Every off-season there is the same feeling for NASCAR fans. They sit and they wait, tiredlessly. Former broadcaster Chris Economaki said one year that the Daytona 500 was his ‘annual thrill after a long, cold, snowy and raceless winter’. While this offseason hasn’t produced the snow that most fans are accustomed to, each off season is still raceless for most fans. Some fans past the time by watching the NFL playoffs or by counting down the days until the yearly spectacle that is the Daytona 500. Daytona marks the beginning of normality for fans as the hopes and dreams of thousands begin with a new season.
Included in that spectacle in Daytona is Speedweeks, a week long event that features two preliminary races to the Daytona 500, the Sprint Unlimited and the Can-Am Duel 150’s. Also featured in Speedweeks is the Daytona 500 qualifying session, which usually takes place a week before the Daytona 500. All three events have provided the racing world with excitement and entertainment that was highly anticipated throughout the offseason.
Perhaps the most exciting races during Speedweeks are the Duel 150 mile qualifying races. It’s in those races where perhaps the most exciting and most desperate racing goes on. In the front of the field the front runners only have 60 laps to try and win the race while the people in the back of the pack are trying to make their dreams come true and make the Daytona 500. As great as those races have been in the past, it’s time to change those two races to continue entertaining the fan base.
Starting with the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season NASCAR will institute a franchising system. Rumored to be included in the system are two key details that will affect the weekend at Daytona. First, there will be a charter system in place that will lock 36 teams into the race. That means, no matter what happens to those 36 teams, they will race in the Daytona 500. The proposed plan will also lower the car count for all races from 43 cars to 40 cars. That means there will be only four positions available for Sunday’s race heading into qualifying for the Daytona 500.
The rules for qualifying for the Daytona 500 have yet to been announced but it will be interesting to see how NASCAR handles this situation. In past years there have been four to six cars, in addition to the front row who have ‘locked themselves’ into the race in qualifying. Last year, positions 1-32 were locked into the 500 via their Duel finishing positions in the 150 mile qualifying races. After that, positions 33-36 went to the teams and drivers with the four fastest qualifying speeds who were not locked into the Daytona 500 via their Duel finishing position. Then positions 37-43 would go to the teams highest in owner points not already locked into the Daytona 500 via their Duels or qualifying speeds.
While the format could be confusing, it rewarded teams and drivers for having fast racecars and running well in their duels. This format doesn’t do any of that. In fact, teams may take precautionary measures, especially teams towards the rear of the field, in the Duels to not tear up their Daytona 500 car. Plus there may be only one spot available to teams who are not in the Daytona 500 in each Duel race. You would have to think NASCAR would lock in two teams during qualifying to avoid an embarrassing scenario of a go-or-go home team sitting on the pole on Sunday and wrecking in the Duels on Thursday and missing the 500 entirely. That would mean NASCAR would have to lock in the front row for qualifying leaving just two spots, one spot in each Duel, open for the go-or-go home teams. Doesn’t seem like a very appealing two races. It’s got a chance to turn the Duel races, some of the best racing of the weekend, into a practice session, something fans will not like to watch. It’s time to replace the Duel races with something more appealing and fun for the fans.
A solution to the problem could be a A 40 lap last chance race, which is something similar we see for the All-Star race at Charlotte. The last chance race would consist of drivers and teams not already locked into the event. The winner and second place driver would advance to the Daytona 500 and everyone else would have to go home. It would create an element of excitement because teams would be doing some desperate racing to try and win the event and get into NASCAR’s biggest race. Car count for the event would balloon because in the draft it makes for a pretty level playing field and teams with a racecar and engine could come down and try and make their season in the last chance race.At Daytona the fuel window is about 42 laps. That would prevent teams from paying crew guys to pit the car and teams can go the distance on one set of tires. Pit stops wouldn’t mean anything. It would be strictly a shootout style event with the top two finishers advancing into the 500 with the fastest teams and drivers advancing into the Daytona 500. It would be a fun and wild way to determine the final two starting positions for NASCAR’s biggest event. It’s time to change the Duel races into a last chance race. It would help bring excitement back to Speedweeks.