Sunday, January 26, 2014

COMMENTARY: Lots To Like In NASCAR’s New Qualifying Plan

NASCAR announced a radical shakeup to its traditional qualifying format last week, in an effort to inject some much-needed excitement into what had become a snooze-inducing exercise that gave fans no reason to watch – or even care – about the outcome.

The sanctioning body’s old reliable (and mind-numbingly dull) single-car time trial format will be replaced by new, Formula One-style “knockout qualifying” sessions in 2014, a format that will place multiple cars on the track at one time and eliminate drivers from pole contention over the course of multiple, timed sessions.

The new system offers multiple improvements over what fans have traditionally experienced on Qualifying Day.

First, qualifying will now be completed in approximately one hour; far less than the three-hour slumberfests that have traditionally plagued the sport at tracks like Daytona, Talladega and Pocono.  In an era of microwave meals and instant gratification, fans are no longer willing to devote three hours of their lives to a single-car parade of solo laps that seldom includes even a smattering of drama, excitement or surprise. They will benefit from an abbreviated, one-hour qualifying window, as will the sport’s television and radio partners.

Second is the return of actual strategy to the qualifying format, for the first time in decades. With only one set of tires to work with and chassis adjustments allowed only during a brief, five-minute break between sessions, teams will be forced to adapt to changing track, traffic and car conditions on the fly. Ideally, two fast laps with a fully-taped front grille will be the order of the day. But a track clogged with racers on similar (or completely different) game plans could make those “two quick laps” tough to come by, forcing teams to change plans, alter set-ups and put additional, unwanted laps on their tires.

Teams will be allowed to take to the track as many times as they want, any time they want within a particular session. Variations in strategy are almost certain to result. Should I go out early in the round, or wait to see what other drivers do? Should I stand on a mediocre lap time and risk being bumped in the final minute, or go back out in search of a better lap?

Those decisions create drama, and the fans are sure to benefit.

At tracks where drafting comes into play, teamwork will play an important new role in qualifying. Drivers will attempt to seek-out teammates to draft with, but teammates aren’t easy to find on a crowded racetrack. There’s also nothing stopping an outsider from hitching a ride on your back bumper and messing up your well-crafted plan. And even if you’re able to organize a beneficial draft down the Talladega backstretch, a savvy adversary can toss an ill-timed side draft your way and kill the entire lap in a heartbeat.

When’s the last time you saw someone get punched in the mouth during time trials? When’s the last time teams had to roll out the backup car following a multi-car qualifying wreck?

Never, that’s when. But this year, it just might happen.

"I'm all for anything that makes it fun,” said Clint Bowyer last week. “Not only for the fans, but the drivers and the teams, too. This is really going to shake things up on Fridays."

"I think (strategy) is part of the fun of it," said Keith Rodden, Jamie McMurray’s new crew chief at Chip Ganassi Racing. "I can see it changing with each session and each weekend, especially at first."

Effective immediately, qualifying on the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series’ will include a healthy dose of drama, intrigue, entertainment and excitement. And for the first time in years, fans will have a reason to leave work early and come out to the track.

That’s a good thing, no matter how you slice it.


  1. I didn't like it at first, but it only took a moment of actually _thinking_ about what they were doing to change my mind.

  2. Anonymous9:31 AM

    I hope that qualifying might find its way back to the MRN airwaves in this new format.

  3. I haven't seen anywhere how this will affect cars if more than 43 qualify. Let's say a car from Hendrick has mechanical problems and finishes 44th. Are they out of the race? Could Jimmy Johnson use a past champion provisional? Do provisionals still exist?

  4. One change that perhaps should have been made wasn't: Saturday qualifying if Friday's session is rained out. Gives teams that may be on the outside looking in a chance to make the race instead of spending a lot of money getting to the track just to have to turn around and go home without the chance to race on Sunday.

  5. To add extra intrigue and even more strategy to these qualifying sessions, why not go ahead and make every race an impound race? That'll give the crew chiefs an extra reason to pull out their hair.

  6. Anonymous3:55 PM

    but...until they line up 55 cars for 43 starting spots, its still not "knock out" qualifying. Just can't seem to get excited over this change.
    ANy how...what are the Godfather Motorsports plans for this summer? PASS racing?

  7. 43 cars qualifying at the same time is a very bad idea. And doing 25-30 minute sessions too. They should do two groups of 12-15 minutes each, to reduce traffic and dead time.

  8. Anonymous5:55 PM

    Love the change. Will definetly add excitement to what is usually the dullest 2-3 hours in motorsports. Strategy, rivals screwing with each other during their hot lap to mess it up, Bristol like moments between teams or drivers after Qualifying....And I'm sure therewill be even more that I have not thought of yet. BOYZ HAVE AT IT!