Gatorade Duels at Daytona 2011: NASCAR Needs To Go Back To the Old System

Jim FolsomContributorFebruary 16, 2011

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 13:  Front Row award winner Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, and Pole award winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, shake hands in victory lane after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 13, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Thursday is the Gatorade Duels at Daytona.

The Thursday before the Daytona 500 used to be one of the biggest days in racing. In what was arguably the most ingenious move ever made by the France Family, they decided that the biggest even on the schedule was too big to get in just by running a couple of qualifying laps.

You had to race your way in.

What a concept! Make the guys run about a quarter of the race distance against half of the potential field and earn a starting spot. Think of the drama. It's not necessarily about who has the fastest car when out there by himself for two laps, it's about who the best racers are. That's who gets in the Great American Race.

And it worked. The crowds on Thursday were as big as the crowds on Sunday.

And then NASCAR screwed it up. Now if you were in the top 35 in points the previous year, you are locked in to the Daytona 500. All you have to do is show up. Where's the drama in that? We're running two races tomorrow, basically for spots 36-40. And it's between either has-beens like Terry Labonte or Bill Elliott or never-wases.

For the rest of the guys, it's for where you start, not IF you start. In this day of restrictor plates and very equal cars, starting positions are really not that important. You can go from 25th to first in a lap or two and vice versa.

So really, what are the Thursday Duels for now? There are no points at stake. There is not a huge amount of money at stake. There is not really a starting spot at stake. So what is it then?

It's a race just for practice. That's about it.

Watch the crowd shots tomorrow and notice that there will be empty seats in both of the ends of the grandstands on the front stretch. Also notice the back stretch stands will be empty. It was not the case 10 or 15 years ago.

NASCAR. Please scrap this new formula and go back to the old one. Learn from one of your race sponsors, Coke. The new formula does not always mean improved.