NASCAR announced on Wednesday that it is lowering the maximum number of grid positions available per race in the Camping World Truck Series next season from 36 to 32.
The move is in response to a number of teams pulling out or reducing the number of vehicles they run in NASCAR's third national-level series. This year, only five out of 18 races to date have seen a full entry list of 36 drivers and there have been five events with just 30 starters on the grid. That doesn't include the unique one-off dirt-track event at Eldora Speedway, where the field is limited to 30 trucks due to the size of the track.
In addition, the rules governing which teams can qualify for a place on the starting grid based on car owner points will be changed to bring it into line with the recently revised system already being used in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Up to now, any truck that was in the top 25 in the points in the owners championship was guaranteed a starting position regardless of how well it performed in qualifying, together with an additional reserved spot for the most recent winner of the race to exercise a champion's provisional. That left only ten starting grid spots available for other drivers to get into the race.
As of 2015 the number of trucks able to make the race on owners points alone will be dropped to just four. Positions one through 27 on the grid will now be decided by their fastest single lap during qualifying in descending order, with the fastest qualifier starting on pole. The final place in the race will be awarded to the most recent eligible past champion driver, or alternatively will be turned over to a further truck based upon owner points.
A similar change is to be made to to the qualifying procedure of the XFINITY Series, the new name for the second-tier championship after current title sponsors Nationwide Insurance bow out at the end of the current season. Currently the series has a maximum number of 40 cars taking the green flag, with the top 30 in owner points automatically locked in for each event, nine spots based on speed and one spot for a past champion
The XFINITY Series will keep the current maximum number of entries at 40, but now those drivers with the top 33 speeds in qualifying will make the race, with only six entries being based on owner points. There will be one provisional spot available for a past champion that if unclaimed will otherwise go to the next-fastest qualifier.
If a qualifying session is cancelled because of inclement weather, each series' field will be set per the rule book with starting line-ups determined by earlier practice speeds.
Originally the system of guaranteeing a spot for the top cars and drivers based on points was to ensure that fans were not left disappointed by the absence of a favourite high-profile driver, and big-money sponsors were not frustrated to have their investment in the sport undermined by an accident in qualifying inadvertently leaving their entry sitting on the sidelines.
The new system - a version of which was first introduced in the Cup Series at the start of 2013 - strikes a better balance between these considerations and ensuring that new team and drivers also have a decent chance of making the race grid without getting crowded out by long-standing teams with lots of points already accrued.
"Our mission of providing the best on-track product possible is always among our top objectives," said Robin Pemberton, senior vice president of competition and racing development. "We're confident in the direction these changes will take these series."
However the new system can still see big names miss out on races, as happened last weekend at Talladega when confusion in qualifying meant that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. failed to get in his fastest lap in the first round of qualifying. With other top drivers already in the same position, it meant that Stenhouse was crowded out of the six spots reserved for those on owner points and the #17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford ended up sitting on the sidelines for the GEICO 500 despite carrying big-name sponsorship from Cargill and Sam's Club.
In other changes announced by NASCAR to the XFINITY and Truck Series this week, a change to the regulations regarding the car liveries will see the last name of the driver added to the back window of their vehicle to help fans identify which car is which.
The names and logos of the series sponsors - XFINITY and Camping World - will remain stripped across the top of the front windshield.
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