The Frontstretch: Qualifying Procedure In Desperate Need of Overhaul by Vito Pugliese -- Thursday March 11, 2010

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Qualifying Procedure In Desperate Need of Overhaul

What's Vexing Vito · Vito Pugliese · Thursday March 11, 2010


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With all of the hullabaloo from the Carl Edwards/Brad Keselowski fallout dominating the headlines and people’s thoughts since Sunday, the main theme dominating the headlines has been the action – or rather inaction taken by NASCAR in regards to disciplining an aggressive driver.

Part of the explanation behind the sanctioning body electing not levying any sort of meaningful penalty against Carl Edwards has been linked to their preseason mantra of leaving things in the drivers’ hands, and for them to sort things out on the competition side among themselves. Regardless of where you come down on that issue, one area where the racing is clearly not in the drivers’ hands takes place before the green flag even falls on Sunday – qualifying.

As we head into one of the few off-weekends of the still young 2010 NASCAR season, it leaves us with one more race at Bristol for teams to fall back on 2009 owner’s points standings, meaning that the following week at Martinsville, the 2010 owner’s points will be in play. The Top 35 in points are guaranteed to make the race, and those who have been using last years owner’s points to make races are going to have to get in on time if they are 36th or lower.

If all of this sounds a bit contrived and convoluted, well, it’s because it is.

Take last weekend’s Kobalt Tools 500 in Atlanta for example. There were three drivers who failed to qualify for the event: Aric Almirola, Casey Mears and Terry Cook. These three drivers posted speeds that were 39th, 41st, and 43rd respectively. There were three cars that were significantly slower that did make the race: Travis Kvapil, Kevin Conway and Boris Said, who qualified nearly 10 mph off the pace. In the case of Said, he was nearly one second slower than even the 39th fastest Almirola, whose team was forced to load up their No. 09 James Finch Chevrolet, and head for home. Kyle Busch in particular took note of this lack of performance during an encounter with Said during final practice on Saturday.

It’s now time for NASCAR to rethink the qualifying procedure that has allowed off the pace cars to make the field each week.

“Just guys that don’t belong out there,” said Busch. “He’s run off the pace at every single track that we’ve been to. He’s been the slowest car at the racetrack. He’s got owners’ points, so he gets to make the race because he bought his way into a car number from last year that had the owner’s points.”

Roush Fenway put together a “comprehensive services contract” with Said’s Latitude 43 Motorsports that promised the new team a guaranteed start in the season-opening Daytona 500 using the 2009 owner’s points from what was once Jamie McMurray’s No. 26 Roush Fenway Ford. In 2008, a similar arrangement was made transferring owner’s points from the No. 2 Penske Dodge of Kurt Busch over to the No. 77 of teammate Sam Hornish, Jr., in an effort to help make sure Hornish, Jr. qualified for all of the early races – including the Daytona 500.

That is not to cast aspersions on Boris Said or Latitude 43 for simply taking advantage of a rule that exists. It isn’t as if he is a poor driver; after all, he has won poles at Daytona and Sonoma, and has instructed half of the field how to drive on a road course. However, being a second off the pace during qualifying and practice coupled with contact involving an established car highlights an area that desperately needs addressing.

Considering the state of the sport and the delicate economic situation that each team finds themselves in, now is not the time to create barriers to entry on the track. In a perfect world, the fastest 43 qualifiers would race every week. Don’t get me wrong – start-up teams like Latitude 43 (revel in irony of the name) have every right to go out and compete for a starting spot in the race. That being said, qualifying nearly 10 mph off the pole speed should not entitle you to a guaranteed spot in the field, even if you’re just turning a lap to get a pit stall.

Now, I can appreciate the need for the sponsors who drive the sport and provide the funding to keep it running needing to have their cars out there. If there absolutely needs to be locked in starting spots in the field, fine. 20th place in drivers’ points – not owners’ points – should be the cut off, with a provisional for a past champion who has won that title within the last 10 years. You might as well get something for the effort. This will help prevent point swapping between teams, where simply having a number means there is points associated with it, as long as it meets an undefined criteria by NASCAR.

Another issue that needs to be revised is the qualifying procedure itself. Through the 1990s, there were always two rounds of qualifying; one on Friday and a second round on Saturday. This was scrapped in the interest of time spent at the track and trying to save teams money on tires and short-lived qualifying engines. With the one-engine rule in place now, and a camera crew capturing everything from game shows to hot dog vendors at the track during a race weekend, you might as well have something going on that is competitive, or at least throw the vendors a bone and attract some more people in the stands.

Back in the day, it was not uncommon to see a car qualified in 26th position on Saturday that would have turned in a top 10 time the day before. If you lock in the top 25 on Friday, and have a second round on Saturday to set the back half of the field, it gives the smaller teams two chances to get in the show, and if a front runner is struggling, to have another go at it the second day.

This practice would also eliminate the inconceivably frustrating event of qualifying being rained out and the field set by points. What good does it to haul a car and team to the track to practice all day on Friday, only to get to the last handful of cars and it starts raining? Everybody’s time, effort, and perhaps most importantly, limited financial resources become wasted. Teams who had worked so hard to prepare decent cars are forced to go home, simply because it got wet out. With two rounds of qualifying, there would be a second opportunity for everybody to post a time at least once.

