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Should the Daytona 500 GET RID OF Guaranteed Starting Spots?

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What’s Happening?

The Daytona 500 is the biggest race in NASCAR, and it has one of the most unique qualifying procedures of the entire season. One interesting quirk of Daytona 500 qualifying is that all 36 chartered teams are guaranteed a starting spot regardless of their speed in either the qualifying races or the qualifying session itself. This led us to ask the question, should NASCAR get rid of guaranteed starting spots at Daytona?

  • Over the past few decades, NASCAR has put in plenty of safety nets to ensure the best race teams qualify for races. This includes increasing the field size at short tracks, the Top-35 rule from the 2000s and early 2010s, and, most recently, the charter system. The charter system guarantees a starting spot for all chartered entries into every NASCAR Cup Series race, provided those teams attempt all of the races.
  • While this is a great safety for team owners to protect their assets and drivers to know they will race, some feel this quenches the spirit of competition. Instead of qualifying for the race based on how fast the car is, cars qualify based on who is willing to buy into the charter system. Is it true that this system rewards drivers based on merit?
  • Fans tend to get very passionate about this topic in other motorsports, but NASCAR has been largely out of this equation. This is largely because teams have been guaranteed starting spots in the Cup Series for years now.

The Benefits of Getting Rid of Guaranteed Spots

The argument for getting rid of guaranteed starting spots primarily has to do with merit. However, some interesting storylines could be created by this system as well.

Qualifying Becomes Based on Merit

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Under the current system, an “Open” team can be both faster than a chartered entry on qualifying day and beat them in the Duel race, yet, the chartered car makes the field while the Open car goes home. That would understandably leave the Open entry with a bitter taste in their mouth. They outran cars locked into the field throughout the week, yet, the faster car is left out of the field.

If NASCAR would go to a system that simply labels the starting lineup based on either qualifying speeds or the duel races, this scenario would not happen. Those who finish ahead of others get rewarded with starting spots in the main event without any extra stipulations. Qualifying is now based on “Merit” and genuine performance rather than which teams buy a charter.

The Incredible Qualifying Storylines

Imagine a Daytona 500 qualifying session where someone like Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, or Ryan Blaney were in danger of missing the race. Talk about absolute drama! Qualifying goes from a monotonous procedure to compelling television for many.

Not every race and not every Daytona 500 may have this extreme of a storyline, but, when it does come around, it is interesting. Knowing that big names may miss the field makes the session that much more compelling for casual fans to watch. Watching part-time entries fighting to make the field is cool, but imagine if it was a big-name driver.

It’s Simpler and Easier to Follow

When guaranteed entries make their way into motorsports, qualifying becomes much more complicated to follow. It’s not as simple as the fastest drivers or the highest finishers in the qualifying race. Fans have to keep in mind who the drivers are that will be in the field no matter what.

If you take away guaranteed entries, this problem is solved. It’s as simple as the fastest 40 qualifiers or the top 20 duel finishers making the race. Not if’s, and’s, or but’s about it.

The Detractors of Getting Rid of Guaranteed Spots

While there may be some benefits to getting rid of guaranteed spots, the grass is not always greener on the other side. Some issues must be considered for fans who may want to see this implemented.

It Devalues Charters

If NASCAR takes away the guaranteed starting spot for chartered teams, NASCAR is taking away from arguably the most valuable aspect of a charter. All of a sudden, the security that race teams have, knowing that they will be in the field, is gone. Sure, charters guarantee prize money for teams, but, teams that miss the race get no prize money.

From a business perspective, race teams would not like this move. Guaranteeing teams a starting spot allows them to sell sponsorships knowing that the brand will be on the car on Sunday for the race. Taking away that guarantee would be a tough sell to the race teams.

How it Affects NASCAR

While having Chase Elliott miss the Daytona 500 makes for incredible storylines in the middle of the week, come Sunday, the impact will be felt. Remember when Elliott was injured in 2023? While he was injured, every race suffered a double-digit drop in TV viewership compared to 2022, and, when he came back, TV viewership saw an increase for the first time all season.

Granted, TV ratings are a far more complicated issue than that, but, it showcases what NASCAR is afraid of. If they heavily market a driver who ends up missing the race on Sunday, fans may either feel confused or refuse to tune in.

Is It Truly Based on “Merit”?

Think about this for a second, all other factors being equal, who would likely beat the other in a one-on-one race? A Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Kyle Larson, or a part-time entry driven by an Xfinity Series veteran? Given the pedigree, Larson and HMS would likely have the edge here.

Think about a team like Hendrick Motorsports, which has invested in this sport for years and years and continually competes for Championships. Is it fair to them that one small slip-up in qualifying or the Duels that may not be their fault keeps them out of the race? Think about The Money Team in 2023, they made the race because the Open car in front of them crashed, not because of speed. If Hendrick was the team that was left out, would that really be fair to them?

How Much Does It Really Matter?

Ultimately, part of this argument hinges on how much this matters. Do Open cars end up beating the chartered entries in qualifying for the Daytona 500?

Well, looking back at past Daytona 500s, here is a list of the chartered entries that would have missed the Daytona 500 without a guaranteed starting spot since the charter system was implemented in 2016.

  • 2016: Paul Menard and Ryan Newman
  • 2017: A.J. Allmendinger and Chris Buescher
  • 2018: None (No Drivers went home)
  • 2019: Cody Ware and B.J. McLeod
  • 2020: Joey Gase
  • 2021: B.J. McLeod, Anthony Alfredo, Cody Ware, and Josh Bilicki
  • 2022: None
  • 2023: Ty Dillon

Of course, if drivers were not guaranteed starting spots, the race would have gone differently, but, the results are interesting. We see here that in all but two seasons since the charter system was introduced, a chartered entry would fail to make the field if they were not guaranteed a spot. However, none of them were from big teams such as Hendrick, Gibbs, and Penske.

The most prominent one would have been Ryan Newman and Paul Menard in 2016 with Richard Childress Racing, but, neither driver ended up winning a race in 2016. Ultimately, the fastest cars would still find a way to the front.

Maybe taking away guaranteed spots could create some interesting storylines, but, it seems that the big teams would still easily make the show in most instances.

While weighing all of these thoughts, how do you feel about guaranteed entries at Daytona? Should NASCAR do away with them, or, should they stay?

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