Keep it simple, stupid.
This acronym is perfect for NASCAR at the current moment.
If’ you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’ve been a massive NASCAR supporter and have been very proud to say so. Then’ Friday’s qualifying session at Texas Motor Speedway concluded and’ I’ve been shaking my head with rosy cheeks from embarrassment ever since.
For those that may not know, NASCAR switched to multi-car qualifying sessions in 2014. This process was a massive change from the single-car qualifying sessions that had been used since NASCAR’s inception. This change mimicked the “knock out” qualifying sessions of Formula One, IndyCar, and several other motorsports around the world. NASCAR saw many positives as it made qualifying shorter, more intense, and for the fans, entertaining. Unfortunately, with this year’s new aero package putting such an emphasis on drafting, this qualifying format doesn’t work at the moment.
The warning signs started in Las Vegas, where every driver waited until the very end of the final 5-minute session to not be the lead car of the draft. At Auto Club Speedway, not a single driver made an official timed-lap during the final session. This session resulted in the top-twelve positions being set on their second-round times. After that debacle, NASCAR made changes to the qualifying procedures that were to be introduced at Texas Motor Speedway to help alleviate specific problems.
Staging lanes were introduced to decongest traffic at the end of pit road to discourage the “gamesmanship” strategies played at Auto Club Speedway and penalize a driver if they did. NASCAR also introduced that if a driver failed to complete a timed qualifying lap before the session expired, then their time would be disallowed. In turn, that driver would have to start the race at the rear of the field. Even after all their efforts to help, NASCAR made qualifying more confusing for the drivers. NASCAR seemed unsure as to how to enforce its own new set of qualifying rules.
NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller has double-downed on multi-car qualifying by stating that “Single-car qualifying is two things – it’s boring, and it’s expensive.” “It also doesn’t create a good show.”
A show? Excuse me if I sound a bit naive but’ I’m confused as to when we, as a fan base, thought that qualifying had to be entertaining? Qualifying is just a procedure to set the field for Sunday. It doesn’t need to be overly complicated, it doesn’t need to be flashy, and it certainly doesn’t need to be a show.
I’m sure NASCAR is going to take another look into their qualifying procedures, and before they do, I have some suggestions:
Single Car Qualifying
Invert the field based on points
I know, I just quoted that NASCAR doesn’t want to go back to single-car qualifying but dang it, K.I.S.S.. This type of qualifying isn’t, nor was it ever, really broken but yet, NASCAR wanted to fix it. It always felt to me that this change in qualifying format was NASCAR trying to “fit in” with the rest of motorsports. Sometimes it is better to lead in your own direction than to follow the crowd. This change is the most simple NASCAR could make, and I think it would benefit all involved.
No better way to connect with grassroots racing than having heat races!’ Let’s run a 30 lap heat race divided into ten cars every Friday after first practice. Each heat would be divided by points placement while the first place finisher in every heat gets an extra 3 points for the weekend. Placement for Sunday is determined by a’ driver’s average lap time during their heat race to deter drivers from sandbagging and saving their cars for the race on Sunday. Is this extreme? Possibly, but’ didn’t you want an entertaining way to qualify?
Inverted fields are a staple at local tracks and a real treat for fans. The fast guys start in the back due to their high points position while the slower guys start up front due to their lower point position. This suggestion eliminates the need for qualifying altogether. But think about how exciting the first stage of a race would be? Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick weaving their way through traffic, mid-field drivers getting a chance to be upfront, and positions would be even harder to come by. Entertainment value would have to go up at least 20 percent.
Now, I do want to admit, that since switching to the new format in 2014, qualifying this season has been the outlier. Even if my suggestions are a bit extreme, if not brilliant, (Yeah,’ I’ll toot my own horn) I believe a radical change, even if it is for this season only, needs to be done. NASCAR, as a sanctioning body, needs to assert themselves again and try to stop the exploitation from drivers and teams.
Or, NASCAR could say that they have made all the changes they are going to make this season and continue to let the drivers and teams look silly on their own accord. Either way, 40 cars are going to start the race on Sunday.
Qualifying is just a procedure, not the show.