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Condensing Weekends A Good Idea For NASCAR

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 25 2013

Qualifying sessions are not exactly a fan magnets. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

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 jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 25 2013
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Dave in Ohio says:

    Your comments are right on target. To compare Na$car qualifying to watching paint dry would be an insult to paint.

    A few comments. You can directly trace the demise of qualifying to two main issues. First, the top 35 rule or whatever equally ridiculous variation of it they are touting now. Basically every driver that is anybody is in absolutely no danger of actually missing a race. The only drama on that front is which one or two start and park cars might not get in on the rare weekends where more than 43 cars actually show up to “race”. Na$scar doesn’t really want any driver to actually miss a race because of the almighty sponsor dollar, but just want to let the fans think that drivers actually have to qualify to get in the race. Which brings up the second point. Of 43 “race cars” that show up maybe 36 of them are really there to run the whole race, and the rest are just there to get start and park money. Of those 36 only maybe 20 have a chance of finishing on the lead lap and only maybe 10 have a realistic shot at winning the race other than by dumb luck (read: restrictor plates, whole other discussion). So unless you consistently have significantly more than 43 legitimate competitors show up, qualifying means absolutely nothing. Fans aren’t dumb, they know this. Starting position isn’t real important anymore, even without “debris” cautions to bunch up the field, the top drivers routinely race from the back to the front without difficulty. Qualifying well does give the advantage of being able to pick a good pit stall though, which fans are just breathless to know which pit stall their driver gets(yawn).

    You want to make qualifying interesting again? Not too hard. First, on road courses use F1 style knockout qualifying. Did you ever watch that at 3 in the morning on the (former) Speed channel? The qualifying is far better than the racing, and is edge of the seat at the end of each knockout session. There is actually strategy involved. Typically the entire staring order changes dramatically in the last minute of every session. Very exciting. Second, on every “short” track less than a mile run heat races exactly like they did for the Eldora truck race and like every other short track race in the country uses every Friday and Saturday night. Did you watch Eldora? That last heat race where Norm Benning beat and bumped his way into the last transfer spot of the last heat race and then had basically every crew in the pits jump in to rebuild the truck for the “A main” had to be the epic moment of the decade for Na$car’s top 3 series. Mid-size tracks, timed qualifying sessions with multiple cars on the track makes sense. The lineup would change by the second right up to the end, and heat races would not make sense on high speed tracks. Superspeedways? Just get rid of them and replace them with races that aren’t insulting to the aforementioned paint.