced on Saturday, qualified on Sunday morning and raced that afternoon. Cars were impounded after qualifying, and crews had only 15 minutes to make a handful of approved adjustments before the race.
The two-day show was a radical departure from how things have been done in the past. On most weekends, teams unload, practice and qualify on Friday, practice again on Saturday, then race on Sunday. For most Saturday night races, teams unload, practice and qualify on Friday, then race the next night. On rare occasions — primarily the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600 — teams spend between four and six days between qualifying and those races. It’s been longer than anyone can remember exactly the last time Cup teams qualified and raced on the same day.
“I don’t know and I don’t know who knows for certain,” said NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton. Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty and HOF crew chief Dale Inman thought it was the ‘70s, when the schedule was shortened from 48 to 31 races. Likewise, veteran crewmen Buddy Parrott and Doug Richert, long-time owners Len and Eddie Wood, driver-turned-official Brett Bodine and driver-turned-owner Joe Falk guessed ‘72. “Safe to say that before today, it’s never been in the modern era,” Bodine added Sunday at Pocono.
NASCAR will use the two-day schedule next weekend at Watkins Glen and in the fall at Martinsville. It used a modified version at the recent Brickyard 400, where teams practiced and qualified on Saturday and raced on Sunday. There were no Friday on-track activities for Cup teams at Indy or Pocono, nor will there be next weekend at Watkins Glen.
Like most in the garage, the Wood brothers embrace the change. “We saved a night’s lodging, another rental car day and crew per diem by not being here Thursday,” said Len Wood. “Instead of flying in Thursday night, we came Friday night. Instead of three hotel nights, we had two.” His brother pointed out an important benefit. “It gives our road crew another day at home,” said Eddie Wood, “and you can’t put a price tag on that. Even one night and most of the next day at home are important to the road crew.”
At the other end of the garage, Falk explained one possible glitch. “For a small team like mine (featuring Jeffrey Earnhardt and Hulu sponsorship), we’re in trouble if something happens in qualifying,” said Falk, who’s been around racing since the late ‘60s. “If we wreck or blow up, we’ll have trouble fixing our car or changing an engine. The backup doesn’t have an engine (per NASCAR rule), so a small team might have trouble being ready when the race starts.” (One engine technician estimated at least 90 minutes to install an engine).
Journeyman driver David Ragan enjoys the extra time at home. “I don’t know if it would be appropriate every weekend, but I appreciate that the two-day show gave me Thursday night and most of Friday at home,” he said. “There were times on Friday when I looked at my watch and worried that I was missing something at the track. As a driver, I rolled with it pretty good. But for the crew, there’ll be more stress if something happens in qualifying because the won’t have a lot of time to overcome it. Overall, though, I think it’s a good idea.”
Team owner Joe Gibbs is cautiously optimistic that NASCAR will do more two-day shows next year. “It’s good we’re doing this to see how it works,” he said after Kyle Busch, one of his drivers, won the pole. “We’re all getting used to it, and I’ll be curious about what the drivers think. I like it, but we need for everybody — fans, tracks, the teams — to get a better feel for it and to find out what’s best. Once we actually go about the weekend and do it several times, we’ll get a feel for what’s good.”
“This is a much different feel, like last week (at Indy) and next week at Watkins Glen,” said recent Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne. “NASCAR and the teams and tracks are trying to understand if this will work well, and go from there. I like the impound, not having to put all that time into qualifying, then switching (to race trim). We only have an hour and 40 minutes of practice, so to not have to (lose) 30 minutes of changes gives us more practice time. I like this schedule best so far of the two-day stuff.”