It’s a new day: NASCAR scraps single-car qualifying procedure

Carl Edwards poses with Miss Coors Light Rachel Rupert after winning the pole at Texas Motor Speedway last November.

Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images

The look of NASCAR racing is about to change, in all probability for the better, perhaps dramatically so.

The Daytona Beach, Fla.-based sanctioning body is serious about improving the entertainment value of its marquee product, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Next week, NASCAR is expected to announce sweeping changes to the format of the 10-race, season-ending, Chase for the Sprint Cup, likely including making the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway a winner-takes-all shootout among the top four drivers in points.

On Wednesday, the sanctioning body detailed a radical overhaul to the Sprint Cup qualifying format for all races except the Daytona 500, which will maintain its usual procedures.

Starting at the second race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway, as many as 25 cars will be on track at once, with two or three progressively shorter timed qualifying sessions that will determine who wins the pole. Formula One has used a similar "knockout round" format to great success in recent years.

Big changes coming to the Chase? Sounds like it

"We believe the timing is right for this new style of qualifying, and for our drivers and teams, we believe it will create even better competition leading into the events," said NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton.

And with the timed qualifying periods, the sessions will be shorter, which should help get qualifying in, even when bad weather threatens.

"We had qualifying sessions that take extended length of times, 90 minutes, two hours to get an entire field qualified one car at a time," said Pemberton. "What this will allow us to do if we get weather that sets in, it will allow us, if we have the time and if all cars run during that first session, it will allow us to set the field in a 25‑minute session. So, this will be the advantage of the competitors to get that in."

The big winners are expected to be the NASCAR tracks and television networks, which will now have a more compelling product for race fans.

Charlotte Motor Speedway president Marcus Smith says NASCAR is moving in the right direction with its new qualifying procedures.

"Based on what I’ve seen, I think it’s going to be tremendous," said Roger Curtis, president of Michigan International Speedway. "Now, putting multiple cars out there, I think it adds tremendous excitement for the fans. There’s a lot going on now. I think it’s great because the pressure changes on these teams, strategy comes into play. It’s not just pure speed. And it adds to the practice sessions. If I’m a race fan, I’m actually going to start paying a little more attention to the practice sessions, too."

Curtis isn’t alone in that assessment.

"I think it’s awesome. I love the change, I love the incentive on being the best," said Charlotte Motor Speedway president Marcus Smith. "This, along with the unofficial news and rumors that have spread about the points, these are two fantastic things that NASCAR is putting in place for the season."

Clint Bowyer (left) is excited about the all-new qualifying format.

Smith said the two changes are even more significant than the introduction of the Generation 6 cars last year.

"Combined, these two new things are bigger than any car introduced, anything else that’s happened in the last five or 10 years in the sport," Smith said.

"Heck, I’m all for anything that makes it fun not only (for) the fans but the drivers and teams, too," said driver Clint Bowyer of Michael Waltrip Racing. "This is really going shake things up on Fridays — in a good way. I’m all for it. It’s time we go out and get the 5-hour Energy Toyota a darn pole."

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton believes changes to qualifying procedures will benefit the sport.

Steve Letarte, crew chief for the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr., applauded the change, as well. "Man, I think Fridays just got super exciting," Letarte tweeted. "Strategy. Speed. Competition. I’m ready."

Here’s the official NASCAR release:

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 22, 2014) — In a move aimed toward enhancing the fan experience watching at the track and at home, NASCAR has announced a new group qualifying format for its three national series that is more compelling, more closely emulates actual on-track competition and underlines the sport’s on-going commitment to innovation.

At tracks measuring 1.25 miles in length or larger, qualifying for the Coors Light Pole Award will consist of three rounds:

· The first qualifying elimination round will be 25 minutes in duration and includes all cars/trucks. The 24 cars/trucks that post the fastest single lap from the first qualifying round will advance to the second round.

· The remaining cars/trucks will be sorted based on their times posted in the first round of qualifying in descending order.

· The second qualifying elimination round will be 10 minutes in duration and the 12 cars/trucks that post the fastest single lap time will advance to the third and final round. The fastest remaining cars/trucks earn positions 13th through 24th based on their times posted in qualifying in descending order.

· The third and final qualifying round will be five minutes in duration and the fastest single lap time will determine positions 1st through 12th in descending order.

· There will be a five-minute break between each qualifying round.

At tracks measuring less than 1.25 milesqualifying for the Coors Light Pole Award will consist of two rounds:

· The first qualifying elimination round will be 30 minutes in duration and includes all cars/trucks. The 12 cars/trucks that post the fastest single lap time from the first qualifying round will advance to the second and final round.

· The remaining cars/trucks will be sorted based on their times posted in the first round of qualifying in descending order.

· There will be a 10-minute break between the two qualifying rounds.

· The second and final qualifying round will be 10 minutes in duration and the fastest single lap time posted will determine positions 1st through 12th in descending order.

The new qualifying format does not apply to the Daytona 500, which will preserve its historic and unique qualifying format. Additionally, it does not apply to non-points NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events or the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Eldora Speedway.

NASCAR previewed the concept of group qualifying with its national series teams late last fall and expects the new format will be a well-received improvement by its fans, competitors, tracks, sponsors and media partners.

"We believe the timing is right for a new qualifying format across our three national series," said Robin Pemberton, vice president for competition and racing development. "This style of group qualifying has all the makings of being highly competitive and more engaging to our fans in the stands and those watching on television and online. For the drivers and teams, we believe this new qualifying will fuel even greater competition leading into the events. Additionally, it provides our tracks, broadcasters and other key partners with a greater opportunity to develop more entertaining content for our race weekends."

Play Now!