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NASCAR May Change Top-35 Rules

NASCAR May Change Top-35 Rules

CUP: NASCAR May Change Top-35 Rules
Daytona Beach, Fla. – 7/7/2007

NASCAR is considering changing the number of teams locked into each Nextel Cup race by virtue of owner points, an official source within the sanctioning body confirmed to Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.

Currently, the top 35 teams in NASCAR Nextel Cup owner points are guaranteed starting spots at each race, regardless of where they actually qualify in the field. Teams outside the top 35 must attempt to qualify for the remaining eight spots in each Cup event.

At this weekend’s Pepsi 400, for example, 53 cars entered the race. With 35 guaranteed starting spots, 18 cars were left to contest the final eight open spots. On Friday, a total of 39 cars set qualifying times before rain cancelled qualifying. All of the seven fastest qualifiers were cars outside the top 35 in owner points, so-called “go or go home” cars.

But because rain cancelled qualifying, three of those seven fastest cars, including pole-sitter Boris Said, were eliminated from the race on the basis of points, a situation many competitors and fans considered to be grossly unfair. “It's really upsetting for those guys who were outside of the top 35, especially guys like Boris who put up such a great effort,” said Jeff Gordon, who was 30th fastest in time trials but credited with the pole on the basis of owner points after qualifying was rained out Friday night.

"That's got to be tough. Believe me, myself, I would rather we qualify and I end up 30th or 35th and let those guys do what they earned than back into a second place start like we did,” added Denny Hamlin, who was credited with second place in qualifying and will start the Pepsi 400 alongside Gordon on Row 1. “It's really not worth it to me because we know what all those other teams are going through just trying to make these races. Yeah, you definitely sympathize for them.”

When NASCAR first adopted the system of locking in the top 35 in owner points, it was when car counts were low at Cup races. The rationale of guaranteeing starting spots was to protect small, independent teams who showed up every week, but usually were not among the fastest in the field.

But with the advent of a host of new teams in 2007, including five from Toyota’s new Nextel Cup effort, fields have swelled this year, resulting in many fully sponsored teams going home on a weekly basis.

That may be about to change, the NASCAR official confirmed in an exclusive interview with “We’ve had ongoing discussions about changing the number of teams we lock in,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The end result could be that the number of guaranteed starters would be reduced from 35 to perhaps 30 or 25. The NASCAR official stressed that no decision had been made yet, but the matter will continue to be a front-burner topic for the sanctioning body.

“The problem is getting everybody to agree on what the number should be,” the NASCAR official said. “But we have been talking about already and we’ll be talking about it again.”

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Re: NASCAR May Change Top-35 Rules

Wake-Up Call : Obsolete Top 35 Rule Needs Facelift

Nobody could have been happier with the down-to-the-wire finish of the Pepsi 400 on Saturday night than Brian France and the big dogs at NASCAR. After all, it was just one day earlier that the sport was criticized for its handling of the rain-drenched qualifying session that ended just 14 cars from its conclusion. In the blink of an eye, the man on the provisional pole went from the dream of two consecutive 1st place starts at Daytona to packing up his trailer and getting sent home – a cruel end to a qualifying session which proved a difficult reality for several drivers who watched strong runs turn into spots on the DNQ list instead. NASCAR is ahead of the curve in many aspects, but the obsolete Top 35 rule that shut out these drivers is not one of them; as the rain poured down in droves, the need for a rule change has never proved greater.

What happened Friday night is a difficult situation to try and diagnose. If there was ever an excuse to reschedule the end of qualifying to the following morning, this weekend would have been it. The rainout wreaked havoc on several teams with limited schedules who came to qualify for one of the sport’s biggest races…only to realize they never had a chance in the first place. As the final superspeedway event with the current chassis, the money spent by low-budget organizations such as the No. 60 team driven by Boris Said essentially went to waste when they were bumped from the field by Mother Nature. The money put into the car, as Said himself put it, had transformed itself into “the most expensive show car ever built.”

But if you put yourself in NASCAR’s shoes, you see that it’s unfair to hold separate sessions of qualifying in separate conditions. They had no clue at the time the decision was made exactly when the rain would subside, and on that night, their number one priority was starting the Busch Series event on time. It turned out that got postponed, as well, proof that even had NASCAR waited things out, things would have never got back underway.

With that in mind, you simply can’t blame NASCAR for setting the field by owner points; but you can blame them for keeping an obsolete Top 35 rule that’s part of that scenario, a rule that should have been adjusted when Toyota first came into the sport this season.

When the Top 35 scenario first was implemented back in 2005, it was when car counts were extremely low, with the exception of a few select races. Because of that, NASCAR wanted to guarantee full-time teams with major-market sponsors and high-profile drivers that there would be a spot for them in the field each week no matter what transpired. But when Toyota came to the sport this season, car counts went up, high-profile drivers jumped ship, and sponsors flocked. But all of that hasn’t translated into immediate success. At the midway point of this season, there is not one Toyota team that is guaranteed to make a race each week, including teams sponsored by: Red Bull Energy Drink, NAPA, Caterpillar and UPS. Among the group on the outside looking in are big-name drivers and past winners Michael Waltrip, Dale Jarrett and Brian Vickers, struggling through seasons filled with both struggle and sacrifice. All of these teams – with the exception of Jarrett, who had a past champion’s provisional – were essentially behind the 8-ball from the get-go with just eight spots, at most, available in each race due to 35 “locked in” positions.

With 53 cars trying to make the field, this was the first weekend where NASCAR’s problems with the Top 35 rule truly came to light. Whether qualifying got rained out or not, there were going to be issues, for even if qualifying DID run there was a possibility that the eighth place car could have been sent home. Since it was an impound race, those cars “locked in” to the field preferred to qualify with essentially race setups, while those on the outside looking in attempted their runs in qualifying trim. That resulted in go-or-go-home cars capturing the top seven spots at the time of the rainout; with Bill Elliott forced to use a champion’s provisional, that meant if one more go-or-go-homer qualified in the top seven, the eighth fastest car would be sent packing. Just doesn’t seem right, does it?

So, what does NASCAR do from here?

It’s more than likely that there will be a rule change for next season. As much as Boris Said played off his misfortunes, what happened Friday night did bring to light that there is a problem with this rule. An obvious solution would be to limit the number of cars guaranteed each week from 35 to a smaller number, around 20 or 25. With this scenario, more spots would be available in qualifying, but it would risk the possibility of a high-profile driver that’s having a subpar season (i.e. – Kasey Kahne) missing the race.

Well I say, so be it. In a dream world where money wouldn’t matter, I would love to see the impound rule thrown away and only 12 spots – since that is the magic number these days – guaranteed. With this scenario, 31 spots would be available. Teams would unload and prepare for an all-important qualifying session, using Happy Hour to adjust for race conditions. Of course, sponsorship and money concerns would never allow this to happen; but a guy can dream, can’t he?

NASCAR is continuing to grow. It was just days ago that the sport announced that the Nextel Cup would be renamed the Sprint Cup in 2008, the same year the CoT will take over as the full-time chassis. It would be the perfect time to readjust the Top 35 rule to make it more sensible for an ever-growing car count.

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