The Frontstretch: Wake-Up Call : Obsolete Top 35 Rule Needs Facelift by Mike Lovecchio -- Sunday July 8, 2007

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Wake-Up Call : Obsolete Top 35 Rule Needs Facelift

Bubble Breakdown : Tracking The Top 35 In Nextel Cup Owner Points · Mike Lovecchio · Sunday July 8, 2007

 

Nobody could have been happier with the down-to-the-wire finish of the Pepsi 400 on Saturday night than Brian France and the big dogs at NASCAR. After all, it was just one day earlier that the sport was criticized for its handling of the rain-drenched qualifying session that ended just 14 cars from its conclusion. In the blink of an eye, the man on the provisional pole went from the dream of two consecutive 1st place starts at Daytona to packing up his trailer and getting sent home – a cruel end to a qualifying session which proved a difficult reality for several drivers who watched strong runs turn into spots on the DNQ list instead. NASCAR is ahead of the curve in many aspects, but the obsolete Top 35 rule that shut out these drivers is not one of them; as the rain poured down in droves, the need for a rule change has never proved greater.

What happened Friday night is a difficult situation to try and diagnose. If there was ever an excuse to reschedule the end of qualifying to the following morning, this weekend would have been it. The rainout wreaked havoc on several teams with limited schedules who came to qualify for one of the sport’s biggest races…only to realize they never had a chance in the first place. As the final superspeedway event with the current chassis, the money spent by low-budget organizations such as the No. 60 team driven by Boris Said essentially went to waste when they were bumped from the field by Mother Nature. The money put into the car, as Said himself put it, had transformed itself into "the most expensive show car ever built."

But if you put yourself in NASCAR's shoes, you see that it's unfair to hold separate sessions of qualifying in separate conditions. They had no clue at the time the decision was made exactly when the rain would subside, and on that night, their number one priority was starting the Busch Series event on time. It turned out that got postponed, as well, proof that even had NASCAR waited things out, things would have never got back underway.

With that in mind, you simply can't blame NASCAR for setting the field by owner points; but you can blame them for keeping an obsolete Top 35 rule that’s part of that scenario, a rule that should have been adjusted when Toyota first came into the sport this season.

When the Top 35 scenario first was implemented back in 2005, it was when car counts were extremely low, with the exception of a few select races. Because of that, NASCAR wanted to guarantee full-time teams with major-market sponsors and high-profile drivers that there would be a spot for them in the field each week no matter what transpired. But when Toyota came to the sport this season, car counts went up, high-profile drivers jumped ship, and sponsors flocked. But all of that hasn’t translated into immediate success. At the midway point of this season, there is not one Toyota team that is guaranteed to make a race each week, including teams sponsored by: Red Bull Energy Drink, NAPA, Caterpillar and UPS. Among the group on the outside looking in are big-name drivers and past winners Michael Waltrip, Dale Jarrett and Brian Vickers, struggling through seasons filled with both struggle and sacrifice. All of these teams – with the exception of Jarrett, who had a past champion’s provisional – were essentially behind the 8-ball from the get-go with just eight spots, at most, available in each race due to 35 “locked in” positions.

With 53 cars trying to make the field, this was the first weekend where NASCAR’s problems with the Top 35 rule truly came to light. Whether qualifying got rained out or not, there were going to be issues, for even if qualifying DID run there was a possibility that the eighth place car could have been sent home. Since it was an impound race, those cars “locked in” to the field preferred to qualify with essentially race setups, while those on the outside looking in attempted their runs in qualifying trim. That resulted in go-or-go-home cars capturing the top seven spots at the time of the rainout; with Bill Elliott forced to use a champion’s provisional, that meant if one more go-or-go-homer qualified in the top seven, the eighth fastest car would be sent packing. Just doesn’t seem right, does it?

So, what does NASCAR do from here?

It's more than likely that there will be a rule change for next season. As much as Boris Said played off his misfortunes, what happened Friday night did bring to light that there is a problem with this rule. An obvious solution would be to limit the number of cars guaranteed each week from 35 to a smaller number, around 20 or 25. With this scenario, more spots would be available in qualifying, but it would risk the possibility of a high-profile driver that's having a subpar season (i.e. – Kasey Kahne) missing the race.

