Condensing Weekends A Good Idea For NASCAR
It appears that NASCAR officials are floating an interesting trial balloon this weekend. The idea attached to that balloon is a good one. Well, half of a good one.
NASCAR official Kerry Tharp told reporters earlier this week that consideration is being given to doing away with single-car qualifying sessions for most races.
In the place of single-car sessions would be those which send multiple cars out at once. The cars would be released onto the track in groups. The cars in the groups would leave the pits at several-second intervals to prevent tangling and traffic jams.
Each of those groups would then have a set amount of time in which the individual cars would chase their fastest lap.
The object of the change is to reduce the time it takes to qualify 43-car fields.
The multi-car system is already in use at road courses for Sprint Cup cars and has been used for years in other racing series.
The fact that NASCAR is considering such a move represents a recognition that qualifying is not that thrilling for fans. At larger tracks, giving 45 or more cars two qualifying laps can take hours. For fans sitting on cold/hot metal bleachers, the experience can be a pain in the rear. For fans watching on television at home, it can be even more painful as announcers and analysts attempt to tout excitement that doesn’t exist.
Back in the day, qualifying sessions represented the official start to the racing weekends. Fans came out to see the cars on the track and maybe walk the infields and garages in hopes of seeing something/somebody of interest.
Track owners and promoters liked the process as it represented another day of gate receipts and concession stand income.
In recent years, crowds for qualifying have dwindled. Dwindled to virtually nothing. With the grandstands empty, the prologue energy which may have existed when several thousand fans plopped down on the grandstands seats, has turned to eerie – almost depressing – emptiness.
Asked about qualifying sessions recently, one promoter just shook his head and called them financial burdens.
So the move to tighten up qualifying is a good move – as far as it goes.
In conjunction with the move, NASCAR should also move to a system of two-day weekends for Sprint Cup. That is, Cup qualifying on Saturday for Sunday races and Friday qualifying for Saturday night races. For companion events, qualifying and racing on the same day.
Cut Fridays right out of the picture.
The benefits to fans would be financially obvious. Ditto for competitors.
The only real losers would be hotels operators, who, in most areas surrounding NASCAR tracks, have gouged fans blue on race weekends.
Broadcast partners would also take a hit as they, presumably, squeeze decent paydays out of ad sales on two hour qualifying sessions.
The shortened and moved qualifying session also might re-invigorate the entire process. Fans would be going to the track anyway on Saturdays, so they might head out earlier to catch qualifying. And, with multiple cars on the track during the sessions, there could actually be something worth watching.
Not all moves by NASCAR have been good in recent years. These two would be terrific.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment