Kyle Busch won the pole at Las Vegas on Friday, which basically surprised no one. Kyle was fastest in Cup practice, and had a nice, late draw, going out 34th when track conditions were about as good as they got. Carl Edwards is still flying high from Monday's win at California, and will start on the outside of Kyle in 2nd place. Mark Martin in the 8 Chevy will start 3rd, best by far of all the DEI cars. Mark also had the benefit of the late draw. Jeff Gordon had a relatively early draw, but will start in 4th, the fastest of the Hendrick Motorsports cars in qualifying. One of the biggest surprises of the day was Mike Skinner, now in his 2nd race in the 27 Toyota for Bill Davis Racing, who will start 5th. Greg Biffle went out 2nd in qualifying, and held the pole for a long time, and will still start in 6th.
Scott Riggs was surprising as well, starting in 7th place in the 66 car owned by Gene Haas. Dale Earnhardt Jr. went out 5th, and will start 8th.
The most remarkable thing to me was just how much the track conditions changed from the beginning through the end of qualifying. The track obviously picked up a lot of speed as the 3rd and 4th turns went from sunlight to shade at Las Vegas.
Friday was the first time that Nascar implemented the policy of having the go-or-go-home cars all qualify together after the top 35 drivers qualify. This seems like the best of all worlds really, for all involved. It allows the drivers with the most at stake to have the best of qualifying conditions, and for there not to be obvious advantages or disadvantages from just the draw for qualifying order itself. The new rule allows small teams extra time after practice to work on the cars in the garage as well. By qualifying under cooler track conditions, the go-or-go-home guys are hopefully less likely to have a spin or a crash on the track during qualifying, and automatically be excluded from the race. Obviously that is not always the case, as we saw on Friday when Johnny Sauter crashed the 21 Wood Brothers Ford on the exit of turn 2 on his 1st qualifying lap.
The premise behind the new rule is that it is more fair to the small teams with fewer resources by have them all qualify under virtually the same track conditions. If a top 35 car crashes during qualifying, they will have to bring out the backup car, but they are still in the race, starting from the back of the field. If that happens to a go-or-go-home car, they are done. They go home and watch the race on TV. This may be one of the best rules I've seen Nascar produce in quite a while.
I've read some arguments against the rule, namely what happens if a 1 car show qualifies dead last in the order and wins the pole because the track is so much faster? What happens if say, AJ Allmendinger beats out Kyle Busch for the pole just because he went out and qualified so late? I say this: So be it. Points are not awarded for qualifying. There are pole awards, and you get to be in next year's Bud Shootout, but what's wrong with that? The pole winner gets a little extra money. That's not a bad thing for these small teams. Some of these cars are driving with little or now sponsorship at all, and money is very precious to just survival, not glamor or fame.
I have an acquaintance with whom I've had a debate over the last few weeks with over the above mentioned qualifying rule. He is not in favor of it for the aforementioned reason, namely it's not right seeing a relatively unknown driver on the pole just by benefit of qualifying order. "It's the Bud Shootout", he says. "It's an important race!"
I have replied by pointing out that the Bud Shootout is basically an exhibition race, and there are no points awarded. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Bud Shootout this February. His detractors are still saying that Jr. hasn't won a real race yet. I say the Bud Shootout is an important race, in that it's a lot of fun to watch, and the winner gets a nice paycheck, but the race itself awards no points to any of the drivers.
My acquaintance has also pointed out that Dale Jr. still has not won a real race. I reply by saying he won, as you said, an important race, and in his very first race, by the way in his brand new car.
The bottom line is that maybe some of the small teams might win a pole from time to time, but in the over all scheme of things, it just makes it more possible for small teams to make races than they've had in recent years. Nascar has always been a sport that has shown that if a driver wants to win bad enough, he can achieve success in the sport. Big teams have the majority of the sponsorship and the resources. Let's give the little teams a chance too.
As for my acquaintance? It's all good. Racing should be racing. You can't have it both ways. though.