Waltrip missing Talladega was a travesty

Michael Waltrip deserved to race in the Aaron's 499 on Sunday at Talladega. NASCAR's qualifying rules are broken, and it's time they were fixed, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: May 3, 2007, 11:26 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Michael Waltrip's plight last weekend at Talladega is a clear example of why NASCAR's qualifying system has to change.

Michael Waltrip
AP Photo/John RaouxQualifying has proven to be a nightmare for Michael Waltrip since the Daytona 500. The No. 55 NAPA Toyota is 0-for-8 since making the Daytona field.

Waltrip was 20th in speed out of the 52 drivers who made a qualifying attempt, but he didn't make the race. Twenty-four drivers who posted a slower qualifying lap than Waltrip made the field.

That's a travesty. If you turn a qualifying lap faster than 60 percent of the competitors, you should make the race. Period.

Waltrip's speed was 190.045 mph in the No. 55 Toyota. Paul Menard was the driver one spot ahead of Waltrip in speed at .034 seconds faster, but Menard started 19th in the 43-car field.

Yes, that's how it works, believe it or not.

Jeff Burton's qualifying lap was only 186.579 mph, but he got in because he ranks second in the points standings. The top 35 in points have a guaranteed spot.

Basically, qualifying meant nothing to Burton and his team, especially since Talladega was an impound race. Teams could not make adjustments to the cars from the end of qualifying until the start of the race.

So any team that had a guaranteed spot could qualify in its race setup. Why waste time on qualifying trim when you're going to change 20 spots in 10 laps anyway in a restrictor-plate race?

NASCAR officials said at Talladega they are considering several options to change the qualifying procedure. They should do it now because fairness is missing from the current format.

Time to get tough
Tony Stewart backed down after comparing NASCAR to professional wrestling. Now if he had compared a Talladega crowd to soccer hooligans, he'd be right on.

The postrace barrage of beer cans was an inexcusable display of ignorance. NASCAR and speedway officials must take aggressive action to eliminate this type of dangerous and moronic behavior in the future.

But the reality of the situation is there's only so much you can do.

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage agrees that the incident last weekend was disappointing, but he also thinks the vast majority of NASCAR fans are getting a bad rap.

"We have over a million people come to TMS races each year," Gossage said. "But we have fewer arrests in a year than the Dallas Cowboys have in one game."

Cleveland Browns fans in the 1980s were notorious for throwing things at opposing players from the end zone area known as "The Dawg Pound."

The difference for auto racing is the increased danger of hitting a moving race car. How long before some Neanderthal tosses a full beer on the track during a race? The possible consequences of a can hitting the windshield of a car traveling close to 200 mph are unthinkable.

So how do you stop it? First, any person caught tossing something on a track is arrested and banned from ever attending another NASCAR event.

That's tough to police. Tracks need a lot more security at massive grandstands like Talladega. Even 1,000 police officers is a tiny number compared to 150,000 fans.

If a guilty party is banned from future events, he or she could still get in if someone else purchased the ticket. So unless IDs are checked at the gate (not a reasonable idea for a crowd of more than 100,000), a ban would not be a true deterrent. But at least make the attempt.

Also, speedways could stop allowing fans to buy or bring canned drinks into the facility. You buy a drink at a concession stand and it's poured into a plastic cup. This change wouldn't sit well with fans who bring their own coolers to a race.

A full beer can is a dangerous weapon, but so is a shoe. So is a D-cell battery. There's always something to throw if you're crazy enough to try.

The problem has no easy answers, but punitive action is needed to show this type of behavior won't be tolerated.

"We can encourage local and state officials to increase the seriousness of the offense," Gossage said. "Instead of a misdemeanor, maybe this should be a felony."

Charging someone with disorderly conduct is not enough. The charge should be assault. A full beer can thrown in the air easily could injure another fan or a driver.

What's the big deal?
The Indy Car Series received plenty of pub last week about having three women in the field for the race at Kansas City.

Danica Patrick
AP Photo/Shuji KajiyamaDanica Patrick is still searching for her first win.

Let's face facts. Just having women in a race no longer is a big story. What will be a big story is when one of them wins a race.

Sarah Fisher and rookie Milka Duno aren't close to seeing Victory Lane. And Danica Patrick is off to a disappointing start in her first year at Andretti-Green Racing.

Patrick's now in her third IndyCar season. She's racing on a top team. She needs to win this year or people will start looking at her as the Anna Kournikova of open-wheel racing.

Maybe that's unfair, but at some point, you have to win. It's time to step up.

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

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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