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NASCAR Notebook: Drivers unsure about knockout qualifying

Posted: February 28, 2014 - 12:14am  |  Updated: February 28, 2014 - 1:09am
Matt Kenseth climbs into his car before a practice session at Daytona last Friday. Kenseth calls NASCAR's new qualifying format "a little nerve-racking."  Terry Renna/Associated Press
Terry Renna/Associated Press
Matt Kenseth climbs into his car before a practice session at Daytona last Friday. Kenseth calls NASCAR's new qualifying format "a little nerve-racking."
AP

Auto Racing

NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying received mixed reactions by Nationwide Series drivers last week at the Daytona International Speedway, ranging from “nerve-racking” to “wild” to “definitely a lot more interesting than what we normally do.”

A handful of Sprint Cup Series drives already have been through the new format. The rest will get their first experience Friday afternoon at the Phoenix International Raceway.

A one-mile track, Phoenix will have two rounds of time trials. Every car looking for a spot in Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500 will have 30 minutes at the same time to post a speed. The 12 quickest will come back for another 10-minute session with the fastest of that group earning the pole.

Finding a fast place in traffic is the key, Cup regulars said at Daytona.

“It was quite a handful, a lot going on,” Kyle Busch said. “It’s just chaos at first, just sitting at the end of pit road trying to figure it all out and what was going to happen and then trying to get out there in a group and get a good-enough run.

“All in all, I think it was fun.”

So much success will depend on how many cars are on the track, drivers said. Instead of relying solely on speed to earn a starting spot, drivers also will have to use strategy.

“Whenever you do that you’ve got people going different speeds and there’s always that chance of having a big wreck,” driver Matt Kenseth said. “Yeah, I mean, it’s a little nerve-racking.”

Rain dampens ratings

A 6-hour, 21-minute, 40-second rain delay in Sunday’s Daytona 500, the longest single-day delay in NASCAR history, and the closing ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Sochi affected ratings for the season-opening race.

Before the delay, the Daytona 500 averaged a 6.3 rating (9.3 million viewers), according to Nielsen Media Research. After the race resumed shortly after 8:30 p.m., it peaked with a 6.7 rating (10.9 million viewers) at 11 p.m.

The top five national markets were: Greensboro, N.C., Orlando, Greenville, S.C., Richmond, Va., and Jacksonville.

Despite the delay, Nielsen said 69 percent of the national audience stayed tuned to watch the resumption of the race.

The race affected the Olympics as well. According to Nielsen, the Winter Games posted a 9.6 rating, down 32 percent compared with 2010.

Roush Fenway homers

The start of the racing season coincides with the opening of spring training, so it’s a time when drivers at Roush Fenway Racing start wearing two hats.

Since the race team is co-owned by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, drivers have become fans of the baseball team.

“It’s not required,” Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said, “but it’s highly recommended. I enjoy going up there.”

Stenhouse has been with Roush Fenway since 2009, winning the Nationwide Series championship in 2011 and 2012 before moving full time to the Sprint Cup Series a year ago.

In all that time, he’s never met Henry.

“He was supposed to come to Daytona and then something happened, but I have yet to meet him,” Stenhouse said. “I guess I’m going to have to go to a soccer game [Henry also owns the Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League] to meet him or something.”

Racing teammate Carl Edwards grew up in Columbia, Mo., but he’s learned to root for the Red Sox instead of his beloved St. Louis Cardinals.

“I’m from Missouri and the Cardinals, so that was pretty big,” he said of last year’s World Series won by Boston. “I was rooting for the Red Sox. It’s hard to live in Missouri and say that, but it’s the truth.

“They’ve done so much for me and for my career that I’m a Red Sox fan. It’s not a contractual obligation. They have been so good to me and there are people that will shake their head when they hear that, but that’s the truth. I’m behind them.”