Until Sunday’s rain shortened Auto Club 400 from California’s Auto Club Speedway, NASCAR used the 2012 owner’s points to set the field for the starting grid for the first five races of the new season. Finishing in the top 35 at season’s end guarantees a starting position in the first five races and in the process takes pressure of the teams knowing they are already in the show regardless of where they qualify.
That of course is the greatest benefit of being in the top 35, but it also allows a team when it unloads at the racetrack to not have to spend a very large amount of practice time on its qualifying package. Those teams locked in can use more of their practice time working on their race day package and in the process gain an even larger advantage over those teams that have to use every practice lap leading up to qualifying to ensure that they just get into the race.
Beginning this weekend at Martinsville, NASCAR will start using this season’s owner’s points list to set the top 35 and the guaranteed spots that go along with it. This creates its own form of a points race that may not have the glamour of the competition to be one of the 12 drivers to make the Chase, but if you are a driver and a team fighting for that last slot to be guaranteed a starting spot there is even more pressure.
Just like every year there is already a great battle taking place for that last spot with only five points separating the driver in the 35th spot and the next driver. Tommy Baldwin’s Racing #10 team with David Reutimann and Danica Patrick splitting time behind the wheel is in the 34th slot followed by Richard Childress Racing’s #33 team with driver Brendan Gaughan. Five points out of the highly sought 35th spot is BK Racing’s #83 team with driver Landon Cassill.
Of these three teams it could be TBR’s #10 team that has the most to gain by staying in the top 35 each week. This team is actually more of a two-owner operation as Stewart- Haas Racing has a large stake in the success of this team as the two owners are actually sharing the car. Stewart-Haas will be putting Patrick behind the wheel for 10 races this season and is relying on TBR’s Reutimann to keep the car in the top 35 so Patrick will not have the added pressure of qualifying for the races she enters.
These teams battling to stay in the top 35 know that all it takes is one bad race to knock them out of being guaranteed a starting position the following week. When you have to rely on qualifying each week, there are just too many variables that come into play — equipment failure or maybe the worst scenario is having qualifying get rained out and then it could actually come down to the speed that a driver posted in practice. It’s just a lot of added pressure that no driver or team wants to have to go through each week.
BRISTOL UPDATE: This year’s Food City will no doubt be remembered more for the number of empty seats than the action that took place on Bristol Motor Speedway’s famed half-mile track. Bristol for so many years used to be the toughest ticket to come by on the entire schedule, routinely selling out both its March and August dates. This spring’s race attracted a crowd of 102,000 to the over 160,000-seat venue and the sight of all of those empty seats has track owner Bruton Smith looking for answers on how to get the fans back to the track. He asked Bristol fans if they liked the old style Bristol racing before the track was reconfigured in 2007 and the response was an overwhelming 75 percent in favor of the “old” racing. Smith wasted very little time in responding to the fans as he has already announced that the track would be reconfigured back to its original layout before the August night race. The track will remain concrete and the variable banking that it now has will be eliminated and the old specs put back into place. It sounds like a tough task to get done before August, but let’s remember this is Bruton Smith and when it comes to his race tracks, especially Bristol, we have witnessed him do the seemingly impossible in a short period of time. By the way, count me in as one of the 75 percent who wants my “old” Bristol back!
Event: Goody’s Fast Relief 500
Track: Martinsville Speedway
(.526-mile oval, 12 degrees of
banking in the turns)
Date: April 1, 1 p.m.
Defending Champion: Kevin