Qualifying format needs an overhaul, Waltrip says

The top 35 teams in owner points are guaranteed spots in each Cup race. And the non-qualifiers? The "scrubs," as Michael Waltrip calls them, need NASCAR's help, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: April 29, 2007, 5:38 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Michael Waltrip realizes it sounds like sour grapes.

For a guy who hasn't qualified in the past seven Nextel Cup races, saying you want to change the qualifying format is like a man standing naked on the North Pole saying he needs a coat.

But Waltrip firmly believes the system has some flaws for "the scrubs" -- his term for the teams that don't have a guaranteed spot in the in the 43-car field.

"This is something that I've talked a lot to NASCAR about," Waltrip said. "I would hope my suggestions could be done here."

Don't hold too much hope for that, Michael.

The top 35 teams in owner points have a guaranteed spot in each race. Waltrip has no problem with that concept. But he wants changes for the drivers trying to earn one of the remaining spots each week.

Waltrip wants the non-qualifiers to make their qualifying laps after the top 35 are done. His point is to take away an advantage a team might have on weather changes.

Qualifying at a track like Talladega is a long process. If it's warm when the session starts and cool when it ends, a driver who goes out late in the session has an advantage. Cooler conditions usually mean faster speeds.

"Just qualify the top 35 cars first," Waltrip said. "Then you have the scrubs coming, all lined up for seven or eight spots. You draw [for qualifying position] like normal, but pull us out after it's over. Make sure the people racing for those spots do it at the same time."

Waltrip also sees it as a way to make qualifying more interesting.

"It's everything a qualifying session should be," Waltrip said. "We're in the entertainment business, and that would add entertainment to that process. That's why I'm fighting for it."

If it's all about the entertainment value, why not have a qualifying race for the drivers trying to make the show?

"We'd run over each other," Waltrip said. "That would be fun until someone got hurt."

Anyone who has sat through a qualifying session at Daytona or Talladega knows it's not exactly high drama. As Tony Stewart has said, "A monkey could do it." You mash the gas and turn the wheel for two boring laps.

Fifty-three cars entered the Aaron's 499, meaning 10 drivers will go home after qualifying on Saturday. Eighteen drivers are vying for eight spots.

"But if all those cars are separated [in qualifying] by an hour or so of time, it's unfair," Waltrip said. "It needs to change for competition purposes, and I would be fun to watch."

NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter said Waltrip's idea isn't far-fetched.

"I know it's something that has been discussed," Hunter said. "It's something we might consider in the future."

But Waltrip has another major gripe with the qualifying format: rainouts.

After the Friday qualifying session was rained out two weeks ago, the field at the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway was set based on points and season qualifying attempts.

Waltrip said he shouldn't have to call his sponsor, NAPA, with that news. He said his conversation that Friday with NAPA officials went like this:

Waltrip: "We didn't qualify because it rained it out."

NAPA official: "Well, are we going to qualify tomorrow?"

Waltrip: "No, we're not."

NAPA official: "Why not? Is it going to rain tomorrow."

Waltrip: "No it's sunny, but we're not qualifying."

Waltrip wants the non-qualifiers to have an opportunity to make the field on Saturday if a Friday session is rained out.

"Set the top 35, but save the scrub qualifying until you can't have it," he said. "If it's raining Saturday morning, have it after the Busch race. Give us a chance to earn our way into the race.

"That's a rule that's out of touch with current times. It's something that needs to be changed right now, along with the order that cars go out."

Hunter said it isn't that easy.

"The problem is the schedules are set for Saturday," Hunter said. "I don't think we can change that for this year."

Even with tight schedules, we're talking less than half an hour of track time at most events.

Some people have questioned the top-35 rule this season. It was put in place to ensure major sponsors don't miss races. But major sponsors for the struggling Toyota teams are missing races each week.

The Domino's Camry that David Reutimann drives for Waltrip's team has missed three races.

"We all entered this year knowing what it was," Waltrip said. "If you change the top-35 rule it will adversely affect some people. But if you do what I'm saying, who gets hurt? What's bad?"

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter