By admin | February 16, 2012
By Richard Allen
One of the most frequently asked questions people who do not follow NASCAR regularly have about the sport regards how some drivers can be guaranteed into races while others are not, especially when those guaranteed into the races have few if any qualifications to earn such an allowance. At the same time, one of the most frequent criticisms people who follow NASCAR closely have about the sport regards how drivers can be guaranteed into races without having actually done anything to earn such an allowance.
A quick glance at the list of drivers guaranteed into the 2012 Daytona 500 will do little to dismiss those questions and criticisms.
Perhaps the best â€˜feel goodâ€™ story of the 2011 NASCAR season came when young Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 driving for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing team. However, there is at least the possiblity that the Knoxville, Tennessee native might not even get to start this yearâ€™s â€˜Great American Raceâ€™ on the high banked 2.5 mile speedway.
Since Bayneâ€™s team did not run a full schedule in the Sprint Cup Series in 2011, he chose to compete for the Nationwide Series title instead. Thus, the car #21 did not finish inside the top-35 of the overall standings. Such a ranking from the previous season guarantees a team entry into the first five events of the next season, including the highly prized Daytona 500.
During a Daytona Media Day appearance on Thursday, Bayne stated that it was OK with him that he is not locked into the race and that he is pretending in his own mind that there is a defending championâ€™s provisional as a way of removing some of the pressure. He also said that he has faith in his car and his team to make the race.
But just after Bayneâ€™s appearance on Media Day came the much heralded Danica Patrick for her turn behind the microphones. Despite having not even started one Sprint Cup race last season and having run only a limited number of Nationwide events, she is locked into the season opener.
As the result of a somewhat complicated points/ownership deal between Stewart-Haas Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, she will be allowed to use the points earned in 2011 by Dave Blaney. Since Blaney and his TBR team finished in the top-35 of the standings, Danica is guaranteed to start the Daytona 500 on February 26th.
Nothing illegal or unheard of took place in the SHR/TBR arrangement. Similar deals have taken place in the past. And, Bayneâ€™s team had the opportunity, albeit not the funds, to work out such an arrangement. However, something has to be wrong with a system that allows for such circumstances to take place.
And no NASCAR, the answer is not to create more provisional spots such as past winnerâ€™s â€˜wildcardâ€™.
The top-35 rule and all the wrangling that is allowed to go on within it has taken virtually all the drama out of what used to be one of the most dramatic days in racing. The Thursday Daytona Duels used to actually decide who would make the biggest race on the NASCAR schedule. But now, with 35 cars guaranteed in as well as any past champion not already locked in and the fastest qualifiers being given a spot, there are really only four positions available on that day. And while that will create anxiety for Bayne and other drivers, itâ€™s not the same tension filled day it used to be.
Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with locking some drivers and cars into races with points. However, thirty-five is too many. And more, no driver or team who did not even compete in the series the previous year should be locked into the field before qualifying even takes place.
This piece was not written to solely pick on Danica Patrick but rather to point out the flaws in the current system. However, when you are the person receiving the brightest amount of the spotlightâ€™s glare, you serve as the target representing others.
Trevor Bayne should not be guaranteed into the 2012 Daytona 500, but neither should many of the other drivers who are.
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