Saturday, March 17, 2007

NASCAR is right to guarantee spots

I know fans really get tired of having sportswriters tell them what’s good for them when it comes to their favorite sport, but here goes.

A lot of NASCAR fans think they would like to see the rules changed so that the fastest 43 cars make each week’s Nextel Cup race. That’s it. You go fast enough, you’re in. No provisionals, no safety net, no nothing. A strict meritocracy.

Sorry, but that really is not what you want. Not at all.

I am not saying the current rules are perfect.

Guaranteeing the top 35 in the standings a spot in each week’s race does put an extreme onus on the “have nots” who have to race their way in for the other seven or eight spots each week.

For a long time, I’ve thought that number ought to be cut back to the top 25, but I don’t think that’s the right answer, either. I know fans will hate to hear this, but 25 isn’t enough for the very reason that you need 35 to start with.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

There are really two reasons you need guaranteed spots in the first place, no matter how you do that. The first one is obvious. If what happened to A.J. Allmendinger in qualifying Friday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway – his car started missing and he didn’t complete a lap – happens to Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Tony Stewart, there has to be a way for Earnhardt Jr. or Stewart to be in the race.

You can say what you want to, but NASCAR needs its biggest stars racing each weekend.
Stewart and Allmendinger should be treated equally in almost every way by NASCAR, but until Allmendinger has at least made a race or two you can’t say he brings as many people to the track as Stewart does. Stewart’s fans buy tickets and make travel plans expecting to see their guy race, and he needs to race even if something screwy happens to his car in qualifying.

You could at least partially accomplish that the “old” way, by putting the top 36 cars in the race based on speed and then assigning provisionals from the top of the points standings down.

But the top 35 guarantee makes more sense because it more likely ensures the top teams will be in the race each week even if early in a given season they’ve had bad luck and find themselves well back in the pack. Kasey Kahne, for example, is 36th in the current standings, and he needs to be racing on Sundays.

The real reason that NASCAR is right to guarantee spots for a certain number of its teams, though, has more to do with the teams and the sponsors than it does the drivers.

If an owner and a sponsor are willing to commit to racing every week, there should be some benefit in that, some advantage. It’s certainly true that some full-season teams and sponsors are being sent home now, but the only way to prevent that is to guarantee any full-time team a starting spot even if that means expanding starting fields beyond 43 cars.

I think that goes too far. The NASCAR garage shouldn’t be a closed shop, with only those willing and capable to run 36 races having any shot to compete. There has to be room for new teams, for teams with partial schedule plans to get their feet wet in the big pond.

Going to 25 exempt teams, though, goes too far I think. That comes off as another case of the rich getting richer, the haves getting more than the have nots. The top 25 teams are almost always going to be the ones with the most resources, and therefore the ones likely to get the most exposure that keeps that kind of support coming.

The real benefit of the current system falls on those teams that are 26th through 35th in the standings, I think. These are the guys who don’t get into the top 10 all that often, who don’t get the maximum television exposure. But if they go into a season knowing they’re going to make the first five races, they know they have a chance of staying in the exempt group and that makes them more appealing to sponsors.

What about new teams? Well, shouldn’t it be at least a little bit harder for somebody new to come in and take away a spot from a team that has been part of the sport? Shouldn’t there be at least some hurdle for new teams to clear?

It might be fair to argue that the current hurdle is too high to clear. Is it too easy for teams to stay in the top 35 and too hard for anybody to ever fight its way in? If more spots were available through qualifying, wouldn’t that give new teams a more equitable chance of carving out its place in the sport?

If you’re going to change anything, I’ve about decided that what you should do is guarantee the top 30 in points starting spots in the races. That allows at least 12 teams to make the race on speed. Maybe you could make that 13 by going ahead and starting 44 cars – there’s really no good reason not to fill out that last row with one more car.

But that’s as far as I am willing to go.


Anonymous said...

I well remember the year Richard Petty missed the race at Richmond when the 2 day qualifying was used, because of the weather the 2nd day was not run. Petty failed to make the field. NASCAR then made the Champions Provisional Rule. Which he never used. The real point to all of the above is that about six races into the year there was not fill fields for several races. Each year at the start of the season teams show up and disappear leaving the 35-40 drivers that were showing up very week and until this year NASCAR having to scamble to make a 43 car field. Then taking the heat for adding Morgan Sheppard or other drivers that just showed up to fill the field. Therefore to guarantee sports may not be perfect, but no one seems to have a better solution. Limiting the Champions Provisional is the proper thing and should have been done much sooner. This became apparent in the BUSCH SERIES several years ago.

