Joey Logano is on quite a roll, following up his victory in the Daytona 500 by taking the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
NASCAR is on the defensive after 13 drivers — including four former champions — didn’t even get on the track for qualifying Friday after failing to pass inspection.
Four-time Cup winner Jeff Gordon, who is retiring at the end of the season, called the situation “absolutely embarrassing.”
Logano led the final session of qualifying with a blistering speed of 194.683 mph, taking advantage of temperatures in the 40s as the sun set on the 1.54-mile trioval. He has never been a strong qualifier in Atlanta, but he’s on quite a roll after his victory last weekend in the biggest race of the year.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” a beaming Logano said. “Everything is going well for me lately. I’m trying to keep the train rolling.”
Daytona runner-up Kevin Harvick (193.792) will start on the outside of the front row, knowing he’s got his work cut out to keep up with the pole sitter.
“They’re running good,” Harvick said. “They’re on top of the heap right now.”
But most of the attention was on those who didn’t get a chance to qualify. Gordon and former champs Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were stuck in the paddock, even after NASCAR pushed back the start of qualifying by 15 minutes in hopes of clearing everyone.
“I don’t know what to say about today,” Stewart tweeted. “Spent all of our practice working on qualifying. Didn’t even get a chance to make a lap. Frustrating!”
He added, “If we would have known this was going to happen, we could have worked on the race setup. Was a total waste of a day at the track.”
Gordon said it was the first time he’s ever missed out on qualifying because of an inspection issue.
“This is absolutely embarrassing. I feel so bad for my guys,” he said. “To not even get a chance to go out on the race track is ridiculous. The fans deserve an apology.”
At least those Stewart and the other big names will be in the race based on their points from last season, albeit starting near the back of the field.
That wasn’t the case for Mike Wallace, Matt DiBenedetto, Michael Annett and Reed Sorenson, who were bumped out of the 43-car field without getting a chance to take a lap.
Sprint Cup director Richard Buck said the teams were pushing the limits on a new rules package, which reduced horsepower and drag, all in an effort to get more grip on a high-speed track that is notoriously tough on tires. He said each of the 47 cars got a chance to go through the inspection line at least once, and some were inspected as many as three times.
David Ragan was among those who did get to make a qualifying run. He will start 17th in his first race filling in for injured Kyle Busch in the No. 18 car.
“We did see where teams were pushing it. That’s their job, trying to get every bit they can,” Buck said. “Our goal is to make sure everybody has a fair opportunity to get through there.”
He said NASCAR would be working with the teams to make sure what happened in Atlanta doesn’t occur at future races.
“We’ll tweak it where we have to,” Burton said, “to get it right.”
That won’t help those drivers who were knocked out of the second race of the season without so much as a qualifying time.
“The guys who don’t have the points, they know going home without even getting a chance to get out there,” Gordon said. “That’s a big letdown for me and for our series that this happened. There’s no way this should happen.”