It's not the rules.
Amid growing unrest among team owners on the wrong side of NASCAR's rule guaranteeing the top 35 teams spots in each Nextel Cup field, a Charlotte Observer analysis of several potential alterations leads to the same conclusion.
As long as there are more than 43 full-time teams in stock-car racing's top series, and as long as that's how many cars get to race in each Cup event, somebody will go home. And they won't be happy.
In the first 10 races this season, traditional qualifying was held eight times. The exceptions were the Daytona 500, which has its own procedure, and at Texas, where qualifying was rained out.
For the eight races in which traditional qualifying was held, 8.1 percent of the cars making the fields would have changed if NASCAR had allowed in the fastest 43.
Only 7.6 percent would have differed if the top 12 teams were exempt, and it would've been only 6.4 percent if the top 25 were exempt. If NASCAR were using its old format, with 36 cars qualifying on speed and seven provisionals, there would have been a 3.5 percent difference.
Those numbers, as small as they are, are higher than they would be without the season's first Talladega, Ala., race.
Under impound rules for that event, cars had to race in set-ups in which they qualified. So teams not guaranteed spots had to go with qualifying set-ups, while exempt cars were in race trim. Seven cars that were among the 43 fastest did not make the race, while several top teams qualified poorly. Had the rules been different, the results almost certainly would have been different.
Subtract the Talladega numbers and the percentages really get tiny -- 6.1 percent for no exemptions, 6.7 percent for the top 12 exempt, 6 percent for top 25 exemptions and 2 percent for the 36-and-7 system.
If the rules had been different early this year, Michael Waltrip would have had the most to gain under virtually any scenario.
He missed all eight races analyzed in his No. 55 Toyota but would have made five of those with no exemptions, 12 exemptions or 25 exemptions. At the same time, those tweaks would have knocked Kyle Petty and Robby Gordon out of as many as four races they made, depending on which change had been employed.
The idea of doing away with provisionals and exemptions and simply putting the 43 fastest cars in every race has wide popularity among fans.
The Observer's analysis shows that approach would have spread the misery of missing races to at least 21 teams during the first 10 races, including Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex Jr. and Reed Sorenson. All of those drivers would have missed at least one race.
If only the top 25 teams were guaranteed starting spots, Elliott Sadler, Jeff Green, J.J. Yeley, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne would have been among those missing races. And under the scenario with only the top 12 teams exempt, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have failed to qualify at Talladega along with Truex, Labonte and Bowyer. ANALYSIS
Playing with the Rules
Number of different cars that would have qualified for each race based on various possible changes to the top-35 exempt rule in place for Nextel Cup races:
|RACE FASTEST 43||QUALIFY TOP 25||EXEMPT TOP 12||EXEMPT 36 ON SPEED, 7 PROVISIONALS|
EXAMPLE KOBALT TOOLS 500 AT ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY
FASTEST 43: Scott Wimmer, Ward Burton, John Andretti, Michael Waltrip, Kenny Wallace and Kevin Lepage would have raced. Dale Jarrett, David Ragan, Robby Gordon, Kyle Petty, Jeff Green and Ricky Rudd would have not.
TOP 25 EXEMPT: Wimmer, Burton, Andretti and Waltrip in. Robby Gordon, Kyle Petty, Green and Jarrett out. (If Jarrett had been allowed to use a former champion's slot, he would have been in and Waltrip would have been out.)
TOP 12 EXEMPT: Wimmer, Burton, Andretti, Waltrip and Kenny Wallace in. Gordon, Petty, Green, Rudd and Jarrett out. (Jarrett would have taken Wallace slot with champion's provisional).
36 AND 7 RULE: Dave Blaney and Jarrett in and Petty and Gordon out.