NASCAR is to change its qualifying format from next season, to put an end to the guaranteed spots for the top 35 cars based on owner points that has been used by the series since 2005.
The existing system has meant that only a maximum of eight spots on the 43-car grid were available to cars outside the regular Sprint Cup championship battle, making it difficult for new or part-time teams and drivers to get a foot hold in the series. The top-35 system ensured that the big teams did not default on their commitments to their sponsors by failing to make the race.
WIth big-note sponsorship in decline in the current economic climate, NASCAR has announced the end of the guaranteed top 35 spots, and now only the top six car based on owner points will be assured a place on the grid in 2013.
The fastest 36 cars in qualifying will now make the starting grid for each race. They will be followed by the six cars yet to qualify based on owner points.
To finish off the '36-6-1' system, there will be a further reserved position for the so-called 'champion's provisional', by which the most recent Cup champion not qualified on speed or as one of the top six on points will be allocated a starting position for the race. If no champion's provisional is retired, then the spot goes to the next car in the owner's points instead.
“This is a big win for our fans,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “They'll see the fastest cars earn their starting spots. This change adds intrigue, drama and excitement to qualifying.”
NASCAR also announced that the order for qualifying will return to a random draw rather than be set according to times set in an earlier practice session, after teams started to 'game' the practice order with an eye to qualifying.
However, in the event of poor weather washing out qualifying, the field will be set per the rule book and the starting lineup will continue to be determined by practice speeds.
As a final change to the current Cup qualifying process, the car owners points from the previous season will only be used for the first three races of the season rather than the first five as at present.