Change To 2011 NASCAR Schedule At Martinsville Leaves Drivers In Wait-And-See Mode

Approximately one-third of NASCAR race weekends this season are scheduled to have a Saturday qualifying session for the Sprint Cup Series instead of the traditional Friday practice/qualifying day.

Track operators – led by the International Speedway Corp. – have said a Saturday qualifying session will give more value to ticket holders who can't take off work on Fridays.

Drivers, though, are in a wait-and-see mode about the unusual schedule. At Martinsville, for instance, the schedule called for them to have three hours of practice on Friday, then return to the half-mile track for just two laps on Saturday.

Since most drivers stay at their Charlotte-area homes and commute, some of them privately grumbled.

Publicly, the drivers said they were in favor of what was best for the fans. But not all of them were sure if the Saturday qualifying was a good idea or not.

Jimmie Johnson called it "wild" and "weird" to only run two laps on Saturday after spending all day at the track on Friday. He said it wasn't as much a concern for himself as it was for the crews.

"The fans' (interests) are first and foremost," Johnson said. "But the next one in line I would say would be the mechanics and crews working on these cars. And they have a bear of a day on Fridays with this type of schedule and then an OK day (Saturday) – a pretty light day – for just two laps.

"You'd rather spread that workload out over the two days and take care of your crew guys. I don't know why or how, but if it does help on (the fan) side, then we'll take it."

Ryan Newman said it would make more sense to simply use Martinsville practice speeds to set the qualifying lineup instead of coming back on Saturday.

"I don't know what the schedule is after our Cup practice (on Friday), but if we could qualify after our Cup practice and make it a two-day event, that, to me, makes the most sense," he said. "I have the opportunity to go back and forth, so coming up (Saturday) for two laps is not the most planned, I guess you could say, as far as use of everybody's time.

"Then you have guys on crews coming up here and spending nights in motels just to be here for two laps. I think it is experiment and I'm not mad about it, but I don't see that it makes entire sense right now."

Kurt Busch praised the move, saying it benefited race fans and paired qualifying with the "race atmosphere" of Saturday's Truck series event.

"You come in to watch a truck race and you get Cup qualifying as well," he said. "And then you get the full action on Sunday with the full 500 laps. Whatever we can do to make it better for our fans, I think NASCAR has adjusted to it as well as the racetracks."

Kevin Harvick, who lives closer to Martinsville than any other track, said he was "all about what's best for the show."

"If it's best for the show for us to have qualifying on Saturday, that's what we need to do to give the fans more bang for their buck with their ticket on Saturday," he said. "For us as a race team, I like it just for the fact that you gotta work on your car all day Friday, you can sit overnight and really think about what's going on."

And of course, some drivers didn't seem to care either way.

"It's alright," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "It doesn't matter one way or another. It is fine like this, it's good."

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