NASCAR Qualifying Discussion October 26, 2008Posted by claireblang in claire blang, NASCAR, XM Radio.
NASCAR’s Qualifying Subject of Seemingly Endless Discussion
Truth: Changing qualifying is NOT on NASCAR’s front burner
After Friday’s rained out qualifying here at Atlanta – The phone lines were buzzing on “Dialed In” show (3-6 EST XM Channel 148) with listener’s creative ideas to change NASCAR’s qualifying format. Because we had debated it for hour after hour – in the days and weeks leading up to the 10th rained out qualifying of the season -I tried to direct the callers to other hot topics – to no avail. For weeks the talk shows and columns and questions to drivers from media members has been how to change qualifying and whether the format needs changing. The ideas ranged from the well thought out to the absurd but fun to throw out there. There was no stopping the ideas for qualifying.
We can talk until we’re blue in the face – and come up with ideas ranging from great, to tongue in cheek but why? OK, there are not a lot of other things to talk about on a rained out qualifying day.
First, despite the comments from drivers about setting a special qualifying for the “go or go homers” who are not in the top 35 when their shot to qualify is rained out – NASCAR is not close to coming up with a special “go or go home qualifying.”
Second, there are usually good reasons why some things that seem like the best idea ever won’t work – when presented to NASCAR. It’s fun to throw ideas out – but when you sit down with those ideas and talk about them realistically – most of them just don’t play out as workable.
I decided to talk with NASCAR Spokesman Jim Hunter about the qualifying debate so that everyone could be on the same page as to what NASCAR is thinking about qualifying today – and the background as to what it’s been in the past.
NASCAR Spokesman Jim Hunter –
CBL: We’ve had ideas on redoing qualifying – everything from ping pong ball picks to foot races…let’s start at the beginning:
Hunter: “Well we’ve heard stories about even turning them around and running them counter clockwise – just to line them up in reverse and all that sort of thing. But going back to the beginning for the big races we used to run four laps of qualifying just like Indianapolis. If you start to think about that – four laps per car- and there have been times when we’ve had over 60 cars. So 60 cars times four laps, let’s say a minute a lap, I mean you’re talking hours. Then we knocked it down and we even had at one time we used to line the field up with the top 30 by time trials and then had a qualifying race – a last chance race for all the cars that were there and at times way back we would have as many as 30 cars trying to make 6 spots. And we finally settled on two laps most of the places. Running multiple events on a weekend where you run two national series and in some cases three national series. At New Hampshire for example we’ve got Cup, we’ve got trucks, we’ve got the Camping World East and Featherlight Modified. That’s four divisions, four sets of cars that you’re trying to establish qualifying time for in a schedule. It’s so difficult to reschedule qualifying. A lot of people wonder why you do it by points. It’s because points are earned by the drivers and teams who race. So in our mind it’s fair for the teams who do well to earn this as opposed to doing a lottery and draw for positions. I mean you might could do that in weekly races but at this level the points system works well because the people who will have earned their way into the chase deserve – weather is out of everyone’s control. In one sense of the word though Claire I think it’s really good because everybody comes up with an idea.”
CBL: Fans are even talking about letting them qualify on race day. Can you fathom that?
Hunter:” It would be very difficult to do because schedules are put together a long time in advance. Just like pre race for example – all the things that you have to do on race day and getting people in and out of the race track, getting the track prepared – it just wouldn’t work. Realistically that just would not work. Now we did-we didn’t qualify -but on 9/11 and we had to go back to New Hampshire. We rescheduled that race for the Friday after Thanksgiving. The reason we did that is that gave us Saturday you know it was in November so in New Hampshire everybody was saying there could be snow, there could be ice. We impounded the cars. We went in there that morning I think we had a one hour practice session from 8 to 9, something like that. Then we ran the race at like 11:00 and all in one day. So, if you plan that ahead of time you could do that. But by the same token when you have a preliminary event on the day before the Sprint Cup race then it makes it difficult to reshuffle everything and that’s why. I think this year it was our tenth, when we had to cancel qualifying. That’s very, very unusual. We have had some years when we might have had three or four. This is one of those that I think might be one of those records that we don’t keep (laughter). I don’t think we want to be reminding people of the year we had ten qualifying sessions washed out.”
CBL: Is there any thought to changing any part of qualifying. Like the go or go home qualifying moving to Saturday (after rained out qualifying)?
Hunter: “I think that we’re ok with the way it is. We’re constantly getting suggestions very obviously from the people who are not in the top 35 which is self serving to that group. We think locking in the top 35 is, I think, a really good thing because it rewards the people who race the most and things should be performance based. That’s based on a team’s performance. In the real world when somebody says well you should stretch it to 36 cars because somebody happens to be 36th your response to that team should be well you need to race well enough to be 35th. We think about it – but I think it’s served us very well.”
