Ryan Blaney climbed into his car Friday evening to begin qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Kansas Speedway and had a lonely feeling.
Only 28 cars were on the track in time to qualify for Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400, while a season-most 11 race cars were queued outside the inspection station having failed approval in time to qualify.
“When I went out to my car for the first round, pit road was kind of empty,” Blaney said.
So Blaney turned a lap of 189.600 mph and claimed the first pole of his three-year Cup career, just ahead of fellow Ford driver Joey Logano, who was at 189.540 mph.
Meanwhile, those who failed to even get on the track in time for the first 20-minute qualifying period included a Who’s Who of NASCAR, including seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, as well as Clint Bowyer of Emporia.
The others were David Ragan, Erik Jones, Landon Cassill, Reid Sorenson, Corey LaJoie, Timmy Hill and Carl Long. The 11 who failed inspection, along with Michael McDowell, whose car sustained a blown engine in practice, will start, based on owners points, behind the 28 cars that qualified on time.
“We have been on that side of it before,” said Blaney, 23. “I know NASCAR is cracking down a lot on tech. We have seen that over the past month or two. That is something they take very seriously. It should be taken very seriously. I was definitely wondering where everyone was, and I know a lot of good cars didn’t make it out, but that happens.”
Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice-president of competition and competition administration, said the 11 failures occurred at the Laster Inspection Station, the fourth of four inspection areas.
“It’s the LIS machine where we measure the rear steer of the car, which is a big performance metric,” Miller said. “It’s something that everybody pushes to try to get right to the limit. They want to be right on the limit, and obviously 11 were over the limit.
“Twenty-eight did pass inspection, so it’s possible for the other ones to get it right.”
Miller said as many as 10 cars have failed pre-qualifying inspection this season, usually on intermediate tracks such as 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway, but did not recall 11.
“This is just, wow, super disappointing,” Bowyer said. “You are off ten-thousandths of an inch. It is ridiculous. Most people can’t even understand how little that is. I get it. If you are off, you are off, but I watched my guys move the car and adjust the car accordingly for it and then actually overcompensate on it because we were worried about not making it. Then they wheel it back in and fail the exact same amount? Twice? That makes no sense. None.”
Johnson, a three-time winner at Kansas Speedway, took a light-hearted approach.
“I don’t know what lies in all of that, but I’m not the best at qualifying anyway,” Johnson said, “so this takes all the pressure off of me and my job. I love passing cars and there’s a lot of them on this race track. So, we’ll be fine.”