Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Points swapping mess

The idea that a team owner can swap points or buy points from another organization to join the "top-35" and therefore be locked into the field for the first five races - and therefore likely longer into the season - is ludicrous. In fact, it defeats the purpose of the rule.

Somewhere along the way, NASCAR decided that qualifying for races didn't matter all that much. Getting to where we are now has been a process: it started with going from 20 cars locked into the field in first round qualifying and 20 more being locked in via second round qualifying to 25 cars in the first round and 13 in the second with four provisionals (based on a 42 car field). Then the second round was eliminated altogether. Then the number of provisionals jumped from four to six and then to seven. Now the number of provisionals is in effect 35.

I subscribe to the theory that no team should be guaranteed a starting position.

Motorsports should be a simple competition. The first from point A to point B - whether it's a simple quarter-mile drag race or a 500-mile oval race - is the winner. The qualifying process should be equally simple. The fastest of those attempting to make the race get in. Those too slow watch from the sidelines.

Sometimes those too slow will have sponsors. Those sponsors should be rightfully worried when their car misses a race. But that's all part of it, a risk that you take when you sign on the dotted line.

But what we are seeing now is pushing the already-silly top-35 rule beyond ridiculous.

Teams are forming alliances and buying points trying to lock into the field because NASCAR says they can. Earnhard-Ganassi Racing, with six teams in the top-35 in 2008, can only field four teams in the 500. That means they have two positions in the top-35 up for the highest bidder.

What should happen to those points? Simple: they should be unused. Points should not be transferable. If you didn't earn them, you don't get to use them. If that means that less than 35 teams are locked into the 500 based on last year's owners standings, then so be it.

The Daytona 500 qualifying system, once uniquely cool among stock car racing's major events, is now among the most ludicrously confusing systems in all of sports. It's even more confusing with all of the point swapping.

Sooner or later NASCAR will awake to the fact that the top-35 rule is not necessary. Until then, the sanctioning body needs to close the loopholes.

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