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Series announces new qualifying rules
16 October 2012
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.
It's not clear in what way these changes will filter down to the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series championships, although NASCAR did reveal that it was to reduce the size of the starting grid for Nationwide races to 40 cars, down three spots from the current maximum. That's to reduce the number of start-and-park cars running in the race. The Truck Series already caps its grid size at 36 entries.
Away from qualifying, NASCAR also said that they were relaxing the rules on testing and will allow organisations to conduct up to four tests at tracks on the Cup calendar, rather than having to organise testing at non-Cup venues.
“We feel like it's time to open that up and allow the teams to manage their testing and get back to facilities that host our events,” said Pemberton. “We made the decision at the end of 2008 to restrict testing, primarily for economic reasons. Now we believe it will be best for the garage and for the tracks to have some testing return in 2013.”
For Nationwide and Truck Series teams, up to two such tests will be allowed. An extra test will be allowed for a team with an official series rookie. NASCAR added that it wil be making more track time available for practice at two additional events for each of the three national-level events in 2013.
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