NASCAR: Xfinity Series Heat Races Need Help

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports /

Heat races have come to four NASCAR Xfinity races in 2016, but after three sets of heat races the racing and results have been underwhelming. Can NASCAR do anything to increase the drama in the heat races?

Do we need to talk about these heat races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series?  People seemed really excited when they were announced, but now that we have had three races with the heat race format, am I the only one who thinks these heat races have been…boring?

Right now, the only reason – the only real, tangible reason – that there are heat races is to determine the cars that will run for the Dash 4 Cash when they get to the “main”.  Sure, they determine the starting order, but they do not change the pit road assignments, and even if a car finishes laps down in a heat race, it still starts the “main” on the lead lap.

For example, Elliott Sadler started second in the second heat race at Dover.  He beat the pole sitter, Daniel Suarez, to the start-finish line, and was black-flagged.  When Sadler served is pass-through penalty, he sped on pit road, earning another pass-through penalty from NASCAR and ultimately winding up three laps down.

Surely being three laps down would hurt Sadler’s chances of being any kind of competitive for the “main”, right?  Instead, after starting the main 32nd by lap 30, Sadler was 12th.  After 58 green flag laps, Sadler was 8th, and when the race restarted on lap 115, he was 5th and he finally finished 6th, so after finishing his heat race three laps down he was extremely competitive for the win.

And another thing, since NASCAR has this format where all the cars move from the two heat races to the “main”, drivers will naturally be conservative to make sure they do not damage their cars.  Justin Marks’ crash in the second heat race at Dover brought out the first caution in any heat race this year…in the sixth heat race.  I’m not saying NASCAR should try to create a format that encourages a demolition derby, but drama isn’t usually created from conservative racing, is it?

If NASCAR is going to stay with heat races and they want to make some drama, why not treat them like actual heat races?  For instance, why not have four 10-car/20-lap races instead of two 20-car/40-lap heats?  There isn’t much going on during the second half of these heat races as they run…maybe they are just too long?  You could also give the winner of each heat a Dash 4 Cash spot, if you must.  At least with that you would give drivers a tangible reason to try to win the heat races.

And if the argument is “well, sponsors won’t come if the cars don’t have guaranteed spots”…why not have the top-six of each heat race advance to the main, and then have a B-main where the remaining 16 cars race for, say, six spots in the main.  You would have 20 laps with just the back-end cars involved…they would, by definition, have to get TV coverage if they were in their own race, right?  The you could have a 30-car/100-lap main that was a true “main”.

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I don’t know if there any other real way to inject some drama into these Xfinity Series heat races, but I can sure say it doesn’t seem like this format is going to create any drama.  Because, can I let you in on a little secret?  While the heat races from Dover were on, I had them on my TV, but I wrote most of this instead of watching.  NASCAR needs to up the stakes for these heat races to make them “must-see TV.”