SONOMA — There was plenty of buzz around Sonoma Raceway, Friday.
It wasn’t all about who was the fastest, or even who would win Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.
It was all about the new qualifying format, and it’s not to the liking of more than a few drivers.
NASCAR implemented a new way to qualify on tracks 1.25 miles or longer, which includes the 10-turn circuit in Sonoma, which is 1.99 miles long.
The first qualifying elimination will be 30 minutes long, which includes all the cars trying to make the field of 43. The 24 fastest cars with the single fastest lap will advance.
The remaining cars will be sorted on their times and continue qualifying in descending order.
In the second round, over a 10-minute period, the fastest 12 cars will advance to the final round of qualifying.
The last round will be just 5 minutes long and the fastest single lap will earn the pole, with the other 11 qualifying 2-12 with the fastest times in descending order.
Defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson has a basic idea of what it’s going to take to earn the 2014 in Wine Country.
“This track has a high wear aspect (for tires) so I think keeping the laps down is going to be key, especially to get the pole,” Johnson said. “The variable that we can’t control is cars on their out lap and the cars on their in lap.
“We do it in practice and we are able to accommodate each other and take care of things. Hopefully, everybody is plenty polite and spotters are on top of it sending word down where a fast car is.”
Ford Racing’s Joey Logano’s thoughts were similar to Johnson’s.
“It’s tough here,” he said. “It’s probably going to be the hardest place we’ve come to so far on how we’re going to do this because a car is going to be rolling out of the pits, probably with not a whole bunch of speed, and there will be cars on their flying laps that are going to catch them. . . . So there’s a bigger chance here than anywhere else we’ve gone so far on getting a lap screwed up by someone rolling out slow.”
Added Team Chevy’s Jamie McMurray, who won the pole here in 2007 and 2013, “I think it’s the talk of the garage right now. There are some unknowns. . . . This is one of those tracks where somebody could get in your way and really kill your lap.
“And for the first run, the sticker tires are going to be worth a lot versus going out on scuffs. I don’t think you’ll see anybody go out on scuffs and knock anyone out because the tires are so important here.”
NOTES: Kurt Busch was the fastest in the morning Sprint Cup practice, turning a lap of 75.039 seconds at 95.470 mph. Clint Bowyer was second fastest in the morning at 75.078, 95.421, with Brian Vickers was third at 75.347, 95.080. Fan favorite Dale Earnhardt. Jr was atop the leaderboard midway through the first round, but faded to seventh at 75.644, 94.707. . . . Bowyer was the fastest in the afternoon practice session at 74.634, 95.988 mph, with Paul Menard (74.981, 95.547) second, Carl Edwards (75.043, 95.465) third, McMurray (75.045, 95.563) fourth and Earnhardt Jr. (75.045, 95.663) fifth. . . . Sonoma’s defending champion, Martin Truex Jr., was fourth fastest in the first practice session (75.428, 94.978) and seventh in 75.201 seconds at 95.265 mph in the second session.