NASCAR hopes new ‘knockout’ qualifying rules are a hit with fans
By Rick Minter
In recent seasons, some NASCAR qualifying sessions, particularly at long tracks like Talladega Superspeedway, took longer to run than the 500-mile races themselves.
And with just one car on the track at a time, there was little drama for fans in the stands and those watching on TV.
NASCAR last week announced a new “knockout” style qualifying procedure for the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series that should eliminate some of the boredom on qualifying day.
At tracks 1.25 miles or longer, there will be three qualifying sessions with multiple cars on the track at the same time. The first session will be for 25 minutes and open to all entrants.
The fastest 24 will advance to the second round with the rest placed in the starting lineup based on their best qualifying speed. After the second round, 10 minutes in length, the top 12 will advance to a five-minute pole session, with the remainder assigned starting spots. The final session will determine starting spots 1-12. There will be a five-minute break between each qualifying round.
At tracks less than 1.25 miles, there will be two qualifying rounds. The first, 30 minutes in length, will set the field for all but the top 12, and after a 10-minute break, the rest will run for the top 12 starting spots.
The new rules do not apply to the Daytona 500, which uses a combination of one-car qualifying and 150-mile qualifying races to set the starting field, and the truck race at Eldora Speedway, which uses a typical short-track formula of heat races and a B-main.
In the knockout qualifying, teams can only make adjustments during the breaks, and only minor changes as the hood of the car can’t be raised during the session. And only one set of tires can be used, which means that at abrasive tracks such as Atlanta Motor Speedway, the pole-winner’s speed likely will be lower than that of others who secured their starting spots in earlier rounds. That’s because the pole winner’s tires will be more worn, and therefore slower, after competing in three rounds.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president for competition, said the change was made in hopes of adding drama to qualifying day as well as condensing the event.
“I’ve got to believe it’s better for any of the sponsors … and it’s going to be a better show for TV, and the people at home will have a better opportunity to watch these guys qualify,” he said, adding that the shortened program also helps NASCAR get qualifying in when the weather is threatening. “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.”