Thursday's Gatorade Duels will set the field for Sunday's Daytona 500.(US Presswire)
Has the top 35 owner rule rendered the Gatorade Duels anticlimactic?
PETE PISTONEThe Top 35 rule has impacted qualifying across the entire Sprint Cup Series schedule and basically turned time trials into a placement exercise of simply where drivers start in the field.
By guaranteeing drivers a spot in the lineup, the "do or die" mentality of qualifying for most teams that show up has disappeared. That drama was a major element of the Daytona Gatorade Duel races until a few years ago when the Top 35 ruined the doubleheader.
Before guaranteed owner points came into the picture, the Thursday races before the Daytona 500 were one of the highlights of not only Speedweeks but for some the entire season. Drivers needed to finish inside the first 15 to punch their ticket to the 500 or pack up and head home, a format that set up tremendous excitement and was a fan favorite -- responsible for 100,000 or more packing the Daytona grandstands for the weekday matinee.
Today's 150-milers are pale comparisons to what was one of Daytona's best traditions.
BRIAN DE LOS SANTOSTo be completely anticlimactic would mean the Duels carry no significance, which isn't the case at all, but the top 35 owner rule has certainly ruined the simplicity of things.
Consider that there are in actuality 39 positions locked up -- the top 35 in owner points from a year ago, the three fastest non-top 35 drivers from qualifying and a champions provisional -- heading into Thursday's Duels leaving 10 drivers -- none of whom you'd put much stock in actually winning the Daytona 500 -- vying for the four remaining spots in the field.
And what of the drivers that are locked in? For them, the Duels are a test session as much as anything. The funny thing about the Daytona 500 is that so much effort goes into setting the field for a race where starting position means very little.
That's not so say the races aren't exciting for fans, it is a race at Daytona after all. But the importance and gravity is lacking.
How about awarding points to the winners of each event? Not a huge amount, maybe a 5-point bonus to the winners.
And while I understand what NASCAR is trying to do with the top 35 rule, I'm wondering if it make sense to just start fresh each season. In other words, when it comes to the Daytona 500, nobody is locked in.
|More NASCAR coverage|