Originally created 08/17/00

Qualification should not be left to chance



ATLANTA - Picture, if you could, the Atlanta Braves making a personnel decision between two young prospects based on a cut of playing cards.

Or the Jacksonville Jaguars deciding whether to go for a field goal or punting on fourth down with a coin flip.

Or the Los Angeles Lakers establishing a starting lineup based on input from a psychic hotline.

Don't laugh. One major league sport -- the NASCAR Winston Cup Series -- uses a blind drawing to determine a portion of its starting lineup when rain washes out time trials.

"You know, they do a lot of stupid things, but this right here is probably one of the biggest," driver Dave Marcis said. "How do they expect to get the credibility like baseball and football has when they do things like this. I don't think we deserve it. There ain't nothing right about it. Kids could do a better job than this -- 6-year-old kids could organize something better than this.

"We came here to participate and try to qualify for the event. When they do something like this, they don't make you very proud to say that you're part of NASCAR."

Rain forced a pair of postponements, then a cancellation of qualifying last week at Watkins Glen, N.Y. Under rules developed this year by the sanctioning body, the first 35 spots in the 43-car race were given to the 35 highest-ranking drivers in the point standings. The 36th position was allotted to former series champion Darrell Waltrip. And the final seven positions were awarded to the drivers who picked the earliest spots in the qualifying order in a blind drawing.

That left drivers like Marcis, Brett Bodine and Scott Pruett, all full-time drivers on the circuit, out of the race since they drew late qualifying positions. Drivers like Ron Fellows and Todd Bodine, both part-timers, made the race because they drew early qualifying numbers.

And then there's Boris Said. The road racer had the fastest speed during two practice sessions, but he never had the chance to use those speeds since he also drew a late qualifying number.

"I'm mad at NASCAR," Said said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. To come here and everything go so smooth -- winning both practice sessions -- and then be told you're not going to be racing, it's just devastating to me."

Bodine said rules like that make it hard on race teams to look their sponsors in the eyes.

"My race team should get some sort of consideration for the fact we attempt to run all the races," he said. "I don't know how to explain this to our sponsor, that we're not going to be in the race because we were unlucky when we drew our qualifying order.

"NASCAR just doesn't understand. This is about our life, not just the races. We've invested everything we have, and I feel the sanctioning body is letting me down. The procedure is wrong, plain and simple. I'm 38th in points and have provisionals. Where's the logic? It makes no sense at all, and my sponsor feels the same way. They sponsor a race team for the entire season, and a team with a one-race sponsorship makes the race?"

Last year, NASCAR also awarded the first 35 positions in a 43-car field to the 35 highest-ranking drivers in the point standings if qualifying was rained out. However, the final eight spots went to the race teams with the earliest postmarks on their entry forms.

That changed because NASCAR had no control over when a team received an entry form through the mail.

A more equitable way would be to award the top 40 starting positions to the 40 highest-ranking drivers in the standings and the final three spots to those lucky enough to win a blind drawing. That way, more full-time drivers -- the backbone of the series -- would be in the starting lineup, while a chance remains for upstarts to make the field as well.

"I've been here 33 years (in the sport), and I'm out of here," Marcis said. "How can that be right?"

Mike Helton, NASCAR's chief operating officer, said the rules were established at the beginning of the year, and the sanctioning body would stand behind those rules. The last time someone was so certain he was right was when Custer took the shortcut through the Little Big Horn.

"This is bull," Marcis said. "I told (NASCAR) it was bull at the beginning of the year. I told them this could happen, and here it is. How or who comes up with that stuff down at NASCAR certainly doesn't need to be there."

The next chance Bodine and Marcis have to make the starting lineup is this week's Pepsi 400 at the Michigan Speedway -- weather and luck permitting.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@mindspring.com.