As I repeatedly say, in this economic climate and with a sport that is struggling to attract new viewers and maintain the existing ones, getting back to racing’s roots is a great idea, so long as it does not stop at state-sanctioned demolition derbies. Allowing everybody a fair shot to get into the race is good for everybody involved; big teams, small teams, new teams and old, and for the health of the sport in general.

There is nothing that runs so contradictory to the nature and spirit of our sport than just being granted something arbitrarily. If we are going to continue to promote the throwback era during 2010, let’s work on brining back a fair and equitable qualifying system, that would attract new teams and sponsors who would welcome the chance to compete in our sport.

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03/11/2010 09:31 AM


zhills fan
03/11/2010 09:48 AM

I still say that the 43 fastest qualifiers should start the race, period! As far as having 2 day qualifying, not anymore, the economy isn’t favorable enough for that anymore.

Michael in SoCal
03/11/2010 11:47 AM

I say have the Top 20 in driver’s points and the Top 20 from the previous race be locked in. Obviously there would be some overlap. All other positions are in on qualifying time. No provisionals.

03/11/2010 12:27 PM

Boris Said’s talents on road courses are undeniable, and as this article mentioned, half the drivers in Cup are probably better because of him. And fortunately we’ll only have to deal with this for one more race before switching to 2010 points, and I seriously doubt the #26 will make it back inside the top-35 as slow as they are week after week. Still, this team’s efforts over the last 4 races have made it clear that there is a problem.

Just taking the fastest 43 will never be a viable solution. What happens if we get down to Homestead and the point leader has a mechanical problem on his qualifying lap? A whole season’s worth of work can’t be ruined by one little problem, and teams have to have some kind of guarantee. Personally I’d like to see us return to a provisional system but with only 3 provisionals after taking the top-40 speeds.

I think there should also be a provision for teams such as the 82 who get off to strong starts to lock them into the field as well.

03/11/2010 12:35 PM

Qualifying should be top 43 fastest, period. Get rid of this farce called top 35. No more provisionals either. Get it on speed in two laps or go home and come back next week to try again. As for the start-n-parks…how about payout based on percentage of laps run. If you only manage to get 25% of the laps in then you only get 25% of the payout for that poistion you finished in. Hit em where it hurts.

Michael in SoCal
03/11/2010 12:56 PM

DMan – I totally agree with pro-rating the payouts based on laps completed.

Kevin from PA
03/11/2010 12:59 PM

I agree with having a LIMITED provisional system where ALL drivers have 3 – 5 do-overs. If you have none left then too bad – regardless if you are in the Chase or not.

If you thought the top 35 rules stunk, the old provisional system was even worse. NASCAR was so embarrassed by the old system that they would never even list the rules on their official website.

I remember one year Elliot Sadler should have missed 9 races based on speed. However back then anyone in the top 25 have unlimited provisionals so it never made a difference. So his team quickly learned it was far better to spend your time on the race setup than to bother with qualifying.

I guess the kink is that you would still have some system on how many drivers are locked in or not. But pay me B. France money and by golly I think I could come up with a better system by the end of today (For BF money, I will throw in a better racing schedule by the end of tomorrow for free!!)

Paul Denton
03/11/2010 03:14 PM

Both the Top 35 and the rest of Qualifying needs to be overhauled.Every race there should be a Mandated Qualifying session before the race if from thursday to saturday there’s just isnt anyway to do it then the field should be set from the race of the year before at that Track until the third race of the season is done instead of five.
Qualify on speed even if you are a Jimmie Johnson,Kurt Busch,DaleJR ,Scott Speed ,or who ever And no points can be transferred It has to stay In House Also In another matter Start n Parks neeed to be weeded out That’s enough No More.If these teams want to race why dont they do something smart and join forces become one team they would be able to field at least if not more one car to go the distance right now as it stands its just the waste of track space. Also Nascar needs to implement that if you become more than four laps down you need to park it unless you can catch up in say ten laps.And if you are a lap down you Manatory move out of the way of cars on the lead lap
Thanks Paul Denton

03/11/2010 04:21 PM

Although it is the minority view, Nascar DOES need to provide a guarantee to top cars that they will race on Sunday. A lot of tracks depend, either officially or through scalpers, on walk-up sales for attendance. If Dale Jr or Tony Stewart doesn’t qualify because the car broke down, no one is going to come see the race. However, locking in 35 cars is far too many, since the Chase is 12 cars, I would lock in 24. This would guarantee that the “stars” will be there but also give a reason and some excitement to qualifications instead of just pit selection.

03/11/2010 07:13 PM

The Chase has 12 drivers go for the championship. Why not have whoever is in the top 12 in points for that week is locked in and 13th on back must qualify on time.

03/11/2010 08:14 PM

Should be fastest 43 cars, period. NO locked in spots. Also, the shootout in Daytona in Feb. should go back to the pole winners from previous year, even if it means dumping Budweiser!

03/12/2010 06:01 PM

nasbutt talks about a level playing field so why do they not fix it so all cars get the same amount of practice?? in stead they drag thier feet thru in spection so the top guys get practice and the ones who need it most only get 30 to 45 minuets.

Dixie Rect
03/13/2010 12:40 PM

Drivers who are running qualifying laps should have to avoid a piss drunk Swirvin’ Irvin on the track. That would make Nascar more enjoyable.

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