Darrell Waltrip says it's time to fix NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying
By Darrell Waltrip FoxSports
I know with the holiday upon us last week I left you hanging a bit on some of the ideas I had about how with some minor tweaks and changes we could make our sport even more exciting across the board. One of those concerned blowing some life into qualifying.
With our series sponsor, Sprint, putting on a big money/no points race – The Sprint Unlimited - in Daytona to start the season each year for the drivers who win a pole position the year before, I think its high-time NASCAR takes the same approach to creating more drama and excitement to what actually gets you into that race – qualifying on the pole.
Let’s face it, currently qualifying is sometimes pretty darn boring. You go to places like Talladega where it can take 2 ½ to 3 hours to simply qualify all the cars there. I don’t know about you, but a single car on the track, making three laps at a joint the size of Talladega, can come pretty close to the old phrase of “like watching paint dry” or “watching grass grow.”
We need something fresh. We need something new to spice things up. They’ve done it for other parts of the sport, so why not qualifying? Let me throw my idea out there and, understand, it’s just a place to start. Give me your ideas, too. How would you change qualifying if NASCAR suddenly made you Qualifying Czar?
My idea is similar, like I mentioned last week, to what they do in Formula One, because I like how they handle it. I think they should have qualifying sessions. These would come after a practice or two. The first qualifying session would last, let's say, 30 minutes, and would include all the cars attempting to make the race that particular weekend.
Just give them all a 30-minute window to go out there and put their fastest lap on the board. Here’s the catch – you can’t tape up the grille for the normal “one and done” qualifying laps. You have to keep the grille open just like you would for the race.
When that 30-minute session is complete, the fastest 20 cars advance to Qualifying Session No. 2. After a short break, it would be time for those 20 cars to run for another 20 minutes to see who can put a fast lap up. Other than not being allowed to tape up the grille, you can put tires on it, change things, whatever you want, within reason, with the understanding it all has to happen in that new 20-minute window.
From that 20-minute session, you guessed it, you take the top 10 fastest times. They once again get a short break, and then only those 10 cars are allowed to continue on in qualifying. Those 10 fastest cars then run a 10-minute Qualifying Session No. 3. Out of that comes your Fast Five.
You take another short break and then those five remaining cars run for the pole. I see qualifying not lasting any longer than one to one-and-a-half hours at any track we go to. It has to be fast-paced, entertaining and fun to watch. The key is having drama at the end, and the only way to do that is to have a process of elimination.
Again, I am just trying to come up with a way to make qualifying exciting again. I think we went backwards this year by going back to the random drawing for qualifying. Qualifying was much more exciting when we went from the slowest cars to the fastest cars in relationship to their practice speeds. It sort of built up the drama, as a new polesitter seemingly was taking the top spot as we got further and further down the list of the fastest cars in practice. I still maintain if NASCAR does nothing else, let's at least go back to the way it was before this season with the slowest to the fastest cars going out based on their practice speeds.
Is my idea in its final form? Of course it isn’t, because there are a lot of “what ifs” that would need to be addressed, obviously. Again, it’s just an idea. It’s a place to start. My goal is to put some excitement back into qualifying. It needs more drama. Let's make qualifying fun to watch, build the excitement and the intrigue.
Get qualifying back to being unpredictable. That’s what our entire sport is based around – unpredictability. As I mentioned last week, nearly half our races this past season were won by a different driver. Predictable is boring. Let's bring back that same unpredictability to qualifying as we have to our races.
What are your ideas on qualifying? Again I ask, what would you do if NASCAR suddenly made you Qualifying Czar?