What It Was, Was Not Qualifying

They were supposed to qualify for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, but what happened was really not qualifying. The tradition of the sport of auto racing is that the fastest car starts first and the slowest car starts last. The knockout qualifying has shattered that tradition all season, and one has to suppose that the procedure will be used for awhile, but its flaws outweigh its benefits. That’s totally an opinion.

First of all, this writer has never attended a qualifying session except at Martinsville Speedway two times a year. What is the reason? It is just a way of lining up the cars for the start of a race. The pole winner rarely dominates a race, and the guys in the middle put on a good show. With the advent of television getting largely involved, trying to develop a show for people to watch has become the main job of the sanctioning body. Though some people like it, and it has generated some fan interest, the number who attend qualifying is small at best. A look at the sparse crowd at Daytona verifies this. It is a television show. With the huge sums that networks pay NASCAR for the rights to broadcast the events, this gimmick is one thing. It is a way to generate sponsor dollars and nothing more.

On Sunday, we saw the fastest cars in practice be not much of a factor. Teams lined up together and tried to go out with just enough time for a couple of fast laps. The train wreck that played out on who would go out first was the worst thing seen at Daytona 500 qualifying. The wreck that happened in Segment 1-A was the result of putting slow cars on the track with fast cars. At restrictor-plate (or tapered) races this allows cars that would not be the fastest a chance to win the race. Unfortunately, the knockout qualifying also allows for desperate mistakes.

If this procedure is to continue at superspeedway races, all cars should go out following a pace car. Sitting on pit road for the time to run out so you have time to only run two laps is ridiculous. To make it fair, everyone should start at the same time. Better yet, go back to two-lap qualifying by each individual car. It’s just a way to start the race, and in Daytona’s case, only going for two positions anyway. Did Reed Sorenson really think he had a chance for the pole? Is it really boring? It’s time for NASCAR to look at things objectively and change things accordingly. The qualifying races are interesting and make Speedweeks special, but the knockout qualifying here and at Talladega is not the way to go.

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Ron Fleshman has followed NASCAR racing since attending his first race at Martinsville Speedway in 1964. He joined the Motor Sports Forum on the CompuServe network in the 1980s and became a reporter for Racing Information Systems in 1994. In 2002, he was named NASCAR Editor for RIS when it appeared on the World Wide Web as www.motorsportsforum.com. He can now be found at www.ris-news.com. Ron is a member of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association. You can find Ron following and reporting on the top three NASCAR divisions each week. As a lifer in his support of racing, he attends and reports on nearly 30 events a year and as a member of the motor sports media, his passion has been racing for 47 years. He lives with his family in rural West Virginia and works in the insurance industry when not on the road to another track.

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