Toni Montgomery · Friday April 15, 2005
Thirty is just too many. That’s how many trucks are guaranteed a starting spot based on owner’s points in the Craftsman Truck Series. I’m not saying I totally disagree with the new qualifying procedures. There’s a lot about it that’s good, but not that number.
The new system is designed to give regular teams more protection from being sent home. That’s good. I’ve never been a fan of a midseason effort making a few attempts, getting a boat load of provisionals, and then sending a full time team home.
I also understand there has to be some sort of guarantee or provisional system in place to protect those same regular teams from going home if they should experience some problem in qualifying. That protects teams and drivers who are contending for a championship as well as fans who are showing up to see their driver race. That’s good too. As nice as it sounds to many fans, doing away with any provisional system and simply running the 36 fastest trucks is asking for trouble the first time the points leader gets sideways on a qualifying lap.
I really think this system was something that was needed much more in the Nextel Cup Series than in the Busch or Craftsman Truck Series, but I applaud NASCAR on making an effort to try to be consistent for once too. As confusing as the new qualifying seems, I think having different rules among the three top series can be even worse.
Setting the locked in number at 35 in the Cup Series makes sense to me. There are roughly 35 full time teams in that series. It guarantees pretty much all of them a spot and still leaves eight more up for grabs in a 43 car field. The Busch Series also starts 43 cars but their cut off for the guaranteed spots is 30th in owners points. Again, it makes sense to me. There are slightly fewer full time efforts in the Busch Series so a lower cutoff number is acceptable. There is also a larger number of quality part time entries in that series that shouldn’t have to suffer from the new system so leaving a larger number of extra spots open (13 as opposed to eight) gives those teams a little more room to work.
The Craftsman Truck Series also uses 30th as their cutoff for a guaranteed starting spot, however the Craftsman Truck Series only starts a 36 truck field. This means that there are only six starting spots available for those trucks that are not locked in. That’s the least amount of non-locked in starting spots available in any of the top three series.
While the depth of the teams competing in the series has increased, especially after the entrance of Toyota, I still have to wonder if it’s deep enough and competitive enough to justify that many locked in spots. A few years ago you could barely wander out of the top ten and still find solid efforts. Are there really 30 teams competing in trucks that are strong enough to warrant that number for guaranteed starting spots?
It’s bad news for teams trying to get started who thought NASCAR’s least expensive series was the best place to do it too. Unless you plan to launch a full time effort and have the funds to insure you’ll be fast right out of the box, having only six spots available means you’re likely to face the biggest uphill battle just to get in the show of any of the series. Remember that there will only be six spots if a past series champion doesn’t need that last one. It may only be five spots available.
Even having the funding to assemble a strong team doesn’t necessarily mean that six spots will be enough. Ask Brendan Gaughan and Darrell Waltrip about that. They picked a week when a large number of strong part time efforts showed up to race. Both drivers posted times that would have kept them safely out of provisional land and in the field under the old rules, but were not fast enough to claim one of those six open spots under the new rules. Both were faster than other trucks who did race. Sure, faster trucks being sent home by slower ones happened under the old system too, but those trucks were usually faster than only a few other trucks. It’s daunting to be faster than 20 trucks, as was the case with Waltrip, and still go home. Gaughan beat 22 other trucks in case you were wondering.
Bottom line in for me is that six spots left for other teams is not enough. Thirty spots locked in on owner’s points in the Craftsman Truck Series is too many. I’m thinking 25 sounds like a much better number. I’d even be willing to compromise and give them 28 if NASCAR would consider something other than a round sounding number. That would leave eight open spots. Certainly no series should have fewer than the eight even the Nextel Cup Series allows.
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