Qualifying Concept Long Overdue - Race for the Green
The Green Flag has dropped on the 2018 season. Daytona is in the rear view and Atlanta is just ahead. That means it’s time to once again pick up my annual banner for the one simple change I believe NASCAR could implement and make a positive impact on the sport. I’m talking about Race for the Green (RFG - originally known as 20-20).
For those not familiar with the concept, Race for the Green is a different way to set the starting lineups for each week’s race. Racing against the clock for position is gone. Instead, like short tracks all around the country, the starting order for Sunday’s “Feature” or “Main” would be set by the finishing order of two short qualifying “Heat” races, with a couple of important twists. The First twist is, the starting order for the RFG Heats are set by the finishing order in the previous week’s “Main”. The Second twist is drivers who finished in positions 1-8 in last week’s “Main” do not run in a qualifier this week but instead start this week’s “Main” in the same position they finished in last week.
If, during the off-season, NASCAR had put RFG into place for this season, Daytona winner Austin Dillon would bring them to the line with Bubba Wallace outside front row. As a matter of fact, the front four rows for Atlanta would already be set and look like this -
Austin Dillon-Darrell Wallace Jr.
Denny Hamlin-Joey Logano
Chris Buescher-Paul Menard
Ryan Blaney-Ryan Newman
You see, under RFG, the top eight from the previous week’s finish don’t have to “race their way in.” Their performance last week is rewarded by starting in positions 1-8 (along with corresponding pit selections).
With RFG, the remainder of the field would have to “race in” and would do so through the two “Heats.” The finishing order of Heat One sets positions 9-24. The starting lineup is set by the Daytona finishing order, meaning Heat One would roll off like this-
Aric Almirola-Justin Marks
Trevor Bayne-David Gilliland
Clint Bowyer-Jamie McMurray
Alex Bowman-Martin Truex, Jr.
Kyle Larson-Gary Gaulding
Jeffrey Earnhardt-Mark Thompson
William Byron-DJ Kennington
That would be an interesting race, don’t you think? Aric is only in it because he was spun in Turn Three of the last lap at Daytona. 2017 Champ, Martin Truex Jr. will be racing for at best 9th starting spot (and pit selection) along with other top cars like Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, and Clint Bowyer with young guns Alex Bowman and William Byron. The remainder are racing for that or no worse than 24th which may be better than a Gray Gaulding or a Mark Thompson would start if running against the clock,
Heat Two is even more interesting. This Heat is loaded with top cars... and they are all racing for 25th starting position for Sunday’s race
Kyle Busch-Kurt Busch
Matt DiBenedetto-Brenden Gaughan
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.-David Ragan
Kevin Harvick-Brad Keselowski
Chase Elliott-Kasey Kahne
Danica Patrick-Erik Jones
Daniel Suarez-Jimmie Johnson
Ty Dillon-Corey LaJoie
Under RFG, cars in this Heat cannot start any higher than 25th. Win this and the best you can do on pit selection is 25th best. That might not mean much on some tracks, like Atlanta but at some point in the season it will play into the mix.
When you look at this lineup can you imagine how some of those drivers would handle going all week knowing that they can’t just roll into Atlanta and erase all of their Daytona misfortunes by busting off a good lap against the clock? I can see where some might not care for it and a week of pressure with no chance of “relief” might make for some interesting viewing.
The storylines from Daytona will fade in a day or two. Under RFG they continue on up till Sunday.
The race between Bubba and Denny didn’t end when the checkered flag dropped-it continues on to the green flag at Atlanta.
Can Austin Dillon build on the win? Can Martin and Kyle dig out of the hole they find them self in now?
Can Kyle, Kurt, Kevin, Brad, Jimmie dig out of an even deeper hole?
How will the youngsters respond coming from the back of the pack? They can’t bust a good lap and get clean air; they are going to have to be smart.
How hard will the racing be to get to the front for Stage 1 points? Gotta go-can’t wait around!
The neatest thing is under RFG we could be talking about this kind of stuff all week! RFG builds on the buzz created from last week’s race!
The RFG benefits don’t stop there, as it has a positive impact on nearly every aspect of the sport. If you’ve read my writings on RFG, you are familiar with them-if you haven’t or have and are a little fuzzy here are just a few -
For drivers, good finishes are further rewarded-free pass to the Main, prime starting positions in the Main and top pit selections. Not so good finishes-you can’t bust off a good lap and undo it all, you have to race for it.
For teams, under RFG it’s all racing, there is only one setup-race setup. No more race setup, practice, change to qualifying setup, qualify, tear it all out and put in race setup, practice again, go race. Under RFG it’s come to the track with race setup, practice, qualify (race), tweak, and race in the Main.
Teams performing with good finishes could also see more sponsorship interest. Do you think someone might be interested in getting on Bubba Wallace’s hood or Chris Buescher’s fender with the guarantee this weekend that they will be rolling off second and fifth respectively? That’s only available through RFG.
For fans, what would you rather watch this weekend-knockout qualifying against the clock or these two Heat races? What would you rather talk about, these story lines or wait until Friday, after it’s too late to build water cooler buzz, to have something to talk about?
For the media, RFG sets up meaningful story lines every week, every week!
For broadcasters, what would be easier to sell commercial time for-qualifying against the clock or a race? RFG provides a better product.
For NASCAR, there might be a chance to eliminate an inspection which would speed up the weekend and make things go a lot smoother. Plus, RFG is ideal for short race weekends-pit selection is set by previous week’s finish (meaningful) and not previous week’s qualifying results (meaningless). Plus, these additional races give them another opportunity to bring in Entitlement Sponsors for the Heats, similar to the Can-Am Duels we had last Thursday.
For everyone, this is one change NASCAR could implement to help the sport that would cost absolutely nothing to put in place.
For the sport, it takes stock car racing back to its roots, what it is all about-racing, nothing but racing.
These are just a few of RFG’s benefits. More can be found in earlier articles. I’m sure as you go through this week heading into Atlanta you’ll see even more than I’ve touched on here.
When you turn on your viewing devices on Friday to watch the field qualifying against the clock, just think RFG and this article, look back at these lineups and smack your forehead vegetable-juice-commercial style and say, “Wow, I could’ve watched a race!”
If only NASCAR would take a chance.