Well I say, so be it. In a dream world where money wouldn't matter, I would love to see the impound rule thrown away and only 12 spots - since that is the magic number these days - guaranteed. With this scenario, 31 spots would be available. Teams would unload and prepare for an all-important qualifying session, using Happy Hour to adjust for race conditions. Of course, sponsorship and money concerns would never allow this to happen; but a guy can dream, can’t he?

NASCAR is continuing to grow. It was just days ago that the sport announced that the Nextel Cup would be renamed the Sprint Cup in 2008, the same year the CoT will take over as the full-time chassis. It would be the perfect time to readjust the Top 35 rule to make it more sensible for an ever-growing car count.

What will NASCAR do? Feel free to Email Mike with your opinions on how you think the sport can fix the problem.

Without further adieu, here is an abbreviated version of this week’s Bubble Breakdown, a week in which there wasn’t much movement to report. With Johnny Sauter’s 18th place finish for the No. 70 team, the gap now stands a season high 178 points between 35th and 36th place:

Biggest Mover(s)

Dave Blaney (No. 22) – Finished 23rd; Moved from 37th to 36th in owner points.
Bill Elliott (No. 21) – Finished 24th; Moved from 38th to 37th in owner points.

Biggest Loser

Scott Riggs (No. 10) – Finished 41st; Moved from 36th to 38th in owner points.

Tracking Toyota

Dave Blaney (No. 22) – Finished 23rd.
David Reutimann (No. 00) – Finished 26th.
Dale Jarrett (No. 44) – Finished 27th.
Brian Vickers (No. 83) – Finished 30th.

Highest In Owner Points: Blaney / No. 22 (36th)

Bubble Breakdown

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Haas CNC Racing 66 Jeff Green 1,502 +71
32 Robert Yates Racing 88 Ricky Rudd 1,497 +66
33 Ginn Racing 13 Joe Nemechek 1,476 +45
34 Petty Enterprises 45 Kyle Petty / John Andretti 1,458 +27
35 Haas CNC Racing 70 Johnny Sauter 1,431 0
36 Bill Davis Racing 22 Dave Blaney 1,253 -178
37 Glen Wood 21 Bill Elliott / Ken Schrader 1,224 -207
38 Evernham Motorsports 10 Scott Riggs 1,205 -226
39 Teresa Earnhardt 15 Paul Menard 1,172 -259
40 Team Red Bull 83 Brian Vickers 1,057 -374
41 Michael Waltrip Racing 00 David Reutimann 1,032 -399
42 Michael Waltrip Racing 44 Dale Jarrett 948 -483
43 Furniture Row Racing 78 Kenny Wallace 838 -593
44 James Finch / Morgan-McClure Motorsports 4 Ward Burton 781 -650
45 Bill Davis Racing 36 Jeremy Mayfield 711 -720
46 Team Red Bull 84 A.J. Allmendinger 626 -805
47 BAM Racing 49 Larry Foyt 599 -832
48 Michael Waltrip Racing 55 Michael Waltrip 580 -851
49 Front Row Motorsports 37 Kevin LePage 434 -997

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Kenneth
07/09/2007 07:56 AM
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I couldn’t agree more. I hate it when pro-top 35 people argue with points like “it’s protecting the top teams!” and “a star driver missing the race would be devastating!”. An individual called into a radio show last week and said that were he to pay the money to go to a race with his family and his driver failed to make the race, he would leave the track and not watch the race (in the wake of the JJohnson/JGordon suspension talk). That just seems absurd to me, and I love how these people conveniently ignore that there are star drivers going home every week, along with powerful sponsors. One could also say it’s to protect teams that have been loyal to the sport and whatnot, but how does that explain Morgan McClure and Wood Brothers teams going home multiple times this year?

NASCAR is trying to make a sport that puts on a good show for the fans and is fair and balanced for the teams. Unfortunately, they’ve ended up alienating the fans and making things completely unfair for low-budget and startup teams.

I think NASCAR should reduce the number of ‘locked’ teams to 25 (as has been rumored), and for the first 5 races of the season, only lock in the 12 Chase drivers from the previous season. It’ll never happen, of course, but I think it would be an ideal solution.

Michael McBride
07/09/2007 09:41 AM
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As a Robby Gordon fan, I could care less about the teams suffering under this rule. My driver suffered under it for a full year in 2005 and the first 5 races of 2006, and those entry lists were just about as big in 2006 as they are now. But you know what, no one made a peep about it then because it only hurt small one car teams (Ask that #32 car how they feel about it..oh wait, they went out of business). It is hypocritical now to blast a system that drivers benefited under the previous 2 years (yes I am talking about you Michael Waltrip, Dave Blaney and Scott Riggs). If you dont have the talent to be in the top 35 when you were guaranteed the first 5 races of a season..too bad. Suck it up and do it the hard way Robby
did.

