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Dustin Off The Next Race: Auto Club 400

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As we embark on the final leg on the western ride for NASCAR, it comes on a day where green is abundant among many, even if they are only Irish for one day.  The meal, some excellent corned beef, some with a little extra kick of pepper, or a pepper crust to turn that corned beef into pastrami.  On the side, some hearty potatoes, and a bland cabbage addition, something this young man isn’t a fan of.

It’s not often NASCAR actually races on a holiday, but the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day certainly will be abundant at Fontana this weekend.

But even before the race gets going, there’s a lot of controversy this weekend, particularly after Friday.

Remember when I said last week that qualifying would be critical with this package because it’s about positioning…I think I am officially eating my words.  I am sorry, but seeing that qualifying session first bored me, then it burned me, and finally it got me irate.  Seriously, WHAT WAS THAT?

No team wanting to go out on the track that final session, jockeying for the location to go out, and in the end…it ruined everyone’s opportunity.

That’s the first time I’ve heard fans give a chorus of boos for qualifying instead of a driver.  No one was immune to giving an opinion, past drivers, announcers, current drivers…everyone had something to say about it, and now everyone is trying to come up with an idea of how to make qualifying better so that everyone did get a lap in at each round.

Jeff Gordon truthfully had the best idea, and I’m going to take it a step further.  His idea for a rule change during each round is that if a car leaves it’s pit stall, it is required to go on track and make a lap.  This waiting on pit road is a cat-and-mouse game that is absolutely ridiculous at this point.  I understand the idea of not wanting to be the first driver to break a hole in the air, because that is slowing down speed for that driver.  That first, second, and third driver in line has an advantage with the draft.

That game got played poorly and it cost every driver a chance in the final round to actually gain a spot, or a pole.

So, rather than go back to the single-car qualifying which is rather boring no matter the track, although giving every car a chance to show up on television to promote their sponsor, the simplest way to do this is tell drivers once they leave their pit, they must go on track.  Now at certain points, depending on the track, it may not be safe to go right on the track to qualify.  Look at a place like Martinsville or Richmond, where the pit road exit is right next to the line to race.  Waiting to be clear at that point may be a good idea.

But you get to these places like Michigan, Texas, Pocono, where there’s so much room and so much time to get up to full speed, once you exit the stall, drivers must enter the racing surface.  No gamesmanship, no trickery…leave stall, make a lap.

I’ll even go a step further with this, although it mainly applies to the final round more than say the first or second.  A driver that elects to either not make a lap in the final round, or fails to cross the line to make their lap prior to the red and black flags, they will be given the lowest starting position of that round (12th if the final round, 24th if round tw0).  Plus, if a driver doesn’t go on track after leaving their pit stall, outside of the driver feeling a mechanical failure or a tire failure, they must start at the back of the field.

NASCAR has admitted the qualifying session was a mockery, but what to do is not as easy as expected, and unfortunately, this sport is not as proactive as they want to be.  I could see it coming, and now, it’s time to fix it.

So, that being said, we still have a race to get in at the Auto Club Speedway, and like has been the case, the focus in on No. 200 for No. 18.  We know it’s coming, but if it comes today will be a challenge.  We saw on Saturday that Kyle Busch isn’t immune to mistakes, at least his team isn’t immune to it.  So that mark is waiting for today’s top tier series to be accomplished.  At the same time, this place has been known to be one that fuel mileage will be the way to determine a winner.

Rowdy certainly can get the job done, but so can last year’s winner, Martin Truex Jr.  Then there’s the California boys, like Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.

Is it clear who is winning today, not in any sense.  But, it sure will be interesting to see how this new package will work on this big, wide, and fast facility.

About Dustin Parks

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A bicentennial win deserving of a celebration.  Photo Credit:  Sal Sigala Jr.

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