Goodbye, checkers; hello, chess: New qualifying format a test
In the past, when a driver went out to qualify, it was him or her against the racetrack and against the fastest time posted at that point. Now, going forward, the approach changes radically.
Kyle Busch signs the wall next to Miss Coors Light Rachel Rupert after winning the pole at Auto Club Speedway on March 23, 2013.
Tom Pennington / NASCAR
By Jeff Hammond
Obviously, everyone has heard by now that NASCAR is doing a pretty drastic overhaul of the race qualifying process. I, for one, am pretty darned excited about it. Unfortunately, qualifying recently didn't have the excitement or allure that a lot of us were hoping it would. For whatever reason, qualifying wasn't what it used to be even from back in the day.
I applaud NASCAR for looking for ways to refocus and rethink the ways these drivers go about resetting the field for the race events. From my selfish television viewpoint, there wasn't a lot of excitement at times to go up in the TV booth and call a qualifying session. To me, qualifying is and always should be showcased as an important part of the total race weekend.
This new concept is fresh and exciting. I believe it breathes much-needed new life into what qualifying should all be about. Now, it's going to be fast, exciting and hopefully fun. I don't think any of the drivers, crew chiefs or teams know what to anticipate. I mean, this is a completely radical change from what our sport has ever experienced. Let me put it another way: We're talking apples and oranges from the way we have done qualifying, to the way we're going to be doing it this season.
The other thing to remember is that we are going to get to see it across all three of NASCAR's major touring series. Now, while it doesn't affect the Daytona 500, we will see it rolled out for the first time in the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series at Daytona in February. From the NASCAR Sprint Cup side, we really won't get a taste of it until we get to Phoenix.
In the past, when you went out to qualify, it was pretty clear cut. It was you against the racetrack and against the fastest time posted at that point. Now, it's going to be different because it's going to be a series of qualifying runs.
I see the unknown as the fun part of it. The pressure side of it will come from simply trying to figure it out. Actually, the pressure probably will be from the competition to figure it out the quickest before everybody else. I look at it this way -- for these teams, they have quit playing checkers and now will begin playing chess.