Daytona 500 Qualifying: Needs Tweaking, Not Twerking

Jeff Gordon sits on the pole for the 2015 Daytona 500.

Jeff Gordon sits on the pole for the 2015 Daytona 500.

I’ve never been one to have a great sense of tradition when it comes to auto racing. However this past weekend’s NASCAR Daytona 500 qualifying procedure may be swaying me towards a more “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. Maybe.

Restrictor plate races do not need to employ ‘knock out style group qualifying’ as a means for ginning up the fan base leading up to NASCAR’s biggest auto race.

After forcing myself to watch an excruciating display of confusion, attempts by the teams to game the new system and pointless equipment destruction I’m left with a sense of the airline pilots who, when faced with a simple problem, continue to push buttons, compounding the problem until the plane crashes.

One has to ask why more ‘excitement’ was needed when the old system of qualifying for the front row followed by the Duels needed tweaking? What I saw was more akin to twerking.

The answer is it’s qualifying for the Daytona 500. The biggest NASCAR race of the year.

It was by far and away more interesting to me to see who had the fastest lap without any benefit of drafting and then know that the teams have to give their best efforts at setting the cars up for the Duals. What we have now is far less intriguing.

Smoke speaks.

Smoke speaks.

According to Tony Stewart: “Today use to be about showcasing the hard work from the teams over the winter. Now it a complete embarrassment for our series. That’s not a show, it’s a joke and you know it.”

Obviously, the drivers dislike it to the degree of showing no fear of reprisal from NASCAR.

Even NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president, said:

“I think what (NASCAR Chairman) Brian (France) has said is that you can take us on,” O’Donnell said. “We’re NASCAR, that’s part of our job. When I look at the comments that Clint made or Tony made, those are based on wanting to see the best racing out there. Certainly tough to hear but those are things we have got to have conversations with them and work with those guys to figure out if there is a better way to do it. We will do that. It’s not something we are going to fine the drivers for.’’

There is, however, another side to the story.

It takes approximately three hours to run a qualifying session at Daytona with 48-50 cars. The downside of this is that track conditions change, wind changes direction, barometric pressure rises or falls and a myriad of additional variables.

It’s a matter of luck. What isn’t luck is that it was boring and the broadcast airtime for past qualifying was a media bust. No one watched and the stands were empty. Hence the reasoning behind running group sessions, to shorten the amount of time it takes to qualify a full field on a track the size of Daytona.

Unfortunately, with the new group sessions, there are too many cars on-track at once vying for position causing the mayhem we saw this past weekend.

Our technical expert, Bill Marlowe, has a suggestion for NASCAR. Bill should know as he’s sat on the roof spotting and keeping track of the competitors for many years as well as engineered for Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Bill Elliott and Kurt Busch.

Here’s his suggested format:

(1) Have all 48-50 cars line up diagonally on pit road.

(2) Each qualifying group would consist of no more than 8-10 cars

(3) In a blind draw, the first 10 cars are selected 5, maybe 8 minutes before they run. This ultimately gives a total of about 5-6 groups.

(4) In a second tandem blind draw, each car selected is given it’s starting position from pit road.

(5) The 1st ten cars have 5 minutes to line up on pit road.

(6) When the signal is given to go, group 1 has 5 minutes to accelerate, get up to speed and set a time.

(7) While the 1st group is out the blind draw process repeats itself.

(8) While the 1st group is on its cool down lap and coming to pit lane the 2nd group is already being released.

This format would take approximately one hour allowing for any engine failures, crashes or debris on track stoppages.

No one knows what spot or group they’re in until the last group and even then, none of the groups will have enough time to make deals or pick partners with another, the permutations would be too great.

The window of weather, temperature and wind speed/direction would be minimized.

The amount of pack racing is minimized based on starting the clock from pit road and no more than ten cars are running at once.

In summary, if these are the very best drivers in NASCAR, 10 cars on track at once should minimize the crashes and the nervous behavior of running in a pack for any extended length of time.

When it’s all said and done, you have the front row locked out and you can then move to the Duals later that next Thursday.

The excitement is there, the track and air time isn’t wasted and the chances of destroying equipment en masse is reduced.

You can save that carnage for the Duals, which is a normal occurrence.

Finally, the teams won’t have time to game the system.

 

 

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About Michele Rahal

Michele Rahal began his career as a professional racing driver in the United States driving for top road racing teams and owners such as Tom Gloy Motorsports, Lever Brothers and the Championship Group. His professional racing career continued from 1980 to 1987. In 1988, Mr. Rahal retired from active driving and moved on to create motorsports insurance packages for teams, events, facilities and drivers developing and instituting programs through such world renowned institutions as Lloyds of London.

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