Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Nitpicking? NASCAR Is Back

What exactly is the qualifying problem in the Xfinity Series?

When qualifying was rained out for this past weekend’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race, what was a simple rainout has dramatically changed the season for a few teams.

There were a total of 45 NXS teams that were entered in last weekend’s race. Jayski’s 2021 NXS team chart page has 42 full-time teams listed. Those 42 teams were entered for Daytona International Speedway, along with the No. 54 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (which may not run the full season depending on Ty Gibbs’ schedule), the No. 91 Chevrolet of DGM Racing and the No. 25 Chevrolet of Chris Cockrum, who generally only attempts Daytona and sister track Talladega Superspeedway.

As per NASCAR’s field rules for this season, the NXS field size is dependent on if there is qualifying. With qualifying, it’s the fastest 31 and four more spots on the grid being rewarded based on attempts/owner points, with the final spot being given to the most recent past champion missing the race. Without qualifying, it’s the top 40 in owner points.

Forty-one teams had owner points from last season entering the event at Daytona International Speedway, so all of them except for the No. 25 were able to start the race. The frustrating part of this story is that three of the cars that missed the race were full-time teams, per Jayski.

Now, this would be a non-story in a non-COVID-19 world. The problem, of course, is that COVID is still a thing, so NASCAR has continued to limit practice and qualifying at racetracks. As of right now, there are no planned practice or qualifying sessions for NXS teams until the Circuit of the Americas weekend in mid-May, a whole three months away.

So essentially, the situation has locked out those three cars from competing in the first 10 events of the year. The Bassett brothers, who have split time for DGM in the past, have begun their own NXS team, the No. 77 Chevrolet. They have now been turned away at the door by NASCAR.

Our Motorsports has expanded to two teams, with the No. 03 Chevrolet having some fairly big names attached to it — former series champion Tyler Reddick was entered for Daytona, while Andy Lally was planning on competing for a win in the car this weekend at the Daytona road course. Instead, Our will stay a one-car operation for at least the first third of the season, with Lally switching to the BJ McLeod Motorsports No. 99 Chevrolet to compete for his first NASCAR win this weekend.

Jordan Anderson, after buying equipment from Richard Childress Racing, had planned a full rookie campaign in his own car. Now, the No. 31 Chevrolet will collect dust in his race shop, and with Anderson pulling his entry for this weekend’s race, there went any chance of a playoff berth for the South Carolinian.

What would be the solution?

While the easiest solution on the surface would be to just have full qualifying again, the problem is that it simply isn’t feasible this season.

In addition to COVID restrictions on shops and teams, one core element is just how much money these race teams are able to save by just preparing one car most weekends. That’s probably a core reason why so many new teams formed this past off-season despite COVID impacting revenues in a negative way this season.

My idea is to simply have a limited qualifying session with just the teams not in the top 36 in owner’s points. This would allow race teams to prove that they deserve to be in the race while not being too overbearing of a hurdle. If a team were to wreck and have to go to a backup car, chances are they are missing the race anyway, so there really wouldn’t be a need to go bring one. And NASCAR could always just invent some rule to prevent teams from doing it.

Having a system like this would also allow this awkward situation from popping up later in the season. There probably won’t be any practice or qualifying in another 17-race stretch, or over half of the season, later on this year. That’s going to make it very hard for any of these three teams to function past the year, especially with slower cars getting 10 free races to build up a points lead over their competition.

Will Chase Elliott win another points road course race?

This weekend’s race is at the Daytona road course, the second Cup race on this layout. It will be a close race, anybody can win, blah blah blah.

Chase Elliott will win this weekend once again. It will be the fifth straight road course win for the team that probably has its own hidden road course testing program, a problem about which NASCAR has done absolutely nothing.

Elliott will lead the entire first stage, he’ll have a problem during stage break pit stops and then Elliott will win after driving through the field in the closing laps as other drivers just allow him to go on by. Jeff Gordon will be thrilled in the Fox booth that the car he was probably hands-on with in development whips the field, journalists will do their pieces next week asking what happened between this race and the Busch Clash, and fans will just be happy that the most popular driver dominated once again.

OK, maybe it won’t exactly go like that. But road course racing in Cup is much less exciting when the best driver in the discipline has such a huge advantage equipment-wise over the rest of the field. It also really sucks that there have to be stages on road courses, because that can really stifle some strategy creativity with these crew chiefs. But there’s really no good answer to any of these problems because of how murky the solutions can be, in particular the Track Attack program.

Anyway, NASCAR watched the ending of the Clash and decided the best solution to the bus stop turning into a dirt track was to put turtle curbs down there. Either these will be a disaster or a massive success. The good thing for NASCAR is that this weekend ultimately doesn’t matter from a quality standpoint.

Sure, it’s better to have three good races than three bad races. But if they’re as boring as these series were on this layout last year, NASCAR just won’t have this weekend again. And if it ends up with three big successes? Speedweeks is going to be extended by another week again in 2022 and beyond.

Why does the five-minute clock not work? In 75 words or less.

The five-minute clock is a good idea in theory but in execution it leads to cautions soon after all of the time thanks to teams having no time to ensure that junk won’t fall off and onto the racetrack. It should be eliminated and the minimum speed should be set higher, because there’s no reason for Tyler Reddick puttering around for three hours on Sunday going 25 mph off of the pace.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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