As for the Daytona debacle..how about NO IMPOUND races??? It doesn’t take a brain surgeoun to figure this one out. That way everyone shows up to qualify (not just take 2 laps in race trim), and we won’t hear all the whiners about how we were top on the charts and had to go home…

I think a better answer is keep the top 35 rule and maybe expand the field to 45 or 46 cars. Most of the big tracks can easily adjust pit road and get the xtra stalls. On smaller tracks do the “Dover” rule (where the 42nd snd 43rd place cars share a stall) where the last few qualifers from 41st to 43rd “share” the pit stall with the 44th-46th place cars, with the current car higher up in the race gets to come down first.

Either way, anyone with half a brain should have seen the day when this was all coming, so if you dodn’t call it unfair in 2005 (when all races were impounds, too), dont whine about it now. It is what it is.

Michael McBride
07/09/2007 09:53 AM
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Another point/possible outcome of lowering the locked in teams to 30 or 25 is this:

now my math may be a little fuzzy…but lowering it to 30 or 25 still sends home the same amount of FULLY FUNDED TEAMS each week…lol It’s not like Morgan Shepard and Derek Cope are locked in…

All lowering the # of locked in spots does is put more fully funded teams in jeopardy of losing sponsors (as they will miss some races). Why sponsor a car who is 26th and may miss races when I can sponsor a top 25 guy. Hence the rich get richer. It’s the same exact argument as the top 35 rule..excpet now even MORE is at stake im my opinion.

Nascar has to decide if they are going to cow tow to whining teams like MWR and TRB who haven’t paid their dues and such..or do they want to see Evernham, Gnassi and Petty teams possibly get run out of racing instead.

Ugh..it’s a mess of a situation no matter how you look at it. I think the only palatable solution is to increase the fields to 45 or 46 cars like I said above. Hopefully that would be feasible to do at all the tracks.

Or perhaps bring back the old provisional system? That would be fairer to the non locked in teams in that if they qualify well and in the top 36 on speed regardless of owner pts they’d be in to that race. (whereas now they may not be if they are not in the top 8 fastest of the go or go homers).

It would also light a fire to the top teams that they have to show up on qualifying day or risk using up their provisionals and possibly start missing races, too.

Sally B
07/09/2007 10:30 AM
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How about the old system of 2 days of qualifying? Lock in the first 30 on day one, let the others qualify, or re qualify on day 2. You get your effective ‘top 35’ (on time) in the race, and the rest qualify for the remaining 13 spots. Takes care of anyone who has trouble on Day 1. And eliminate the stupid lock in of cars.

Mike Lovecchio
07/09/2007 10:40 AM
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It’s a difficult situation for NASCAR… somebody is going to go home unhappy each week. I agree that the impound rule should be eliminated to make qualifying important again. By lowering the # of cars that are locked in it opens up more spots that are available through qualifying. Kirk Shelmerdine was 13th fastest at Daytona 3/4 of the way through qualifying and was to be bumped from the field. That can’t happen.

Michael McBride
07/09/2007 10:43 AM
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Exactly why they need to get rid of impounds (ESPECIALLY AT A PLATE TRACK). If the top 35 guys are in qual trim, I can guarantee you Kirk Shelmerdine will not be sitting 13th….lol

Mike Lovecchio
07/09/2007 10:47 AM
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Very true…if everyone was in Q-trim there is no way Shelmerdine is anywhere near the front. But it still brings to light the fact that it IS possible…although very unlikely.

Tim
07/09/2007 11:27 AM
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Or NASCAR could go really crazy, on Friday you have tradition qualifying with the top 20 or 25 locked instead of the top 35 and if a driver outside that group gets in they are in and extends the “locked in field” by a position. The other non-qualified drivers to go Saturday’s 50 mile/lap qualifying race to set the remainder of the field. This scenario could have the unintended consquence of cutting down on the number of number of Buschwackers.

Timbo
07/09/2007 11:38 AM
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Everyone should have 6 provisionals, the top 30 qualifiers are in the race and the last 13 use provisionals based on owners points. You use your provisionals up and you are not in the top 30 of qualifing you go home.

