Race for the Green Tweaked
If you have followed any of my writings for a while you know there are three things I believe would make the sport better and one is “Race For the Green” (RFG). This is a system to set the starting lineup based on the previous race results with finishers 1-8 starting positions 1-8 and the finishers 9-24 and 25-40 (or whatever) running separate heat races to set positions 9-24 and 25-40 respectively.
The benefits and advantages of RFG over the current qualifying against the clock has been discussed previously. Because of its many advantages, I strongly believe it’s adaptation by NASCAR would renew fan interest in the sport. That’s why I tell its story every opportunity I can in hopes the Sanctioning Body will see the light.
Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to discuss RFG with a former long-time NASCAR official whom I greatly respect. It didn’t go as expected. Midway through my “elevator pitch” he stopped me saying heat races won’t work today because heat races work when you have more cars than starting spots. Plus, it had been tried at NASCAR’s lower levels in the “Dash for Cash” and it just didn’t get the desired results, so it was dropped.
I wanted his opinion because he has forgotten more about racing than I’ll ever know. He gave it to me straight, which I greatly appreciate, but admittedly it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Reluctantly, I had to admit he was right. RFG has been around a long time, conceived at a time when each week there were more entrants than available starting spots. It was a time when there were no Charters to ensure teams made the show. Then, the only guarantees for making the race was the Champion’s provisional, so heats made perfect sense. However, with today’s short fields, Charters and fewer entrants than starting spots, heats become a rather futile exercise.
So, is that the end of RFG?
Hardly. It was back to the drawing board and after a few hot laps around the yard on my John Deere (aka drawing board), the solution became clear-replace the two Heats with qualifying Flights.
The new version of RFG would work as follows-
- Previous race finish positions 1-8 would start this race in positions 1-8. This doesn’t change.
- Previous race finish positions 9-24 would go into Flight A. Flight A would qualify against the clock for starting positions 9-24.
- Previous race finish positions 25-40 would go into Flight B. Flight B would qualify against the clock for starting positions 25-40.
- Qualifying order for each Flight would be done in inverted order where the lowest previous race’s finisher would qualify first, through highest finisher who would make the last attempt.
- In the event qualifying is rained out, previous race finish positions 1-8 would start this race in positions 1-8. Starting order for Flights A & B would be set for each by points. Flights would be preserved.
Simple and straightforward. So, let’s see how it would have worked for last week’s race at Bristol. The drivers are arranged as they would have started under the new version of RFG. The number in parentheses is the starting position they earned under the current qualifying system.
(Previous Races P1-8)
1 Kevin Harvick (8)-Denny Hamlin (1)
Row 2 Kyle Larson (2)-Martin Truex Jr. (3)
Row 3 Daniel Suarez (18)-Kyle Busch (31)
Row 4 Ryan Preece (23)-William Byron (21)
Flight A (Previous Race’s P9-24)
5 Kurt Busch (4)-Chase Elliott (6)
Row 6 Matt DiBenedetto (7)-Erik Jones (9)
Row 7 Alex Bowman (10)-Joey Logano (11)
Row 8 Ryan Blaney (12)-Brad Keselowski (13)
Row 9 Ryan Newman (14)-David Ragan (16)
Row 10 Austin Dillon (19)-Ty Dillon (24)
Row 11 Paul Menard (25)-Corey Lajoie (26)
Row 12 Michael McDowell (28)-Chris Buescher (29)
Flight B (Previous Race’s P25+ plus new drivers)
13 Aric Almirola (5)-Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (15)
Row 14 Daniel Hemric (17)-Clint Bowyer (20)
Row 15 Bubba Wallace (22)-Matt Tifft (27)
Row 16 Jimmie Johnson (30)-Landon Cassill (32)
Row 17 BJ McLeod* (33)-Quin Houff (34)
Row 18 Josh Bilicki* (35) -JJ Yeley* (36)
Row 19 Reed Sorenson* (37) -Kyle Weatherman* (38)
Row 20 Ross Chastain (39)
* Did not participate at Michigan
As you can see, some drivers were rewarded for their good finishes at Michigan with improved starting positions. The big winners were Kyle Busch (+26) and Ryan Preece (+17), but William Byron (+15) and Daniel Suarez (+13) would have benefitted greatly under RFG. Kevin Harvick would have gladly taken the Bristol pole and first pit choice there instead of starting eighth under the current system.
