Opinion: A Fan-tastic Decision
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on January 23, 2014 | 7:31 A.M. EST
Pete Pistone says that NASCAR's new qualifying format will build excitement on race weekends and please fans. (Photo: Getty Images)
Friday’s just got a whole lot better.
NASCAR’s decision to change the qualifying format beginning this season will bring some much-needed excitement to the start of a race weekend.
The tedious procedure of watching one vehicle at a time on track racing against the clock has thankfully gone the way of the Dodo Bird. In its place is a new knockout system.
While drivers, teams and crew chiefs may have their hands full trying to figure out just how to tackle this new challenge, the big winners are fans. Sitting in the grandstands, watching on television or listening on radio during qualifying sessions has instantly become interesting.
The days of qualifying actually mattering to most fans have been long gone. There was a time when some tracks would fill their grandstands for “Pole Day.” But in recent years qualifying became more of an afterthought than an exciting way to set the field and kick-off the race weekend.
NASCAR may deserve some of the blame for qualifying’s demise when the Top 35 rule was introduced, a policy that sapped most of the meaning out of time trials and simply became an exercise in field placement.
There is also the simple fact watching one car at a time race around a track ranks only behind paint drying and grass growing on the boredom meter.
But no more. NASCAR’s new system will ramp up the action while adding in some true drama.
There has been talk of NASCAR potentially adding heat races to what CEO Brian France has referred to as the “Format of the Future.” Actually the qualifying format creates two or three segments (depending on track size) or heats of importance. In reality more racing has been added to the weekend with the move.
As with anything new there will be some casualties. Historical track qualifying records from here on will need to carry an asterisk identifying if the mark was set with the new format or the old solo runs. I personally won’t lose any sleep over that one or miss announcers bellowing the “It’s a new track record” cliché every time a faster speed is posted during qualifying sessions.
The format also presents television and radio partners with a tidy little package to air on Friday afternoons. Rather than needing to clear airtime for sometimes up to three hours, broadcasts will now fit into a much tighter window.
NASCAR continues to look for ways to stay relevant in today’s sports landscape. Ramping up the action and condensing the time it takes to set the field through qualifying is a positive step in that direction.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.