Race for the Green ~ Its Time Has Arrived
I had already started this article early Friday morning. The last two weeks I had the chance to watch Cup qualifications. My reaction was something has to change. That prompted me to start the article.
Then came Fontana.
NASCAR’s Knock-out Qualifying-the clock knocked out all final round competitors. Not a one posted a qualifying time in the final round. Couldn’t complete a lap in time. Not a one!
Fans booed. The positive was there were some fans in attendance to boo. The downside is this is how those who made the effort to come out and watch Knockout Qualifying were rewarded for their efforts. I wonder how many were kicking themselves because they were souvenir shopping when Austin Dillon clicked off his Round 2 lap that would eventually result in his winning his first pole of the season.
The drivers aren’t happy. There is only one in that dozen who thrives on being booed. His response was don’t blame me. Can’t believe sponsors are happy. I’m glad I didn’t see the FOX broadcast. I’m sure that was good television.
Senior VP of Competition, Scott Miller wasn’t happy either but was still the master of understatement when he said, “I saw obviously what our fans don’t want, obviously, having the last 12 cars wait until they couldn’t get a time posted on the board and kind of making a mockery out of the qualifying is not what we expect for our fans...”
“Kind of a mockery.” Just what does it take to go from a “kind of mockery”, to a “full blown mockery?” I guess if all twelve competitors had wadded up in a “Big One” at the exit of pit road (that’s only a matter of time) that would definitely be one, but I think we saw the mockery line crossed today.
Now begins the hand-wringing. What are we going to do? What are we going to do?
If you have read much of my writings over the last few years here at Race Fans Forever you know that one of my “crusades” is to get NASCAR to change the way they set the starting lineup for the races. This article was this year’s annual installment for the adoption of “Race for the Green.”
I first pitched this qualifying concept, originally called “20-20” on a little racing web site back in 2003. It got a few positive comments but one by came out of left field, when Mr. Mark Rossi, VP of Sales and Marketing with Dover Motorsports contacted me and said he liked it, with some tweaks thought it would work and asked permission to pitch it to NASCAR’s VP of Corporate Communication. Jim Hunter liked it but said it would take time.
After the Fiasco @ Fontana, the time to adopt RFG is now.
The concept which has been tweaked over the years from “20-20” to what is now known as “Race for the Green” replaces racing against the clock to set the starting lineup to drivers racing in short qualifying races and those finishing orders then used to set the starting grid for Sunday’s “Main.”
Fans are probably thinking what’s so great about that? We see that at Daytona every February. It happens at nearly every short track around the country. How does this help? How is this different?
The major twists in this concept are a) there is no clock involved-none, b) the starting order for the qualifiers are set by the finishing order from the previous week’s race and c) the top 8 finishers from the week’s race don’t have to run in the qualifiers but instead get a free pass into Sunday’s “Main,” lining up in the same order they finished the previous week.
Using RFG, setting the Fontana starting lineup would be a simple 8 step process-
1-Throw away the clock
Step 2 - Get the race results from Phoenix
Step 3 - Phoenix finish positions 1-8 are Fontana starting positions 1-8. This means Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. would be this week’s front row. This “pass” for last week’s Top 8 is part of their reward for racing last week.
Step 4 - Phoenix finish positions 9-24 would line up in Heat 1 in positions 1-16.
Step 5 - Run a short heat race (10 laps suggested but whatever works not to exceed a fuel run). The finish order of this heat start in positions 9-24 on Sunday
Step 6 - Phoenix finish positions 25-36 would line up in Heat 2 in starting positions 1-16. Any new entries who did not run at Phoenix would bring up the rear in order entry forms are received.
Step 7 - Run a short heat race (same length as Heat 1). The finish order of positions 1-16 in this heat start in positions 25-40 on Sunday. Everyone else (when you have more than 40 entries) go home.
Now your lineup is set for Sunday’s race. All that’s left is to…
Step 8 - Run the Auto Club 400 on Sunday and go back to Step 1 for Martinsville next week.
Pretty simple and look what all it fixes -
No sitting on pit road wait I guess to blast off in the final minute,
No between round cooling of the cars,
No between round adjustments,
No pit road speeding issues,
No leaders failing to record a lap like we saw today.
Winning is rewarded with next week’s pole and first pit stall selection.
Everyone races-Heat, Main or both,
More sponsorship exposure,
Better TV package, better “show”,
More sponsor exposure,
Easier for prospective or new fans to understand,
Since all you do is race, cars only need race setups,
All practice is for race setups which should result in better racing,
Less wear and tear on crews,
Potential for tighter race weekend “package”,
One race builds on another. If you want to start up front this week you’d better race hard and finish good this week,
Tying the races together makes the season into one long race. Think of the race season as one 36 Stage race (Ok, that may be a reach but you get the idea),
In lower series, regulars start at the front, interlopers in the back. If you weren’t there racing last week the best you can start is 25th and you have to run a Heat race to get that. No swooping in, grabbing the pole and never getting passed,
Eliminates “do-overs”. You can’t stink this week and roll in and bust off two decent laps and one good one and win the pole next week,
Everything is based on racing and how can that be bad?
Last (for this article) but not least is when the checkered flag drops this week everyone knows the lineup for the top 8 positions at Martinsville, the starting lineups for both heats, who is racing whom, who is starting up front and has to start In the back no matter how good his car may be. Everyone has something to talk about all week leading up to Martinsville. NASCAR loses all that “buzz” from Sunday to Friday. One of the biggest advantages the NFL has is everyone knows the matchups each and every week and can talk about it all week. NASCAR has none of that with current qualifying format. RFG gives that missing element back to them.
No system is perfect and there has been criticism with the main one being “But they might wreck”. Guess what? If we continue on with this “final-minute-four-wide-drag-race-off-pit-road” format that has developed as a result of the new engine/aero setups, a wreck is just a matter of time. At least if the racing is on the track drivers stand a better chance than doing it exiting the pits, like they are having to do now.
Bottom line-I believe what makes race fans race fans is watching races, not draft packs running against a clock.
“Race for the Green” can change the sport... for the better, in a positive way.
I’ve said more than enough but you get the idea. But if you’d like to read more here are some links for your convenience.
In closing, I’ll return to Scott Miller’s comments on Friday’s “Fiasco @ Fontana” as he describes NASCAR’s next steps.
“I think we definitely make some tweaks to it,” Miller said. “… We really don’t want to go back to single-car qualifying. There may not be another way, but we want to try to exhaust every possibility before we do that because it’s not as fun and not as intriguing a show as the group situation. We’re going to try to figure out a way to adjust the group qualifying thing and not go back to single, but we’ve got some work to do on that.”
Mr. Miller, if you truly want to exhaust every possibility you must seriously consider “Race for the Green.”
If you want a fun and intriguing format you must seriously consider “Race for the Green.”
You say “we’ve got some work to do on that” but that’s not true. Adopt “Race for the Green” the work has already been done.
My initial article in 2003 was entitled “Take a Chance, Mr. France, Take a Chance.” It was directed to the new NASCAR CEO Brian France. With the recent change in leadership, I’ll renew my plea... but this time its “Take a Chance, Mr. Jim France, Take a Chance.”
Mr. France, throw away your clock and give “Race for the Green” a chance. After Friday, wouldn’t you agree it’s time has finally arrived?