Commentary

Indy 500-style qualifying in NASCAR?

Updated: May 24, 2011, 3:08 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Imagine if Dale Earnhardt Jr. needed to bump Kyle Busch out of the field to make it into the Coca-Cola 600 this weekend.

Or how about J.J. Yeley with a chance to knock points leader Carl Edwards out of the race on the last qualifying attempt of the day?

Love it or hate it, that format would be a qualifying session worth watching.

In case you missed it, that kind of thing is exactly what fans saw Sunday at Indianapolis, the best Bump Day for the Indy 500 in more than a decade.

Marco Andretti, the latest generation in one of Indy's most iconic families, was outside looking in with 50 seconds to go before the gun sounded to end qualifying.

[+] EnlargeJimmie Johnson
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesHow fun would it be to see Jimmie Johnson have to go all-out to make a race?

Marco made it back in after getting bumped out moments earlier, but, in doing so, he bumped out his own teammate -- Ryan Hunter-Reay.

As it turned out, Hunter-Reay found another ride one day later, replacing Bruno Junqueira in one of A.J. Foyt's cars.

But it was dripping drama Sunday, and far from the only high-anxiety situation of the day. With less than 90 minutes to go in the Bump Day festivities, Danica Patrick didn't have a spot in the field.

At that point, IndyCar Series officials probably were ready to form a line on top of the Pagoda to see who got to jump off first.

The storms passed, literally and figuratively, as Patrick got on the track and made it in the show, but it sure was exciting to watch, wait and wonder who would make it and who wouldn't.

I put this message on Facebook and Twitter on Sunday:

Bump Day drama like we saw today at Indy is exactly what NASCAR needs to spice up its paint-dry dull qualifying.

That generated plenty of responses, most in agreement:

ToByJaMeS24: That would be freaking awesome… Daytona, maybe the brickyard? intense stuff… would lead to fights during quals? LOL

But some were clearly against it:

NikkiRose817: Would you really want Start and Parks knocking out championship contenders? Would be good quals but crap race.

I disagree. One Cup star missing the race would not ruin the entire event.

In reality, even if NASCAR dumped the top-35 rule and adopted some type of Bump Day format, a top driver missing a race would be as rare as a Nationwide-only driver winning a Nationwide race.

Oops. That actually happened Sunday. Thank you Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

If Earnhardt or Jimmie Johnson or Denny Hamlin couldn't post a speed in the top 43, especially with only 45 or 46 cars showing up at most events, so be it.

And if those guys had more than one chance to make a qualifying attempt, as is the case on Bump Day at Indy, there's really no excuse, even if they had to go to a backup car.

Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, weighed in on my Facebook page:

"Back before the top names were protected, big name drivers would occasionally fail to qualify for a race. Can you imagine what would happen if "Five Time" [Jimmie Johnson] failed to qualify? That's fascinating stuff and the way it should be."

Richard Petty failed to qualify four times in 1989. Alan Kulwicki finished 21st in the 1986 standings but failed to qualify three times.

Geoffrey Bodine didn't qualify for two races in 1997 and still finished 22nd in the standings. Dale Jarrett had a DNQ in 1994 when he finished 16th in the season standings.

But Corporate America wasn't investing the same kind of money in the sport back then that it does today. The top-35 rule was implemented to protect big-money sponsors and give them a guaranteed spot in every race.

[+] EnlargeCarl Edwards
Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesCarl Edwards might have a few more tense moments if he knew he was in danger of missing a race.

Again, this wouldn't be as big a problem as it sounds. If a star driver with a major national sponsors didn't qualify, that sponsor and team owner could buy a spot in the race from a lesser team that did get in. That happened at Indy with the Hunter-Reay situation.

In NASCAR, it could be a way for a start-and-park team to make some money. The sponsor pays the S&Per to put the sponsor's driver in the car and its logo on the hood for that event.

If not, I'm OK with a big-name driver missing a race. As for the sponsor, one could argue that it would receive more attention from the surprise of missing a race than it would for being in the race.

In the NHRA, every competitor has to qualify at each event. Funny Car legend John Force failed to qualify in the sport's biggest event in 2007 at the U.S. Nationals. He also missed the show in Charlotte for a playoff race in 2008.

Imagine if Dale Jr. missed the show at Talladega. OK, I might have to side with NASCAR on that one. There are not enough National Guard troops in all of Alabama to control that situation.

But they would sell a ton of tickets for restrictor-plate qualifying (normally the most boring two or three hours in racing) if fans knew their favorite driver had to earn his spot and possibly bump his way in the field.

Count me in. An Indy-like Bump Day, at least at a few Cup events, would make qualifying something I care about a lot more than I do now.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter