The Frontstretch: Junior and Jeff Staying Home on Sunday? Maybe Not That Drastic, but Qualifying Needs Changing by Amy Henderson -- Thursday May 3, 2007

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Junior and Jeff Staying Home on Sunday? Maybe Not That Drastic, but Qualifying Needs Changing

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday May 3, 2007


It seemed like a good idea at the time. How many times has this phrase been used to justify a mistake? The time you fell off the monkey bars trying to fly? The time Freddie tried to take the rowboat airborne? The time someone decided that locking 35 cars into the field every weekend would actually not be a colossal screw-up?

But from the start, the Top 35 rule has been nothing short of a sham. This week, NASCAR announced that they were, at long last, looking at ways to "tweak" the Nextel Cup qualifying procedure. The problem is, a patch isn't going to fix a chasm. What NASCAR needs to pull off is a complete overhaul of the qualifying system-one that is fair to all of the entrants and, more importantly, their fans.

I must confess I don't even remember why NASCAR said they changed qualifying to lock in the top 35 teams in owners' points. Probably something to do with sponsor dollars and the complete and utter fear of Armageddon occurring should one of their top stars miss the field. Guess what, the world wouldn't end, even if Dale Junior himself missed the field come Sunday.

At Talladega last week, the car that ran 20th in time trials went home empty handed. That means that 23 cars ran slower laps-*and still made the race.* NASCAR says this is what the fans want, but it's an insult to a fan's intelligence-and their loyalty. I'd hazard a guess that most of us aren't going to stop cheering for our favorite driver, or using his sponsor's products, because he missed a race. In fact, without their driver in the race, some fans might partake of more of the product. (No, I'm not suggesting they might drink more Bud, I was thinking along the lines of shopping at Home Depot or Lowe's or car maintenance or something. But whatever works.)

In any case, it's time to fix this. I never bought the whole "fans want to see their driver" thing. What about the fans of the drivers who struggle to make the field each week? Are they somehow less important than the bandwagon fans who like a driver "because he's so-o-o cute?" Are they even less important than the diehards who have followed their man for years? That's ridiculous. Racing boils down to drivers and fans. Every fan deserves an equal chance to cheer for their driver on Sunday. And it could easily be done.

There was never really anything wrong with the old system of qualifying that couldn't be easily fixed with a tweak. The way it was, with 37 cars qualifying on time and six receiving provisional spots based on points standings, was certainly a better option than the current system. It would still allow for a cut tire for Jeff Gordon or engine trouble for Dale Junior by handing them a spot based on their current performance. In essence, it's the opposite of what's happening now. In fact, limit the provisionals teams can use as the past champion's spot is limited now, drop the total number of provisionals to three, and you would have a system that is fair to all the sponsors, drivers, teams and fans.

The best possiblilty is to qualify every car on speed, locking in most of the fastest but offering cars after a certain cutoff point to requalify in a second round, a system that was used successfully (albeit still with a few provisional spots) for years. This protects drivers who have car trouble or crashes in the first round.

Although, would it really be so terrible for the sport to throw caution to the wind and just start the 43 fastest cars in a single round of qualifying? True, it could have an impact on the championship; reigning Cup champ Jimmie Johnson would have missed the first Dover race last year. However, right now several teams risk going home every week, despite being full-time teams with sponsors to worry about just as much as the big teams. Again, who is to say that Carquest deserves to race every week more than NAPA? That’s just like saying Tony Stewart’s fans are more important than Ken Schrader’s, isn’t it?

Any of these systems would be better than the one we have now. Saying that the Top 35 have the right to a spot based on their continuing past success is ridiculous, and ignorant of what racing was built upon. Racing is a sport based on what a driver can get of a car on any given Sunday. The problem is, NASCAR is disregarding this principle on Friday, when far too much of the weekend is determined by what a team did last week. That's not what racing is about. Last week is over. Teams should have to pony up this week, or risk going home. No matter who they are.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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05/04/2007 05:10 AM

Go back to the days of two rounds of qualifying.

05/04/2007 08:34 AM

How about this. Last years Chase participants are locked in. Everyone else has to qualify on time.

05/04/2007 08:53 AM

You know, Tony Stewart was right.. NASCAR IS FIXING RACES!!! with the Top 35 Rule. They are basically saying only the CHOSEN 35 are allowed to compete regularly.

I certainly understand why the top 35 rule was created, but that was in the days of field fillers. Now, 50-55 quality teams are showing up each week competing for 43 spots. Which means 15-20 quality teams are only competing for 8 spots. The fact that 23 cars ran slower in qualifying is a travesty, and it is going to happen more and more as Toyota and the others get their act together.

The only way it will change is if either 1) the major sponsors scream loud enough or 2) the fans scream loud enough. Don’t leave it to the Frances to do the RIGHT THING, they are only interested in the MONEY THING.

Send e-mails to and in the subject put TOP 35 RULE MUST GO!!

Larry Johnson
05/04/2007 09:39 AM

Why cant 55 cars start that many on 1 mile or> tracks is no problem except for cheap NASCAR TO pay them

05/04/2007 10:26 AM

Superstars going home? In golf if Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, or Vijay Singh does not play well enough to make the cut on Thursday and Friday (which you can equate to qualifying because golfers are positioning themselves for the weekend)they don’t play on the weekend, nor do they get paid. Maybe NASCAR should look at how Formula One handles qualification as a model. Lastly, no more than 43 cars due to number of pit boxes at most tracks. If anything, the fields, at Bristol and Martinsville need to be pared to 36 cars.

Adam Waller
05/04/2007 11:32 AM

FANS UNITE in protest! Starting this week at Richmond all fans in attendace LOUDLY boo the driver who qualifies 35th. No matter who it is. Nascar and the boys in charge will get the picture and make some changes.

05/04/2007 03:04 PM

Another consequence of the ‘top 35’ rule is that the CHOSEN work on their race set-up ALL week, while the ‘go-or-go home’ have to get a good qualifying set-up and hope to modify it during the race. This guarentees that they’ll be ‘go-or go home’ for the next week,too!

NASCAR is kicking them while they’re down.

gittin 'r' dun
05/04/2007 08:03 PM

Sorry, but the guys who are ‘top 35’ are there for a reason…they’re consistently the fastest. The guy who ran 20th at ‘dega and didn’t make the race was in full qualifying trim and would have been run down quickly in the race. If everyone had to “qualify on time” my bet is that most of the guys who are currently in the top 30 would still be there, because they’d screw on their qualifying setup and kick the *^%t out of the guy who was 20th against their race setups!

05/04/2007 08:40 PM

They are “tweaking” qualifying so that Mikey and the Toyotas can make the field and for no other reason. There should be no guaranteed positions. If you aren’t fast enough, you go home, no matter who you are. You should also race what you qualify. Qualifying “trim” is ridiculous. It’s a sham. You can qualify good because you can run fast for a lap or two by yourself, then go to the back once the race starts becasue the car isn’t really good enough to race.

05/05/2007 12:27 PM

I disagree with Ed. I don’t think it has anything to do with Mikey, Schrader, Jarrett or any person. Toyota? Maybe. They have a lot more money than the drivers. This problem didn’t become apparent until 53-54 quality teams started regularly showing up. They need to go “back in the day” and only take the top 43 cars, regardless of whether you are Jr, Gordon, Mikey or Morgan Shepherd. Everyone should be “Go or Go HOME!”


Contact Amy Henderson

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