Bob
07/09/2007 12:23 PM
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I really liked Tim’s idea of a qualifying race for those cars not locked in. Right now qualifying is a joke. I am only interested when one of the go-or-go-home guys are qualifying. Let the top 35/25 qualify to determine starting position then have a last chance qualifying race for the rest. This would provide a show for the fans plus allow the “outsiders” to work on race setups. The way it is now, even if they qualify, they have no chance in the race

Mike
07/09/2007 12:34 PM
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Scrap the STUPID impound rule (that does NOT save any $$$ anyway) and qualify ALL drivers on time and let the fastest 43 in the show. I don’t think it would hurt NA$CAR’$ profit to allow the fastest cars actually race. (That would be a novel idea!)

Michael McBride
07/09/2007 12:39 PM
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…but then when Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson get caught cheating again, they WILL have to go home (like Vickers did) when they are not allowed to qualify. Nascar will never allow that, hence why they will never EVER just let it be top 43 on speed. There will always be some sort of top x number of cars protected.

In light of the number of fully funded teams, either increasing the field or going back to some resemblance of the old provisional system seems fairer in terms of qulaifying for the field.

JOE S.
07/09/2007 02:38 PM
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I also like the idea of a qualifying race. NASCAR needs to so something to encourage the middle of the pack to get the lead out and to give new teams a real chance to get into a race any week. Let every team going to the track have a real opportunity to get into the show. Get rid of all provisionals, including past champion, and lock in only the first twenty (20) in owner’s points. Make everyone else race into the big event The qualifying race could be held instead of time trials and be a sprint maybe ten percent (10%) the length of the big event. The starting grid could be chosen by lot. To jazz it up at least one green flag four tire pit stop should be required.

The top ten of the locked in teams from the last race would have posts 1 to 10 of the main event. The balance would be interweaving the posts with those getting past the qualifying race and the balance of the twenty locked in teams.

The qualifying race would constitute a big new income source for NASCAR, with a new sponsor and another hour of exciting TV time, not just boring time trials

Michael McBride
07/09/2007 03:32 PM
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I think qualifying races are a bad idea. Albeit they would be exciting, but now you are talking about having one or 2 practices just for the guys running this race to tune their cars. And then nevermind the other practices for the locked in cars.
And forget about all the sheet metal that will need to be fixed because these guys will take each other out trying to get into the show. And for those that do get into the show, you have just given them a HUGE advantage over the locked in cars as they now know how their cars will be in a race situation, whereas the locked in cars will not.

Exciting in theory but probably economically unsound, and nevermind the added time pressures for track time to pull this off with possible Busch, Truck or Arca companion races at the same track at any given weekend.

PitBoard
07/09/2007 06:56 PM
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Look at it this way, Jarrett, Blaney, and Riggs were in the top 35 for 5 races. It’s their problem they’re not in the top 35 now. Say congrats to the teams that struggled (even some missed one race) and still made it to the top 35. Instead of complaining how about for once complementing the teams that played by the rules and made it work?

Kenneth
07/09/2007 07:18 PM
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This isn’t an issue about commending the teams that did well under the rule or blasting ones that can’t seem to cope well with it. It’s the fact that the rule was implemented under circumstances that were drastically different than they are today. NASCAR implemented the rule as a basis to protect not only full-time sponsors but to protect smaller teams as well. Now we’re running into things where teams like the Wood Bros. and MMM are getting destroyed and fully-sponsored teams are going home in favor of, in some cases, cars without a single primary sponsor on them.

Some might say that changing the rule would be pandering to MWR and Toyota, but if you’re in NASCAR’s situation, what else do you do? Sure, you’ll still send fully-sponsored teams home, but at least there will be more parity in terms of having different teams going home each week which will spread the points more evenly amongst those outside the top-25 (or whatever) bubble, and you won’t have a situation like it is now where once you’re out of the top-35, it’s almost impossible to race your way back in (sure, Nemechek and JoSauter did it, but sitting 33rd and 35th in points respectively, it seems that the t35 rule is the only thing preventing them from falling out).

It’s definitely a sticky situation. If NASCAR keeps things the way they are, eventually the MMM, WoodBros, MWR, BDR’s 2nd team, and TRB’s 2nd team will all end up biting the dust. If you’re for that, well, then so be it, but I’m sure there’s many more who would argue that that isn’t in NASCAR’s best interests.

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