Rainman

Rain is in the forecast for Friday afternoon at Atlanta. (Though on a brighter note the rest of the weekend looks clear.) If rain does indeed cancel qualifying Friday it will be the third time that’s happened in four weeks, and the fifth time this season qualifying had to be canceled.

The first question that has to be asked is why if qualifying is rained out on Friday isn’t it rescheduled for Saturday morning? Occasionally the weather might just cooperate long enough to get a session in. Up until a couple years ago there were two rounds of qualifying for most races with the second session normally occurring on Saturday prior to the Busch race. The second round was done away with because of drivers’ complaints that different atmospheric and track conditions made it impossible to correlate times between the two sessions. But if all drivers had to face the same conditions that would be fair.

In the event rain or other factors do force qualifying to be canceled, why is the field lined up by a Byzantine formula that owner points standings (not driver standings which still confuses a lot of newer fans) previous race winners, etc? The easy answer is “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” But is that fair? Some fans, particularly fans of teams whose drivers’ teams are high up in the owners’ standings feel it is. But what of a team like Kerry Earnhardt’s or Carl Long’s?. They’re trying to break into the sport, introduce new sponsors to the Winston Cup ranks, and gain experience for possible full time rides down the road. Yet they might haul the car all the way to the track, never get to turn a single lap even in practice to show what kind of speeds they can turn and get sent home anyway. That’s got to be a bitter pill for a new sponsor who’s not familiar with the nuances of the sport to swallow. You mean we spent all that money and the car isn’t even ever going to roll off the truck much less appear on TV?

To my eye at least, it’s a case of the rich getting richer. The drivers who have been running up front most of the season, get prime starting spots based simply on the fact it rained on a Friday. Some would say they’ve “earned” those starting spots, but if that’s the case why not line up the field this way every weekend? Tony Stewart has struggled at times in qualifying this year, yet he got the prime starting spot at Martinsville and first choice of a pit stall because of rain. While Jamie McMurray earned his stunning victory at Charlotte with some great driving in the waning laps working lapped traffic, his cause was greatly abetted by the fact he got a prime starting spot near the front based not on how well he’s run this year, but how well Sterling Marlin ran before getting hurt. Had he qualified poorly and had to work his way up through traffic, McMurray could have been involved in a wreck not of his own making or simply used up the car charging from the rear of the field towards the front.

So if the current system isn’t flawless, what are the alternatives? I asked that question on the message board the other day. The wildest suggestion was that owner’s points should indeed set the field, but in inverted order with the points leader starting shotgun on the field. The stated reason was if the points leading drivers really are the best in the business, it would make for a thrilling race as the fastest cars worked their way to the front through traffic and the slower cars fell backwards to their more customary positions, but not before giving their sponsors a little airtime.

Another suggestion that made sense was to set the field according to a practice session, if indeed NASCAR had been able to get a practice session held prior to inclement weather. Certainly if rain was in the forecast for the scheduled qualifying time slot, it would make for a much more exciting practice session as drivers and teams tried to wring all the speed they could out of their cars to hedge their bets against rain later in the day. And at least such a system would reward actual on-track performance that weekend, not previous accomplishments.

Another idea involved calculating a drivers average starting position in races this season where qualifying was indeed held, and lining up drivers in that order. Thus a good qualifier like Jimmie Johnson or Bill Elliott who normally earn front starting spots would start up front just as they likely would have had NASCAR gotten qualifying in. Poor qualifiers would be well used to starting out back anyway.

My suggestion is a bit less ingenious. Let Lady Luck settle the matter. Drop numbered pieces of paper in a hat and draw starting positions that way. (Or maybe FOX and NBC would prefer a rotating cage with ping pong balls like the Powerball set up for entertainment purposes during rain delays on Friday.) The field would still be set up the same way as it is on a normal weekend. Those drivers who drew the lowest numbered 36 balls would start in corresponding positions. The next eight spots would we awarded as provisionals and the final spot would go to the most recent previous champion not yet in the race. That way the part time teams that showed up for the event would have at least a chance at making the show by drawing a ball with a number 36 or lower. And yes, that would mean some regular might have to go home and his fans would be disappointed. Well even the part time drivers have fans and those fans are going to be disappointed under the current system, as are their sponsors. If we’re not going to just allow everyone who shows up to race, and that would be unworkable, it’s time to toss his hot potato into the hands of fate and let chance decide. I think that would be a change for the better, but then again I really like that inverted field idea. The opening segment of that race would be a sight to see.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002, NAPA 500

Photos

  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
  • From the Archives: Atlanta
  • From the Archives: Atlanta
  • From the Archives: Atlanta
  • From the Archives: Atlanta
  • From the Archives: Atlanta
  • From the Archives: Atlanta
  • From the Archives: Atlanta
  • From the Archives: Atlanta
  • From the Archives: Atlanta
  • From the Archives: Atlanta
  • From the Archives: Atlanta
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast
  • Daytona 500
  • Daytona 500

Advertisement

  • © 2015 MRN. All Rights Reserved

    FacebookTwitterDiggDeliciousLinkedInGoogle BookmarksYahoo BookmarksLive (MSN)

    ISC Track Sites