Bruce E Simmons said...

Limiting the # of exceptions to the starting field to 30 seems quite reasonable. Even if some of the fan base drawing names are outside the top 30 in points, more than likely, they will make the show off of qualifying anyway.

Many fans just don't understand the obligations that NASCAR has gotten themselves into when they enter into television and sponsor agreements.

It's a chicken and egg deal. Sponsors know who draws the crowd and the sponsors benefit off the crowd. The crowd benefits off the sponsors as they make it possible for teams to be funded. It's almost like a the race teams and drivers are just middle men, connecting sponsors and customers!!

The stands fill up with people who are coming to see the bigger names, then the racing overall. And we are the most sponsor loyal sports fans out there & I for one would not want to shell out hard earned funds for my guy, and not find him in the race when I get there.

And if my guy did not in, then there should be a "I missed the field tent" behind the stands and drivers should hold impromptu autograph and answer and question sessions for their loyal followers.


zodton said...

YA, YA, all this what if Dale Jr. were to miss a race because his car started to miss fire stuff is fine and dandy. And I agree that he puts more fans in the seats than some of the drivers, but using that same logic should NASCAR come up with a way to stop the race and let him change his motor when it blows after a couple of laps. After all he is the most popular driver, and you know the fans deserve to see their driver out there. If the garunteed spots were gone it would make for better racing, the teams would have to step up and work harder. Dale Jarret has used a championship provsional every race this year leaving somebody with less sponser money to go home. All this does is strengthen the multi car teams and weaken the single car teams. What NASCAR should do is adopt a race in to qualify.At Daytona they use this format every Febuary and it provides the fans with some great racing. I have always wished that on Sunday NASCAR would have 2-50 mile quailifers and then a 300 or 400 mile main event.Works every Friday and Saturday night at your local track. But that is a rant for another day. Party On

Anonymous said...

There are no guaranteed spots in NHRA. Big names go home all the time. All sponsors should be treated equal. If they want to keep the champions provisional, thats fine, however qualifying should mean more than pit stall selection.

Unknown said...

The difference in the NHRA is everyone gets three runs to try to make the race.

Anonymous said...

If everyone gets equal practice time and 2 laps to qualify, whats the problem David. You get what you get and if it's not good enough, you go home. This isn't WEFARECAR, it's NASCAR.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, should be WELFARECAR.

Monkeesfan said...

The only meritocracy that works is when all entries start the race - then we see who's really good enough to contend. The whole idea that some teams should go home after qualifying never made any sense. The only time qualifying could ever be legitimate drama or competition is if we had a situation where the top ten in final points all had two or more DNQs apiece. And right now is there any prospect of that ever happening?

Qualifying should determine where you start, not whether you start.

Anonymous said...

44 cars might sound like a great number, but do all tracks have 44 pit stalls?

Dover only has 42. Last I heard, Watkins Glen only had 42.

How will tracks like Bristol and Martinsville handle the additional pit stall? The pit roads are tight enough already.

Monkeesfan said...

anonymous, Martinsville still has a backstretch pit that it doesn't use. Bristol can double-up for the big multicar teams - Gordon and Johnson can share a pit, Kenseth and Edwards share a pit, etc.

Some of these tracks can lengthen and/or redesign their pitroads to acomodate 50 or more cars.

Anonymous said...

David, I think you hit the nail on the head, NASCAR is more about the show than racing. Most tracks outside of the south and Cali are sold out before the cars are entered so if Dale Jr. is sick and does not race at Kansas does NASCAR refund a portion of the ticket price? Most PAYING customers want to see good racing and having the 43 fastest cars on the track might lead what NASCAR talks about wanting Good Racing.

Anonymous said...

No one has yet to explain to me how running one a tricked up car is good racing. If someone can explain why this is good racing, and how it will improve race day to allow someone to pull off this stunt and potentially knock off a top driver, then maybe I'll come around. Otherwise, I agree with a top 35 rule. I don't want to see some guy I never heard of in the race just because he managed to pull that off. Sorry...if that makes me a bad person, then so be it!

