Right now in the NASCAR Cup Series, the top 35 in owner points are locked into the field, and no matter what, will get an opportunity to start the next race.
This rule was introduced a few years ago, in another era, to solve a different set of problems altogether. Back in those days, NASCAR was struggling to fill the field, and so called "field fillers" were coming along to qualify each week, scraping into the field, running a few laps in the race, then dropping out, taking the prize money for the lower positions and doing quite well out if it.
Well NASCAR, those days are gone. With 50 plus full time teams, all with a chance at winning, turning up to fill 43 slots each week, we are in a very different era. Locking in the top 35 has effectively dumbed down qualifying to a yawn, with the only excitement being the go or go home cars (or star cars as they have become known recently) shooting it out for those valuable few open grid slots. This qualifying shambles was highlighted this last weekend at the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, where qualifying was washed out. The whole front of the grid if qualifying was not rained out would have been go or go home cars. They all had to run in full qualifying trim to have a shot at making it in, while the 35 locked in cars all just went through the motions, running race setups and really cruising around the track, taking delight in telling the pit reporters how much they did not care about qualifying.
Once it rained, and qualifying was washed out, many of those that came along not guaranteed of a start, and actually prepared their cars for qualifying, including Boris Said were eliminated from the field and went home, leaving the field without some of it’s fastest cars. Boris was a factor in the Daytona 500 earlier in the year, and should have been in the Pepsi 400 field. Some will argue that Boris would not have been in that position if everyone was really qualifying, well, yes you can argue that, but it cannot be proven, as the others did not bother to set their cars for qualifying.
With the current climate it’s time for NASCAR to drop the protected number down form 35. Maybe 30, or 25, or 20, or even 10 is the right number to have locked in, who knows, but whatever happens, 35 is way too many to make sure the fastest cars actually get to race, instead of some of them going home unraced. NASCAR has always prided itself in looking after the little guy in racing, making sure entries are open to anyone who wants to try to qualify. It seems to have drifted away form this, now protecting the big multi car teams. It’s time for another change, something NASCAR has proved it has no problem doing if it wants to.