Back in October 2004 at Atlanta Motor Speedway several full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams missed the race in a field that included almost 60 entries. Included in those 60 entries were a bunch of part time teams, who were faster than the full-time teams and made the race.
Several major sponsors, including Valvoline and Caterpillar, missed the race and so that fact helped lead to NASCAR creating a rule to protect the teams that had major sponsors who expected to be in every single race. So in an effort to protect the teams NASCAR created a qualifying rule that would lock teams who were in the top 35 in owner points and attempted every single NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. That would lock in the teams that had big sponsors and force the part time teams to make the field on their time.
The rule worked at first, but throughout its tenure in the Sprint Cup Series several teams manipulated the system and there were plenty of games being played that ruined the concept of the rule. So prior to the 2013 season NASCAR went back to the traditional qualifying system which consisted of locking in the 36 fastest qualifiers and leaving seven positions open for the highest seven teams in owner points not already qualified into the field.
Since then the games that the Sprint Cup Series teams played with the top 35 rule have declined immensely and the qualifying field has been more competitive. However, the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series still use the "top 35" rule in their divisions. It's time for that to change.
The qualifying procedure for the NASCAR Nationwide Series locks the top 30 teams highest in owner points into the field, as long as they have attempted every race. For the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series the rule locks in the top 25 in owner points.
NASCAR has said that many of the smaller NASCAR Nationwide Series teams and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams enjoy the rule and depend on it for sponsorship. If a team tells a sponsor that no matter what happens in qualifying, they will be in the race, it puts the sponsors at ease and makes them more likely to sponsor that team for the upcoming race.
That makes plenty of sense but while it benefits some teams during the weekend, it hampers others. Take the #98 Ford in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Biagi-DenBeste Racing. In the 2013 season the team ran in 14 events and Kevin Swindell impressed, finishing in the top ten twice. The team ended up 34th in the NASCAR Nationwide Series owner points and after running those 14 races and still would have to qualify in every single event in the 2014 season. Due to that fact, Swindell wasn't able to pick up sponsorship for the team and was replaced by Cup Series regular David Ragan, who has a better opportunity to bring sponsorship to the team due to name recognition.In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series the same can be said for the rule. It helps full-time teams secure sponsorship for races. However, the rule is currently giving no incentive for teams to run all the laps and rewards start and park teams. For example, if you take a look at the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owner point standings there is something interesting brewing for the top 25 rule.
The #07 SS Greenlight Racing team is currently 25th in owner points, meaning they're locked into the remaining races of the schedule until they fall out. However, that will most likely not happen. There are only 25 trucks who have currently entered in every race in the 2014 season, meaning that the #07 team can start and park in every race the rest of the season and still be locked into the first four races of the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule. In Saturday's Pocono Mountains 125 at Pocono Raceway the #07 SS Greenlight Racing Chevrolet ran 12 laps with B.J. McLeod behind the wheel and finished 30th in a 32 truck field. There is nothing preventing the team from starting and parking the rest of the season and who can blame them? They will make a bigger profit that way and avoid the risk of tearing up a truck.
NASCAR's responsibility is not to make sure teams get sponsorship. NASCAR's responsibility should be to make sure that the best competition is out there on the track while having a safety net for their stars, like they currently do in the Sprint Cup Series. If the best cars/trucks are not racing because of a technicality then there's a problem. I think we've gotten to that point.
The "top 35" rule should be abolished in NASCAR's lower divisions. It has run its course, it effects the competition of the field and it encourages start and park teams.
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Tags: Motorsports, NASCAR, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series, NASCAR Sprint Cup