Anonymous said...

One thing I like about the top-35 rule is that it forces on-the-bubble teams to work a little harder, which is how it should be.

You're going to tell me that Michael Waltrip's teams aren't putting in a little more sweat at the shop than they would be if they knew they just had to show up in order to race?

Anonymous said...

Fastest 43 legal cars race, everybody else goes home. Have a 2nd chance qualifing round for those who crash or have engine trouble. That would make it fair to the fans, old and new teams and sponsers. NASCAR is slowly killing itself. I've been a fan for nearly 30 years and it is sad to see them mess up what was great racing.

brett1963 said...


It seems to me you really glossed over the upside down, like the old system idea. I really see nothing WRONG at all with the top 35 or so (up to 38) get in on speed only and the last 6-9 spots get in on points. (And lets do away the past champs provisional). The better funded, bigger teams as you mentioned should have no trouble getting in on speed and if they have some trouble are usually high enough in points to get a provisional. The ONLY possible problem would be for somebody like Kahne who had a bad start in the first five races. That would require the unlikely combination of being that far behind in points and having a miscue on qualifying day.

It just makes the most sense to me.

Anonymous said...

"THATS RACIN" go or go home
Give 'em 2 chances of two laps
also EVERYONE gets equal practice time. I would rather see a race among the "backmarkers" than the golden boys shoved down my throat.
If a track has 42 pit stalls start 42 cars, if 47 start 47.

Anonymous said...

It's just another NASCAR/Sponsor scam letting the rich get richer. At most, 15 are top fan draws. And, in case you missed the thousands of empty seats in Atlanta, they aren't doing so well drawing them in. Cheap gimmicks and inconsistent rule enforcement have taken the "Race" out of racing. NASCAR needs to swing the pendulum back to it's competitive roots or risk losing even more fans. Dumping the Top-35 (and another gimmick - The Lucky Mutt)would be great ways to start.

Anonymous said...

NASCAR clearly has reached a plateau (and maybe some decline) with its fans, but I can't see how the top-35 rule impacts that. Are there really that many people tuning out because an underfunded start-up didn't make the cut? I doubt it.

I'm speculating, but I think NASCAR's biggest problems with its fan base are:

1) Because of higher speeds, there's too little passing on the intermediate and above tracks. This makes for sleep-inducing single-file racing.

2) The coverage the past few years has had waaaay too many commercials.

3) Too many of the races are too long. I know it's one of the cornerstone events of the season, but I'm sorry, the Coca-Cola 600 just plain sucks.

4) The newer drivers, rather than being people that most of the fan base can relate to, are often in the sport because of family connections or their parents were paying to put them in go-karts since they got out of diapers. That, combined with all of the PR-polish that most of these kids are slathered with, might please the sponsors, but most of the working class fans could care less. Well, there are the women fans who like the "cute" ones, but most of those also watch about two races a year.

5) More than any other professional sport, I think that the NASCAR organization itself is generally disliked by many of the fans. Many don't think it has any credibility, they think that the executives look down their noses at where the sport came from, and they believe that Brian France and Mike Helton are running it into the ground. That gives people a sense of satisfaction when they tune out. I know I'm proud that the France family doesn't have more than $50 of my money.

Anonymous said...

i watched my 1st race at a atlanta when wendell scott was still racing, I have not missed watching a race since 1989, I have been to a lot of races, but I am losing interest quickly, I will never go to another race, the cot is a joke, I actually thing that nascar is being scripted as best as they can, barring a breakdown, my wife and I think that it is becomein just like any other hyped up sport thanks to the networks trying to work there raring games. the good ol boy's are gone, and for you jr. fans, and I like him to, if his daddy was alive he would have already put his foot in his but, I agree with Teresa for telling him to step up, his daddy would have said , do you want to race or what?
It seems that most of todays whiners need to be on tricycles, maybe thats what nascar wants, but my money won't be spent on them.
if somebody came out with another sanctioning body back like it was fust a few years ago before the frances started lining there pocket with big money, they could put a hurt on nascar( now all stupid commercials and replays)
thanks for letting me vent, I know it won't do any good