Is It Time For Heat Races?


Is it time to alter the format for qualifying at Daytona and Talladega? Some drivers would be for it. (Photo: Getty Images)


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. favors replacing the current qualifying format at Daytona and Talladega with heat races, and he might have gained converts after Friday’s bizarre qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway.

Some drivers were befuddled and bothered by the what took place in the rain-shortened session, including Earnhardt and Brad Keselowski, who debated possible format changes on social media.

Earnhardt suggested two 20-lap heat races to set the field with the car that leads the most in their heat winning the pole. Keselowski wants the restrictor plates taken off and let the cars rocket around the track one at a time at speeds well more than 200 mph.

Earnhardt admitted his plan was “probably a far-fetched idea.’’

The discussion was a result of what fans saw Friday in qualifying. When the session began, cars backed from their pit stalls, drove toward the end of pit road and ... stopped.

As the opening minute of the 25-minute session ticked away, cars sat on pit road waiting for others to make a move.

“At this particular track it’s the waiting around and the foolishness of sitting on pit road and wanting to be last,’’ Earnhardt said of displeasure with the current system. “I’d just rather go out there and have to hustle and go after it.’’

Restrictor-plate qualifying is different from at other tracks because drivers want to form trains of cars and be last in line to maximize the draft and fastest lap. Thus, the waiting game to be last in line.

When one train of cars left pit road, another followed to try to catch the draft. That led to the first group circling the track at slow speeds and the second group doing the same thing in a cat-and-mouse game.

“That was pretty dumb,’’ said Joey Logano, who qualified 28th.

Marcos Ambrose, who qualified 18th, also was not a fan of what happened.

“It is not what I am here to do,’’ he said. “I am not here to drive around in second gear at Daytona, I am here to go 200 miles per hour.’’

Not everybody was disappointed, though. Carl Edwards, who qualified 11th, called the session “fun.’’

Although NASCAR likely won’t change the format for Talladega since it is in the Chase, what about next year? Is it time for heat races? It’s an issue NASCAR pondered before this season as it decided how to change qualifying.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, said there were too many issues with having heat races. He noted that NASCAR’s top three series do not use heat races with the exception of the Camping World Truck Series at Eldora Speedway.

“When you look at heat races and what may or may not take place when we have a really condensed afternoon ... you could have that where a guy blows a tire and wipes out a third of the field,’’ Pemberton said. “I would say that when that was brought out (before this year) it wasn’t looked at as a bad idea, it’s the opportunity to put the teams in a position that they could not compete based on accidents.

“We weigh all those things. Heat races are exciting, but when you’re qualifying two hours or so before the event, you may put yourself in a position to jeopardize the competitors being able to compete at a high level.’’

Friday’s Nationwide qualifying featured a multi-car accident when rain suddenly fell and cars could not slow in time. That happened more than four hours before the race was scheduled to begin and some teams had to go to backup cars while others used that time to fix their cars.

For as much as Earnhardt likes heat races, he knows that could be other options.

“I think they could take what we’re doing and tweak it a little bit for this particular race track and Talladega, maybe shorten up the segments and force everybody to go,’’ he said. “I don’t know if you just ball it up and throw it in a trash just yet.’’

If they do, then he wants heat races.

“Heat races are always fun,’’ Earnhardt said. “You can’t ever go wrong with heat races in my opinion although we got away from them for some reason. That’s what they used to run in the ‘50s and ‘60s and pretty much at every race track.’’

The question is if it’s time to bring back heat races.

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