By Matt Weaver (DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.) — You can’t go wrong with heat races, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr., following an extremely unorthodox Sprint Cup Series knockout qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway on Friday afternoon.
The new format used to set the field in all three NASCAR national divisions made its Daytona debut for the Sprint Cup Series in an event that will be largely be remembered for its sheer spectacle as drivers intentionally rode around at 170 mph as an act of gamesmanship until the closing minutes.
It was also extremely dangerous with one pack traveling at 200 mph and having to navigate by their much closer rivals.
Current Nationwide Series championship leader Regan Smith even tweeted during the session that heat racing would be a stronger option than the wacky qualifying procedure that played out on Friday afternoon. It was a notion that his JR Motorsports team owner agreed with.
“I think they could make some tweaks with this particular race track like shorten up the segments to where it forces everyone to go,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know if you just ball up (the status quo) and throw it in the trash yet but heat races are always fun. You can never go wrong with heat races.
“We got away from them for some reason but that’s what they used to run in the 50s and 60s. I remember when I first started running Late Models at Myrtle Beach. They were running heats when I first got there but by the fourth year we stopped running them so I’m not sure they are the be all end all answer for everything.”
NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton responded by saying that the logistics of hosting heat races in lieu of qualifying may be more complicated than what it looks like from the outside.
“It’s a little bit different than what we’ve done at the national level,” Peberton said. “We’ve done it in the Truck Series at Eldora and it works there but that’s a one-off show. It works great and the format is great. But you have to look at heat racing and what may or may not take place when we have a condensed afternoon.
“Take (Friday) for example with that freak storm coming across the backstretch — you could have that happen with someone blowing a tire and wiping out a third of the field. We’ve seen that before.”
Pemberton restated that NASCAR has previously discussed adding heat racing to both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series but decided that it was ultimately a disservice teams who damaged their cars prior to a points-paying event.
“I would say that when (heat races) were first brought up, we didn’t look at them as a bad idea. It just put teams in a position where they may not be able to compete based on accidents. We weigh those things.
“Heat races are exciting but when you’re qualifying two hours or so before an event, you’re putting yourself in a position where others may not be able to compete at a high level. I’m not saying that anything is ever off the table though. We have this stack of ideas and paperwork that we keep going to and are constantly reviewing.”