NASCAR has announced a major overhaul of the qualifying procedures that will be used for its three national-level series, putting an end to the traditional single-car speed trial laps.
In future, the grid for races in the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series will be set by cars taking to the track at the same time, and by a series of elimination rounds like those already used in F1 and IndyCar.
At tracks longer than 1.25 miles, qualifying will take place over three rounds. In the first 25-minute session, all cars vying to make the grid will head out and attempt to set their fastest times. The top 24 will graduate to the second ten-minute round, and the top 12 from that round will then go on to the final pole shootout round that will set the front six rows of the grid.
There will be a five minute break between the rounds and teams will be allowed to make some minor adjustments to the cars. However they will not be able to refuel, and the same set of tyres must be used throughout the qualifying session.
At shorter tracks the qualifying process will be run over just two rounds, with the first lasting for 30 minutes. After a ten minute break, the top 12 after will then go through to a ten-minute second and final round to decide the pole and front six rows.
"We believe the timing is right for a new qualifying format across our three national series," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition and racing development. "This style of group qualifying has all the makings of being highly competitive and more engaging to our fans in the stands and those watching on television and online.
"For the drivers and teams, we believe this new qualifying will fuel even greater competition leading into the events," he added. "Additionally, it provides our tracks, broadcasters and other key partners with a greater opportunity to develop more entertaining content for our race weekends."
While the new format means that the ultimate pole position time will quite possibly no longer be the fastest lap of the entire qualifying session, it will remove the possibility of drivers winning pole based purely on a fortuitous change in the weather or track conditions taking place during their allotted time for their speed trial.
“Heck, I'm all for anything that makes it fun not only the fans but the drivers and teams too!" was the response of Cup driver Clint Bowyer after NASCAR's announcement. "This is really going shake things up on Fridays – in a good way. I'm all for it. It's time we go out and get the 5-hour ENERGY Toyota a darn pole!"
The new qualifying format will not apply to non-championship events such as the Sprint All-Star race, and will also not be used at next month's Cup season opener, as the Daytona 500 has its own traditional qualifying process spread over several days. The Truck Series will also not use the new elimination qualifying for the atypical dirt track event at Eldora Speedway in July.