By admin | February 9, 2010
By Richard Allen
There will be forty-three cars to take the green flag for Sunday’s Daytona 500. To a newcomer to this sport it would seem logical to assume that the fastest forty-three cars in qualifying would be the ones to take that green flag. However, that is not how it works.
First of all, the Daytona 500 has a qualifying system unlike any other race. Instead of simply lining the cars up and having them make individual runs around the track, drivers are supposed race their way into this event. Two 150-mile qualifying races are run on Thursday before the big race with the intention of setting the field, but not really.
The two qualifying races do determine where each driver aside from the fastest two qualifiers will start, but there are some who know they will be in the main event before the qualifiers are ever even contested.
NASCAR offers the top-35 teams in the owners’ point standings a guarantee of starting the next race. The top-35 from the previous season are assured of making the first five races of the next season. Since the Daytona 500 is the first race of the year, there are 35 teams who know they will compete in that race no matter how they do in qualifying. In other words, there are only eight spots truly ‘open’ for the biggest race of the year.
As confusing as all of that may sound, recent years have seen an additional twist brought into the equation. The trend of late, and especially this year, has been for teams to buyout or merge with other teams which then sets off a flurry of points swapping, or rearranging.
Just before crews left for Florida it was announced that Yates Racing owner, Doug Yates, had been made a minority partner in a team called Front Row Motorsports which will field three cars in the Daytona 500. Two of those three cars did not finish in the top-35 of last year’s standings and were thus not guaranteed a starting spot for the first five races.
Bringing Yates in as a minority partner allows Front Row to use the points earned by two of his cars from last year. Yates’ cars do not need their points from last year because his cars are using the points earned by the teams of Richard Petty Motorsports after his company merged with that organization.
Thoroughly confused yet? Here’s another twist. A new team called Latitude 43 Motorsports was formed over winter. That team entered into an agreement with Roush Fenway Racing that will allow its car #26 to use the points earned by RFR’s car of the same number last year. RFR was forced by NASCAR to reduce its team count from five to four after 2009 so the new team was able to swoop in and assure itself a starting spot in the sport’s biggest event without having even existed last year.
Richard Childress Racing and Furniture Row Racing entered into a similar deal as those mentioned previously which will allow Furniture Row to use points earned by an RCR car last year that will not be competing this year.
What does all of this mean? The bottom line is that a system set up to allow owners to have some equity by virtue of guaranteed starting spots has been abused and misused which has in turn cheapened the sport and the sport’s biggest event.
Instead of earning a starting spot, teams that did poorly last year or for that matter did not even exist are allowed to buy their way into the field. I guess that in an era of corporate bailouts this is the new American way. If it can’t be earned it can be bought.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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