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Who's on First? Observations in Qualifying
By Jan Bazen
Have you noticed who is missing from the top ten these days in qualifying? You know, people you would normally have seen last year, just are not there this year. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett (could you imagine him taking a provisional last year?), Ricky Rudd, Kevin Harvick, and Rusty Wallace, to name a few. In fact, the only driver that remains consistent from last year is Sterling Marlin.
Not only are these drivers not qualifying well, their finishes have not been anything to brag about either.
So I had to ask myself….what has changed since last year? Only one item comes to mind and that is the new one engine rule. This rule states that you must use the same engine to qualify that you use to run in the racing event. In years past, teams would bring in one engine and a setup to use just for qualifying, and then change the engine and setup to something different to use during the race. This was a costly procedure for all teams and most of the single car teams or owner teams just could not afford this extra cost. So to even up everyone's chances and in attempting to cut the overall costs for all teams, NASCAR came up with the one engine rule.
In asking opinions of other fans and writers, the majority polled feel like that the smaller teams have been building more durable engines all along that could be used for both qualifying and racing. They were also used to having to take extra care of their engines. The larger teams with more money available to them could afford to go out and run qualifying laps all out, and if they blew the engine, so what? The blown engine was just for qualifying anyway. Now with the new one engine rule, if an engine is blown during qualifying and has to be replaced, the driver starts at the back of the field on race day. This means having to work your way through the pack to compete with the front runners or pray for great pit stops during the race.
As any fan or driver will tell you, that at most of these race tracks, position is everything. So what is better…push your car to the max during qualifying and hope the engine will hold up for the race or coddle the engine and give a mediocre qualifying effort. I think we are now seeing how most teams are planning their strategies. Save the engine for race day.
Don't get me wrong, I think it is great to see new faces at the front this year. It is just kind of strange after seeing the same faces all last year. I think it is too early in the season to be making predictions, but if the season continues like it has started, I believe a lot of us will be rewriting our predictions for the 2002 NWC series.
If you have other ideas or opinions on this topic, be sure to e-mail me…I would love to hear from you.
Jan is an RN who lives on the North Carolina coast with her husband, three children and her dog. When not watching or reading about Nascar, she enjoys fishing...any kind of fishing. She enjoys gardening and reading. Although Jan is new to the sport of Nascar, she was exposed to Nascar from the early, tender age of 5 by her older brother, Fred, who has always been a diehard Nascar fan. Jan welcomes any comments or opposing views. You can contact her by clicking on the North Carolina tag above.
2002 Car Guy of Benchfield