Newgarden, Power call for IndyCar to improve oval qualifying system

Team Penske-Chevrolet’s 2017 and 2014 IndyCar champions Josef Newgarden and Will Power want the series to come up with a new system for deciding running order in qualifying on ovals.

Newgarden, Power call for IndyCar to improve oval qualifying system
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet
Race winner Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet, second place Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Polesitter Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Will Power, Team Penske Team Penske Chevrolet
Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, pit stop
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet

Presently at all ovals aside from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the running order in one-by-one qualifying is decided by names picked out of a hat.

With the early runners encountering the least favorable track conditions, this can mean championship contenders randomly ending up at different ends of the grid with very little control over their own destiny.

Reigning champion Newgarden told Motorsport.com that is far too random, and an unlucky pick could even swing the title battle.

“We often run with the [Cooper Tires-equipped] Mazda Road To Indy guys, or the [Goodyear-equipped] NASCAR Truck guys, and their tires don’t necessarily work well with our Firestones. So that means the first 10 IndyCar guys out there in qualifying are just cleaning the track for the next 10 or 12, and the track just gets better and better.

“I mean, you see that even in road and street course qualifying, right? We all sit there and let others clear the track surface and the fast times come at the end of the session, almost always. Well in oval qualifying, you don’t have that luxury – your running order is decided already, and if you’re one of the first guys and your main rivals are some of the last guys, you’re at a major disadvantage.

“So I’ve talked with Jay [Frye, president of competition and operations] about it, because they’ve got to do something next year to make it more fair. They need to reward performance by going later; we can’t be having the order decided by drawing names out of a hat!

“I think you should reward practice results. There’s a lot that goes with that. They’re going to have to figure out how to run the cars through tech another time to make sure people aren’t cheating in practice to get a favorable slot in the running order. But I’m sure they can figure out some way – practice speeds or maybe points standings – to do it a better way that’s not totally random.

Teammate Power said: “I think maybe you could do it based on oval championship points, and the reason I say that instead of overall points is that it wouldn’t be fair on Ed Carpenter [who only races on ovals] having to go first every time!

“But, I don’t think you should include the double points from Indy because that can spread the points so far apart that you’d end up with the running order at the next few ovals.”

Power agreed with Newgarden that setting the running order by flipping the practice speeds on their head – slowest first, fastest last – would work too, and said he doesn’t believe teams would cheat in order to get a better running slot.

“Nah, I don’t see that happening because I can’t think of any drivers or race engineers who’d want to,” he said. “We get so little practice on ovals that you’ve gotta be mad to start wasting time running an illegal car just for a better grid position. You want all your track time to be about getting a good setup – a legal one! – sorted for the race, and then a bit for qualifying too.”

Asked if he thought IndyCar or its fans prefer the idea of a mixed up running order, Power said: “Well… maybe. I suppose there’s a compromise where, if you base it on oval points, the bottom 10 pick their running order and they go out first, but they can’t be higher than 11th, and then the top 10 pick their running order and they can’t be lower than 10th. So you’ve still got that random element but the main contenders aren’t at different ends of the grid.

“I don’t know. But yeah, it needs to be done better than how it is now. The sport’s too competitive to be playing games where one championship contender goes first and gets screwed, and his rivals go last and end up at the front.”

Asked if heat races, as IndyCar experimented with at Iowa in 2013, were the answer, Power said: "No. They were terrible. We all just cruised around, because we didn't want to risk our cars."

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