At Daytona, I sat and watched Cup qualifying for a couple hours. I watched each car get up to speed, run their two laps and then pull to the apron while the next car exited pit road. It’s a procedure repeated 43 times every weekend and it is, for lack of a better term, boring. Qualifying has stayed the same in NASCAR forever so I can understand the reluctance to alter it but a change needs to happen. NASCAR is going in the right direction with the elimination of the top 35 rule and group qualifying at road courses but they need to take it further than that.
When I watch Formula 1, V8 Supercars and even Indycar qualifying; I am on the edge of my seat the whole time and refuse to move until the session is over. Qualifying in NASCAR usually lacks drama, excitement and fails to keep most fans interested the whole time but it doesn’t have to be that way. The three formats used by the series’ I listed above are always wild and produce unexpected moments with the occasional controversy. NASCAR has plenty of options to make qualifying better; they just need to pick one or create their own, unique version. The complete abatement of the current format should be the course of action taken by NASCAR and here are a few ideas that would be good replacements…
Heat races. If NASCAR wants to keep to their roots, then heat races would be the way to go and I’m sure a large contingent of fans would be in favor of this. It’s used by almost every regional racing series around the country and is also used to set the starting lineup for stock car racing’s biggest event; the Daytona 500. If we already use it for our biggest race, then why not implement it in the other 35? It would be a sensational addition the weekend and would help the teams get better prepared for the big show. Indycar has begun using it a bit this year and from what I saw, fans really enjoyed watching them. I’m sure you’d have a lot of people tuning in to see it and regional racing series already have proof that it would be successful. I’m fairly confident that a qualifying format that has been used for over half a century and draws crowds close to that of the ones that show up for the race itself works.
My second idea would be to copy Formula 1 to an extent. They have a knockout style of qualifying where there are three sessions with cars eliminated along the way until just 10 remain. Those 10 fight it out for the pole in a thrilling 10 minute session where the top spot isn’t decided until the final seconds. NASCAR could have 31st on back eliminated in Q1, 11th to 30th eliminated in Q2 and have the 10 fastest cars battle for the pole in Q3. That would definitely create some much needed excitement! Imagine Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson swapping the top spot as the clocks gets closer to zero. Each driver pushes harder and harder every lap as they try to outdo each other while their water temp rises and their tires wear out. They push the car to the absolute edge just trying to gain a couple more hundredths. That is until a mistake is made and someone ends up going to a backup car or a slower car gets in the way causing some controversy and hurt feelings before the big race even starts!
My third idea is a simple one…10 minutes. Every car on the track at the same time. Best time wins pole. Go. You want to talk about a crazy qualifying session; imagine something like that at Bristol or Talladega! This volatile format would have drivers taking risks and making imprudent decisions resulting in 10 minutes of utter chaos and pure drama. There would be one more rule regarding all three of these ideas which would make them even more breathtaking to watch. There would be points on the line. Not a lot of points but just enough to make everybody from Jimmie Johnson to David Ragan want them. Something like five points for pole, three for 2nd and one for 3rd. Just throw some points in front of these drivers and watch the intensity level rise instantly.
NASCAR could only gain from intensifying qualifying. They and the track would make more money, fans would have something to get excited about other than the race itself and it would create stories throughout the weekend that would help to hype up the event. An exciting qualifying format would help to bolster TV ratings as well. Next weekend, we will all patiently watch one car at a time go out for a couple laps, listen to the media ask the drivers the same questions as always regarding how it felt out there and if they left anything on the table while I sit here anxiously waiting for the next drama filled qualifying session in F1, Indycar and V8 Supercars. NASCAR is usually the first to do something in the racing world while the rest see it work and follow suit. In this situation, it’s time that NASCAR did the following.