Kyle Busch leads a NASCAR heat race to the green flag(Getty Images)
The NASCAR Cup Series schedule is currently in the middle of a pair of events that use what essentially amounts to heat races to set the starting grid. The Busch Light Clash held inside the L.A. Coliseum used heat races to set its lineup and the Daytona 500 has throughout its history employed the Bluegreen Vacations Duels to establish the starting order for the sport’s biggest race.
So should there be more races that use preliminary races to set the field?
Arguably, the best racing of the weekend during the Busch Light Clash came during the heat races. The 150-lap feature was just a caution-filled spin-fest while the four heats provided more entertainment with fewer cars on the track to run into each other than was the case in the main event.
There are only certain times in which heat races would serve any real purpose. It would be useless and not at all entertaining to have those kinds of preliminary races on tracks larger than one-mile in length. That would lead to cars getting strung out with no passing taking place. Those tracks offer enough of that during the race itself.
Who would want to see a heat race at Texas?
However, short tracks and road courses could create some entertainment value by using heats.
Of course, NASCAR does not sanction a local track show that will be capped by a 50-lap feature race in the primary division. Starting position is everything on the local short track. NASCAR’s races are, instead, measured in hundreds of laps or miles. With that being the case, what real value could be derived from heat racing?
But if it’s legitimacy you’re looking for, consider that even high and mighty Formula 1 uses dash races to set the starting grid for some of its races.
The key to having races that would actually be marketable for the tracks and the television networks to make them worth something. As has always been the case in NASCAR, qualifying determines pit stall selection. If heat race finishes played a role in deciding pit stall selection, there would be hard racing. How many times have we seen a race decided because of track position gained from a pit stop because the winning crew took advantage of its location on pit road?
Further, the heat winners could be awarded Playoff points in the same way stage winners receive those markers. Whatever it takes to make these races meaningful enough for drivers and teams to give a full effort.
As with everything else, it’s all about producing a product that can be sold to competitors, advertisers, and the sport’s marketing partners. If some company came to NASCAR and offered a major amount of money to become “The Official Sponsor of NASCAR Heat Races” then having such races would suddenly become doable.
Heat races at places such as Bristol’s pavement race, Martinsville, Richmond, Phoenix, New Hampshire, Dover and North Wilkesboro could add value to NASCAR race weekends and provide watchable racing action.
Whether or not NASCAR should use some form of heat racing to set its starting lineup is not the most pressing matter in the sport today. But it does work at some races and it could improve the value for tracks and networks at other events. It would be a way to give some events more of a unique feel.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
Respond to this piece on Twitter – @RichardAllenIDR