Before we get into the article, please take 30 seconds to review our most recent commercial from NHMS.
No, but seriously, are we qualifying or racing, here!?
There's been a lot of debate this week, as Tommy Baldwin's No. 10 has fallen out of the top-35 in owner points and is no longer guaranteed a starting spot in Sprint Cup Series races. While the debate swirls around Danica Patrick, whose name tends to stir up controversy anyway, most people seem to be ignoring my simple question.
To rehash the current storm, David Reutimann's car was a mess late in the Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville. His car finally seemed to stall going down the back stretch, but instead of ducking into pit road, as seemed a possibility, he tried to limp around for another lap. He never made it. His car came to a stop on the front stretch and brought out a late caution that significantly changed the outcome of the race.
The controversy arises because Reutimann shares the No. 10 with Danica Patrick. The hope is to keep the car in the top-35 in owner's points all season so that first-year Danica is guaranteed to start races when she's entered, and not have to worry about qualifying. Danica detractors criticize the system of sharing owner points to help her out and want to see her make it on her own.
The point everyone seems to be missing, as they debate Danica, is that the whole notion of owner's points and automatic entries defies the intent of the sport of auto racing. Are we qualifying or racing?
The idea of the sport is not to start a race, it's to finish a race!
I understand that the system of owner's points is designed to allow the best cars a chance to enter every race. It's a fail safe that allows someone like Jimmie Johnson a spot if he crashes during practice or something goes wrong during qualifying.
It's not uncommon in sports. Neither National Champion Kentucky nor runner-up Kansas won their respective conference tournaments, but both still got bids into the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. (Can you imagine if only conference winners were allowed in!?)
That system is roughly the equivalent in NASCAR, where the qualifying times of the top cars really don't matter, they're all still going to be in Sunday's big dance. But, is it right?
This is a sport where you're judged solely on how fast you can drive your car. Doesn't it seem like that should be the general criteria for getting into a race on any given weekend? If you can't drive like one of the fastest 43 cars at the track that weekend, shouldn't you be sent home?
Most people will say they're making this exact, same argument about Danica Patrick, and I agree. However, I'm not talking about Danica, I'm talking about everyone. I'm talking about the whole owner's points system in general that guarantees any driver (of any gender) from any garage that s/he will automatically start the race, just by showing up.
I do realize that there'd be huge controversy if a Chaser had a practice session mishap and missed a Chase race. I also realize that fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Marcos Ambrose (don't laugh, there are a lot of Aussie's that travel a long way to see the guy race) don't shell out all that money months in advance to show up and be told their driver was just a wee-bit slow on Friday and won't be racing.
Heck, I wouldn't want to buy tickets to a Boston Bruins game and be told that the AHL-affiliate Providence team would be playing in their stead that evening.
While I could propose a system that allows for the series' better drivers to get a free pass or two, I also understand I'm just wasting my time. In today's world of sponsor-driven dollars, the notion of an automatic starting position goes a long way in securing the sponsors that seem more and more reluctant to shell out the money. That holds even more truth the farther you go down the standings and the closer you get to the cut off of 35. I also get that most people view the owner's points system as a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" kind of scenario.
However, I want to remind everyone the roots of the sport are based around speed, and speed alone. As Ricky Bobby coined, "If ya' ain't first, you're last." The fact that these days you can still be credited for being 35th seems downright silly.
Keep in mind: we're not qualifying, we're racing here!