NASCAR announced substantial changes to its Sprint Cup qualifying procedures on Tuesday, including changing the number of teams guaranteed a starting spot.
Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton says the sanctioning body’s latest modifications, were adopted in an effort to “enhance our three national series and bring back some excitement to the fans.”
Over the last few years, fans have expressed the desire for qualifying to be based on speed and speed alone. So NASCAR is dropping its top-35 rule, which was introduced in 2005 and locked the top teams into the field according to owners points. That left seven spots open for the so-called “go-or-go-homers” — cars required to qualify on speed — and one for the most recent eligible past champion, if needed.
The new system – which is similar to the pre-2005 plan – allows for 36 cars to qualify on speed, six provisional starters and a champion’s provisional. A random draw will determine qualifying order in the Cup series, rather than speeds in the first practice session, as is now the case.
Provisionals are based on owners points and are unlimited throughout the season. That means that, for all intent and purposes, the sport’s biggest stars will be covered. For the first three races, the previous season’s owners points will be used to determine provisional starters (for Nationwide and Truck, as well). In the past, the number was five for Cup and Nationwide, four for Trucks.
So what does all this mean for teams attempting to sell points to other teams?
Obviously, the shorter carryover from the previous year will diminish the value of owners points and may curtail the practice of selling them entirely.
For the season-opening Daytona 500, drama will be at a premium. While qualifying remains the same, the significance of the Budweiser Duels at Daytona “will take on a larger role” according to Pemberton.
NASCAR will also reinstate testing for teams at tracks that are currently on the top three tours schedules. Cup teams will be allowed four tests, Nationwide and Truck series will have two tests per organization.
And in an attempt to lessen the mockery of start-and-park teams, in 2013 the Nationwide Series will be limited to 40 entrants, down from 43 this year. For example, six cars dropped out of the NNS race at Charlotte on Friday night with mechanical issues – a relatively low number since most of the teams are based in the area. The previous week at Talladega, where travel expense was involved, 11 cars exited early. By shortening the field, the purse can be redistributed among those teams intending to race – not collect a paycheck.
“We feel to strengthen the ownership base, we really feel it’s best served for us to reduce that field to 40 cars, and therefore it gives us an opportunity to put what we feel is a better quality field of cars in play at those Nationwide events,” Pemberton said.
Still, Pemberton believes NASCAR’s ancillary tour remains “pretty healthy.”
“We’re having one of the best championship runs that we’ve had,” Pemberton said. “I think the points system has been pretty good. You’re seeing legitimate Nationwide drivers battle for the championship. It’s been a great season and it’s actually pretty healthy. Everybody is pretty happy with that part of it.”
Some other topics Pemberton touched on include:
Progress on the 2013 car
Yes, the Texas Motor Speedway test last week was a struggle. While Pemberton concentrated on the positive “single-car runs,” when the drivers ran in packs, the lack of downforce precluded the cars to race against each other. Pemberton remarked that while “the big portion of the car is done” there remains a balance issue between aerodynamics and mechanical grip. And the clock is ticking. Testing in Daytona begins in three months.
Daytona, we have a problem
NASCAR acknowledged to team principals on Monday that they understand there is an issue with racing – or lack of it – on intermediate tracks. Pemberton said the sanctioning body will “continue to work on that … that’s why we are testing.” Pemberton said that while NASCAR focuses on all of its venues, the “most visible” are the 1.5-mile to 2-mile tracks. “Obviously, that’s the one that most people want to pick on,” he said.
Turning left and right
Could road courses return to the 2013 Truck schedule? Pemberton said it’s a possibility, plus there could be additional road courses added to the Nationwide Series tour. Trucks ran road courses a number of years ago. There has been some interest by different groups to have the Truck series run at their venues. "We continue to evaluate a lot of different places around the country, not just for Trucks, but for Nationwide also," Pemberton added.