NASCAR considers qualifying changes

NASCAR’S sanctioning body kicked around ideas with Sprint Cup teams for about 15 minutes on Saturday morning at Talladega Superspeedway that could dramatically change the complexion of qualifying for 2013.

“It’s not unusual for us to meet with the teams this time of the year looking at 2013,” NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said on Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio.

“We talked about several things, the new car … and the importance of that roll-out. We talked about some competition changes. We already talked about the new testing policy … and some qualifying issues that pertain to the top 35. We have some other people in the industry that we want to talk to before we officially roll that out.

“But we thought it was very, very important for us to talk to our drivers, crew chiefs and owners some of the conversations that we’ve been having over the last 60 days. There was some good feedback and some good discussion, and we felt very good about the meeting. … We think the fans will like what’s coming down the pike.”

One proposal includes dissolving the top 35 rule – where drivers are locked into a race based on points – and locking in the top 36 drivers in each race based on their times, plus a champion’s provision and six additional drivers qualifying according to owner points.

For the first three races, eligibility would be based on 2012 points. At Bristol, 2013 points would kick in.

A couple of interesting twists under consideration include dropping qualifying order based on practice and returning to the random selection. That plan didn’t sit well with five-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson.

“I thought the random draw for qualifying was, and so did a few other drivers, thought that what we have today is a little better, and you actually go out and earn that spot,” Johnson said. “The discussion opened, and we talked about things and NASCAR wants to make the change.

“It might alter five or six spots on the grid, but I don’t think it will completely turn things upside down. But I guess in the end in the spirit of making it exciting, maybe that’s the angle NASCAR has and we’ve got to keep an open mind to that as well.”

Although NASCAR previously limited the number of provisionals for each team, that doesn’t appear to be the plan moving forward. But Tharp said these latest concepts were not set in stone.

Ryan Newman, who has 49 career poles, and who starts second in Sunday’s Good Sam 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, said he doesn’t think the change will be a big issue. At Talladega, only 43 cars attempted to qualify for the race this weekend, so none of the Cup competitors missed the show. Next season, as NASCAR rolls out the new car, even the top organizations will be hard-pressed to fill their fleets.

“I don’t think that it’s going to be a big issue at all to start the season, because with the new cars I don’t see us having an extra surplus of cars,” Newman said. “I don’t see 48 or 50 cars each and every week. I see [a] 43-, maybe 44-type deal, so I don’t think it’s going to be a deal-breaker at all.

“I think later in the season, when there are other teams, when you get some teams, maybe Nationwide (Series) teams that want to run a Cup race and have built a car because they can, then it’s going to be a little different situation.”