Gordon will lead the field to the green in his last-ever start in the sport’s biggest race – a scenario that couldn’t have been scripted better if left up to Hollywood producers. At his side will be his teammate, Johnson, making it an all-Hendrick front row on Sunday. But the car on the outside pole is partially-owned by Gordon, so does that make it an all-Gordon front row?
Seriously, Gordon deserves kudos for his performance but even he admitted being stressed out.
“This is one I’ve been stressing about for a while,” he said. “This format is crazy and chaotic. It can be extremely rewarding when you have a day like we had, to bring that kind of group effort together.
“In the past, this has been one of the easiest days I’ve had all day long. Go out there, hold it wide open, run a couple laps. It’s all about the team, the car, all the preparation they put into it. All that hard work still goes into this effort, but I play a bigger role, the spotter plays a bigger role. There’s just so much more strategy in trying to play this chess match and the time game, the wait game. It just becomes really intense.”
For Gordon, knockout qualifying may have been intense, crazy or chaotic but three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion, Tony Stewart, called it “a complete embarrassment” on Twitter. Stewart, who has more than 336,000 followers, rarely takes to social media – just 216 tweets, so far – but, on Sunday, he might as well have tossed a grenade into the NASCAR bunker and he wasn’t the worst of the bunch.
Clint Bowyer, who was wrecked in the first qualifying session, laid blame directly on NASCAR’s shoulders, saying qualifying for the 2015 Daytona 500 was nothing more than a “cute show.”
“First of all, I wasn’t behind the 44 (Reed Sorenson), he came flying around and came up on the apron, jumped up in front of me and then runs over the 51 (Justin Allgaier), stacks us all up and I run into him,” he ranted. “It’s idiotic to be out here doing this anyway. It makes no sense in being able to put on some cute show for whatever the hell this is, then you have a guy out there in desperation doing this crap like this. There’s no reason to be out here. These guys have spent six months working on these cars, busting their asses on these cars to go out there and have some guy out of desperation do that crap, but it ain’t his fault. It’s not, it’s NASCAR’s fault for putting us out here in the middle of this crap for nothing. We used to come down here and worry about who was going to sit on the front row and the pole for the biggest race of the year and now all we do is come down here and worry about how a start-and-park like this out of desperation is going to knock us out of the Daytona 500. We’ve been in meetings for 45 minutes just trying to figure out what in the hell everybody is going to do just so we can make the race. There’s no sense in doing this.”
“It wasn’t his fault, he’s desperate and trying to get into the biggest race of the year. We need to be focused on qualifying and who is going to sit on the pole for the biggest race of the year and the front row just like we always have. There’s no reason to be putting a show on and trying to make something out of something that doesn’t need to be. We put a hell of a show on for the Daytona 500 and unfortunately these guys have worked the last six months for nothing.”
From relative-rookies Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson to veterans Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch, there weren’t too many drivers happy, except Gordon and Johnson. In fact, the criticism was so loud, NASCAR took notice.
“We don’t want to see wrecks of any kind,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Chief Racing Development Officer. “Not lost on us is how much work goes into these cars by the teams, the efforts for our biggest race of the year. I close by saying I believe we’ve got a really good track record of making adjustments where we need to, so we’ll certainly evaluate what took place today, we’ll continue to get feedback from the industry, from the drivers as we did to get to where we were today.”
In its defense, NASCAR wants to make things exciting. Let’s face it; single-car qualifying is long, boring and akin to watching paint dry at a superspeedway. However, what we saw Sunday at Daytona, with cars sitting idle and playing the waiting game on pit road, didn’t represent the roots of the sport.
Hey, Daytona, we have a problem. One thing NASCAR got right, though was the decision to not penalize the drivers for voicing their opinion. Hopefully, the same holds true for media. It’s too late to fix it for the 2015 Daytona 500 but NASCAR, please get with the drivers and anyone else wanting to toss in their two-cents and reach a consensus on how to best set the field for the biggest race of the year. If not, then expect harsher criticism next year.
Editor’s Note: We welcome Jerry Jordan as our newest Frontstretch contributor this season! Jerry can also be found at his own NASCAR site, kickinthetires.net.