The poor finishes by Aric Almirola (-20 ), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-11), Daniel Hemric (-10) and Clint Bowyer (-8) would have hurt them under RFG. And some drivers it didn’t matter-Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. are tops, the cream of the crop. On the other end of the spectrum, Jimmie Johnson has to start at the back under RFG, the same as he did under the current system.
So, there you have it-RFG version 3.0.
It still has many advantages over the current system. These advantages include-
- Increased rewards to run well. Win this week, start on the pole next week.
- Performance, good or bad is enhanced. Run well, rewarded next race. Bad, you pay the price.
- Team momentum preserved. Run well this week get a good start next week instead of taking a chance of losing momentum to a bad qualifying run.
- More between race “Buzz.” NASCAR loses to the NFL in this area because in the NFL everyone knows next week’s matchups beforehand. In NASCAR, it’s not known until the day before the race, so consequently they lose days of “water cooler talk” and “buzz.” This system creates between race buzz.
- Additional story lines for media. Since starting lineup is to some degree set, have all week to cuss, discuss, explore and develop additional story lines.
- Each race matters. Since each race depends on the previous race all races matter and have increased importance. Driver can’t “take off” on one of their bad tracks because it affects their starting position for the following week.
- Sanctioning body has additional punishment to encourage compliance. Teams out of compliance this week start at the rear this week and second heat next week.
- Totally transparent. Everyone knows when the race is over what they are doing the next week.
- Zero cost to implement.
- Creates a single, season-long race-the ultimate Stage race. With each race dependent on the previous race, the season becomes a single race made up of essentially 36 Stages. In the sport these days you it seems you just can’t have enough stages!
As we come out of this off-weekend, what are the stories going about going into Darlington? What are writers going to be writing about? What are the talking heads going to be telling us about? What will social media be posting, texting and tweeting? What will fans be discussing at the water cooler?
Pretty confident it will be about the “throwback” paint schemes the cars will use this week. There will be some chatter about the points and can Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson climb into the final sixteen or will Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman be able to hang on.
I doubt if qualifying and starting positions, which often factors into success at “The Track Too Tough to Tame” will get much traction, because now we won’t know until late Saturday after the work week is over. There is little to no benefit from that “buzz.”
Under RFG this week would be different. Since the Checkered Flag dropped at Bristol last Saturday night, we’d know exactly who is in the first four rows. We’d know the points battle for the Playoffs/Chase/Whatever would be as intense as possible knowing Bowyer and Suarez, who are separated by two points will be starting side by side. Can they stand two weeks of questioning by the media? Doesn’t the pressure on those two and their points race intensify with every passing day of the off weekend?
Jimmie Johnson’s hopes are still alive with his Flight A finish giving him a chance to roll off ninth and knowing that no matter how bad he qualifies he won’t start worse than he has been which may be enough to turn his efforts.
The Flight B finishes by Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr have them fighting for 25th starting position, the best they can hope to achieve under RFG. Reckon Happy will be happy about that? Can he get through the field to get Stage points, much less the win? If this positions him for a bad finish here it’ll carry forward to Indy, for the final regular season race. Talk about pressure. Can those three stand two weeks of questions about their misfortunes which they can only remedy by a good finish at Darlington?
RFG is a whole new dynamic, new dialogue and new pressures. It would generate conversations about racing that we have never had before and those can begin at the Checkered Flag and continue to the following Green Flag. It could fill a critical void with talk about... racing.
The one RFG story that would lead the way right up to Darlington race time is one that will be dying down at a time when it should be intensifying-and that is the fantastic drive and near win that lame duck driver Matt DiBenedetto had at Bristol. Almost everything has been sucked out of that feel-good story over the last week and sadly, it will fade as attention turns to the “throwback” paint schemes and Darlington whatnot.
But it doesn’t have to be. Under RFG, that feel-good story would have continued and grown right up to race time as Matty D would start Darlington front row, outside pole alongside of Denny Hamlin. That good race continues. Nothing could ease the pain of losing a race he dominated but knowing that his efforts earned him a front row starting spot at the next race, Darlington, has to help some.
Think of the confidence boost! Think of the team momentum! Think of the sponsorship exposure! Think of how it could help him land a ride for 2020! He will be the talk of pre-race Darlington as his efforts will be told and retold to explain how he landed on the front row.
All because of RFG.
As a fan, I’d like to see that. Bet Matt DiBenedetto would like it too. Betcha if NASCAR was honest, they would as well. All it takes is for the Sanctioning Body to make this small, but significant procedural change to eliminate wasting these exciting, interest building opportunities racers like Matt DiBenedetto create.
Isn’t it finally time?