It’s time to change the rules for qualifying for NASCAR Sprint Cup races. Locking in the top 35 in points just doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially given the economic climate that currently exists.
Under the current rules, after this weekend’s race in Bristol, the top 35 teams in owner’s points are locked into the race (for the first five races of the season, it’s the top 35 in owner’s points from 2009) regardless of where they qualify.
After the top 35 in points, the remaining spots are filled with the fastest eight of teams outside the top 35, unless there is a past Sprint Cup champion, where the most recent champ gets an automatic spot if they don’t qualify on speed.
Prior to the current system, there was a past-champion provisional spot and teams earned provisional starting spots based on races started previous to the current race. That system was even more confusing, but was put into place after everyone got nervous the first time Richard Petty failed to qualify. NASCAR just couldn’t see King Richard not having a spot on the starting grid.
With the current system, fans are getting short-changed when the fastest 43 cars are not the ones on the starting grid. And that has happened several times since the current qualifying rules were put in place.
It also place the Go-or-Go-Home teams at a further disadvantage at many tracks because their practice times are eaten up with perfecting their qualifying set up to make the race.
With all the emphasis on qualifying, they have little or no information on how to get their cars prepared for the actual race. This means sub-par finishes and becoming even more mired in the bottom of the standings.
For teams that have a guaranteed start because of a top-35 position in standings, their practice time can focus on getting the car set up for the race with no concern about where they qualify.
Even with a low starting position, they can make enough up in the race to maintain their guaranteed starting status. There is no insurance to make certain that happens, but their chances are much better than those fighting to get in the show to begin with.
Lower tier teams are struggling week to week to get enough sponsor dollars to keep racing. And one of the contributing factors to lack of sponsor interest is an inability to consistently be in the show.
Joe Nemechek, for example, struggles week after week to get into the race. And his lack of sponsorship reflects that. Meanwhile, teams with less talented drivers, but performing well enough to be just high enough in the standings have an advantage in getting sponsors because it’s a sure thing that the sponsor’s logo will be seen on Sunday afternoons.
NASCAR is having some issues with generating excitement and interest, with falling attendance and television ratings. How much interest do you think there would be if Jimmie Johnson had a bad week and failed to qualify on speed? Or Jeff Gordon, or (gasp) Dale, Jr.?
I think there would be a lot of fans tuning in after a bad week to see if their favorite driver would be able to fix their problems and make the race.
So NASCAR, dump the guaranteed starting spots. Put the fastest 43 cars on the track each week and let the chips fall where they may.
It’s time to get rid of preferential treatment and make every team earn their spot by performing. Not only by earning points in the race and moving up in the standings, but by showing they truly deserve to be in the race in the first place.
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