Impound race qualifying a joke

October, 7, 2007

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The quagmire of impound-race qualifying on a restrictor-plate track was clear for everyone to see Saturday.

Here are a few examples of how ridiculous this system has become:

  • A.J. Allmendinger and Boris Said, the ninth and 10th fastest drivers, respectively, on speed, did not make the 43-car field.
  • Dale Jarrett, the No. 8 qualifier, started last when the green flag flew Sunday. That's a rule. The slowest qualifier who didn't have a guaranteed spot has to start in the back.
  • The top eight qualifiers, including pole-winner Michael Waltrip, were drivers who rank below the top 35 in the season standings.
  • Five drivers in the top 15 in qualifying speed didn't make the race.
  • Three drivers in the Chase -- Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick -- ranked in the bottom nine on qualifying speed.

Welcome to the backwards world NASCAR has created for qualifying at Talladega. The slower cars started in the front; the faster ones in the back.

This is how it works out when you have teams on completely different agendas when qualifying begins.

Qualifying for a top-35 team in this situation means absolutely nothing. Those teams have a guaranteed spot in the field.

Talladega also was an impound race. The cars are locked up after qualifying and teams are not allowed to make any significant changes before the start of the race.

So the teams with a guaranteed spot spend all their practice time in a race-day setup. They don't worry about a qualifying setup.

But the teams that don't have a guaranteed spot have to concentrate on making the car as fast as possible for qualifying. They set up the car to run at maximum speed for two laps alone on the track.

It isn't the best way to go fast in a big pack of cars once the race starts, so the top 35 teams blow off trying to gain speed for qualifying.

The result is what we saw Saturday when 16 drivers went all out to make the race and the other 35 drivers went through the motions.

It's an embarrassment to the sport and a cheapening of the show for the people who pay their money to come to the track and watch qualifying.

It's also unfair to the drivers trying to make the field with a strong qualifying effort. Allmendinger and Said should have raced Sunday.

Obviously, neither man would have ranked in the top 10 had the top 35 teams taken qualifying seriously, but they almost certainly would have ranked in the top 43.

That doesn't matter in a system that protects 35 teams every week, making qualifying almost meaningless for the majority of the field.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter



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