CBL: So (changing it ) it’s not on the front burner?
Hunter: “No, No. I think qualifying rain outs are only on the front burner when it rains. And it goes away quickly. Like here in Atlanta on Friday I mean it rained all day. We finally got the track dry and what did they get 6 laps 5, laps or 8 laps and the mist started coming and the track got wet again and it had taken us like three hours to dry the track and plus we were racing the truck series here. So all and all I think it’s the way to do it.”
CBL: Why don’t they come in on Saturday and qualify when you have a rain out?
Hunter: “Well I think that the biggest difference or the biggest reason is when you have another event. Like this (Saturday) morning we scheduled some practice times. Remember these cars hadn’t even other than those 8 laps some of them took four had not even been on the race track. Getting the cars prepared for racing is more important than getting the cars prepared for qualifying. So that’s why we do that. They’d have to change, even today when they don’t do all the things they used to do with a special motor and all those sorts of things, still they have to switch the car from qualifying trim to race trim and we’d rather the guys have practice time so that they are better prepared for the race.”
CBL: Why is it ok for the go or go homers who don’t’ get to qualify to go home when they did not have a chance to qualify?
Hunter: “Well I don’t think you ever justify it to them. But there has to be a way to do it. And, to us, the way we do it seems to be the fairest way.”
CBL: Do you remember in history when people were complaining when we had years the rain days were excessive like this year?
Hunter: “Yea, and even more than that I remember when, if you were a rookie, we had several days of qualifying leading up to an event. In the old days we used to qualify on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Back in the 60’s, I was a PR guy at Darlington. The guys would come in on Tuesday night and we would have the first round of qualifying on Wednesday and we would take the top 8 cars. The first 8 would be locked in. Then Thursday we’d take the next 8 that would be 16 and then Friday we’d take another 8 and that would be 24. We started 36 cars. Then Saturday we ran a qualifying race – so whoever didn’t get in – and we kept that going until the teams were having to come in so early from a cost standpoint time. And we got to where we went through a time back then in the 60s and early 70s where we would only have if we were starting 36 cars – we might just have 36 or maybe 37 so when you got to that qualifying race – everybody was going to make the race anyway so it wasn’t really a race.”
CBL: Fans would love to see something like that (a qualifying race). What would you like to say to the fans who have suggestions on everything from ping pong balls to qualifying races:
Hunter: “Keep thinking. A qualifying race today – there’s just no time for it. Plus when you run a qualifying race you have certain teams that know they might not get in regularly or the regular way or they’ll have a special motor built just for the qualifying. I mean there’s all sorts of cost related things to the teams and the tracks that prevent us from doing that. Times change. Even back in the older days those qualifying races – everybody criticized us for running the races because they didn’t race, they didn’t have to. Then the teams that had to run 20 laps wanted the promoters to put up more money for qualifying race because they were using a set of tires. You get into all those things that you don’t normally think of.
Our fans usually when they get all the information they may not always agree with what we decide. But we hope that they’ll understand why we do it.
You have to change with time. The demands on the time of our teams today is so much greater than it used to be with sponsor appearances, media obligations.”
CBL: So the fans will continue to talk about lots of ideas. But there is no thought that it will change any time soon?
Hunter: “I haven’t heard one yet that our competition guys and that the garage would be happy with. I’ll put it that way. “
CBL: So keep talking.
Hunter: “Absolutely keep throwing out ideas because I have always believed in throwing things up against the wall and sometimes something will stick -what we call out of the box. Plus, I like it because our fans care, I like that.”
CBL: What about the points leader in a rain out getting the pole position but maybe change it so they do not also get the first pit selection?
Hunter:” It is what it is. Jimmie is leading the points. Our program is designed for whom ever is leading the points. We can’t, we haven’t come up with a way that if it rains ten times in a row – well if it rains twice here’s what you do – if it rains three times here’s what you do. You see where I’m going? I hope our fans understand that. It’s simply the system is designed to reward whoever is first in points gets first choice second gets second choice right on down the line. So any of the guys who are12th and get 12th choice if they had performed better they would be first or second or third so that is how you have to look at it.”
CBL:Well what about the theory that the pit selection is helping them to perform better – unfairly just because of rain?
Hunter: “These races are usually long enough that a guy has still got to perform on the race track during an event and yea early in the race in some cases pit stalls are more important than others. But it’s still relies – if you’re pitting under caution and they talk about track position a guy has still got to pass people to get to the front.
And I think our crew chiefs in this sport – I call them the best spinners in the world. Those guys can spin things to make you believe that if their pit stall was one instead of 15 that they would have won the race. They convince me of that. (laughing) and I think that’s a part of the sport. But I don’t think it’s that big of a situation and it only comes up because it’s happened so often. If it’s every once in a while – and hopefully we don’t have another year where we have ten qualifying sessions rained out.”
CBL: Thanks Jim