No qualifying for the rest of 2020 is the appropriate policy for NASCAR

Since NASCAR’s resumption at Darlington, starting positions have been determined by a random draw(Photo: Getty Images)

The World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series used to employ a format that had the top-2 drivers from each heat race go to a redraw that then placed those drivers in order on the starting grid for the feature race. If there were four heat races(which is common) then a total of eight drivers, obviously, would be involved in the redraw.

That system was completely unfair in that a driver could set fast time in his qualifying group and win his heat race then be forced to start a short 50-lap feature from the eighth starting position if he proved to be unlucky enough to draw that number. That system no doubt played more than a small role in determining what driver might or might not win a particular feature race as well as the overall series championship.

The WoO Late Models have since redesigned the system to create a much more fair circumstance for those involved. Now, the heat race winners draw for starting positions 1-4 while the second-place finishers draw for starting spots 5-8. As a result, a driver such as that described above who had performed perfectly in the preliminary events would start the feature race no worse than fourth rather than potentially firing off from as far back as eighth.

With all that said, there has been talk that the system of drawing for starting positions for NASCAR races is unfair to some. Unlike the former system used by the World of Outlaws in which eight positions were essentially up for grabs among the heat race winners for a 50-lap feature on a track possibly as small as one-third or even one-quarter of a mile, the competitors in NASCAR have far greater opportunity to make up for a less than favorable starting position.

NASCAR announced earlier this week that there would be no practice or qualifying for the remainder of the 2020 season for any of its top-three divisions. As has been the case since the sport’s return in May, random draws based on the team’s position in the standings will set starting lineups.

NASCAR races, whether it be the NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, or the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series are far longer than dirt races. Anywhere from 200 to 500 miles(or laps) will be covered in most of the remaining events on the 2020 schedule. A 50-lap dirt race on a quarter-mile track only gives the eighth place starter 12.5 miles to gain positions.

And more, those NASCAR races will come with guaranteed cautions(probably at least one competition caution and two stage breaks) and multiple pit stops. Those things allow for not only a great deal of time but also strategy to be played out that will gain any track position lost due to an unlucky draw for a starting spot.

There are no stage breaks in a 50-lap dirt race. And of course, there will not be multiple trips down pit road for new tires and adjustments as will be the case in NASCAR events.

Perhaps to the bigger point, both practice and qualifying were eliminated from NASCAR’s standard procedures(with the exception of the Coca-Cola 600) in an attempt to limit any possible spread of the coronavirus through the garage area. The more times cars go out on the track, the more interaction there will be among crew members and drivers. Obviously, more interactions equals a greater chance of spreading sickness.

It would be difficult to argue that the policies put in place by the sanctioning body, including the elimination of practice and qualifying, have been successful in that very few cases of the illness within the sport have been reported since NASCAR resumed racing.

If this policy was instituted for the purpose of containing the spread of sickness throughout the sport, the policy can’t be changed just because of the fact that the NASCAR Playoffs are approaching. Saying that it’s now okay for crews and drivers to be interacting more because of the playoffs is like saying COVID-19 won’t spread at a protest rally but will spread inside of a restaurant or movie theater. The sickness has not magically disappeared and is still contagious so if the policy is meant to contain its spread then limiting interaction is essential.

Back to the point, though. NASCAR teams having to draw for starting positions, particularly when those closest in the points are placed in the similar groupings, will not determine who wins races or a championship nearly as much as on-track performance and strategy will.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association

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