Questioning the relevancy of Cup qualifying

HAMPTON, Ga. – I put the question out there because a) NASCAR rarely has more than 40 cars attempt to qualify in the Monster Energy Cup Series these days and b) with charters, 36 teams are guaranteed a starting spot in every race even if they don’t make a qualifying attempt.

I asked through social media – is qualifying really necessary today? And if so, why?

Most folks who said yes questioned how NASCAR would determine the starting lineup if there was no qualifying. There are many options – including set the field by blind draw or base it on practice speeds.

If you based it on practice speeds, there’s always the chance a team goes out with something akin to a “qualifying setup” in an attempt to start on the pole. If that’s the case, what’s really been accomplished? I get that.

But if you’re willing to go to all that trouble then I say have at it. Dialing in a race-day setup would seem to be much more important to me.

Others said qualifying is still important because pit stall selection is based on qualifying results and as passing becomes more and more difficult, track position becomes more and more important. We’ve seen the team with the first pit stall manage to stay out front on many occasions by just rolling a few feet ahead of rivals as the field came off pit road.

There is something to be said for that, particularly now with stage wins providing playoff points and the top 10 at the end of each stage earning race points. Those points can be the difference in making the playoffs, or even advancing once the playoffs have begun.

And track position is particularly crucial at short tracks, where a driver can find himself battling just to stay on the lead lap right off the bat if he starts the race in the rear of the field at a Bristol or Martinsville.

Setting the lineup based on practice speeds, however, would accomplish the same thing as qualifying. The very same thing. Fast speeds in practice would result in a higher starting position and a better pit selection.

Eliminating qualifying would mean teams could focus on what’s important, race-day setups. Officials could also shorten the race weekend for Cup teams by scheduling two practices on Saturday, for example, when Sunday races were scheduled.

For the night race at Bristol teams practice and qualify Friday and race on Saturday. That system would work just as well at other venues.

Travel costs would be less. Time and money would no longer be necessary for qualifying packages.

A few stats:

o The average starting position of race winners in 2017 was 7.6;

o Six of 36 races in 2017 were won from the pole;

o 10 races in 2017 were won from a front-row starting spot;

o 19 races in 2017 were won from a top-five starting spot;

o 10 races in 2017 were won from a starting spot outside the top 10.

I’m not saying starting up front and having a good pit stall isn’t important. I’m just wondering if determining the lineup and choosing pits could be done without going to the trouble and expense of qualifying. Is there a better way? A more cost-effective way?

There was a time when qualifying on the pole meant something; it was a big deal for a driver and team to post the fastest lap.

I’m just not so sure that’s the case today.

2 Replies to “Questioning the relevancy of Cup qualifying”

  1. Nice write up on a subject near and dear to my heart. Have proposed and been pushing an alternative called Race For the Green (RFG) for quite a few years. RFG sets starting position based on previous week’s finishing positions. Top 8 would get a free pass to Sunday’s race. Finishers 9-24 would line up that way and run a short race (in place of a practice session) and that finishing order would set Sunday’s starting P9-24. 25-rest of field plus new entries would line up and run for P25-40. Nothing is based on the clock-everything is based on racing.

    So this week Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace would be leading the field to the green instead of KyBu and Ryan Newman. KyBu would be rolling off at best 25th. Depending on how he finishes in the second heat.

    Here is the latest on it. See what you think.—race-for-the-green.html

    1. Thanks for the feedback David. Interesting idea … but I personally have never felt a team should be rewarded one week for something they did the previous week (giving the top 8 a pass from heat races). Sure, that’s nearly the case for the Daytona 500 (front row set via qualifying) and yeah, they have qualifying races to set the rest of the field. But the 500 is a big enough deal that I think they can still get by with it on that one occasion each year. I wouldn’t want to see it every week. And speaking of heat races, while that’s great on a local level – and even at Eldora – it would not save teams $$, which is one reason I questioned if qualifying should be abandoned. To me, it’s a waste of time and money today, especially when a team doesn’t have to even attempt to qualify. Under your scenario, I’ll wager that tracks would likely increase ticket prices since fans are getting to see “races” instead of the current practice/qualifying schedule as well. Just a guess. It could be more expensive for teams if a car is damaged in a heat race. The potential for that isn’t worth the risk. I doubt a team will “race” for the 25th starting spot. With charters guaranteeing a spot in the field, I don’t see the payoff. Listen, I appreciate your idea and it’s obvious you’ve put a lot of thought and work into it. I am by no means an expert and enjoy hearing the thoughts of others. What I’ve replied is my opinion and my opinion only. Thanks again.

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