New Qualifying Format Shakes Up What Needs Shaking

Preseason Thunder

It’s done. The days of single-car qualifying have gone the way of the T-Rex.

Going forward, at tracks of 1.25 miles in length, all cars on the entry list will take to the track for a 25 minute session The 24 cars that post the fastest single lap from the first qualifying round will advance to the second round. The remaining cars will be sorted based on their times posted in the first round of qualifying in descending order. A second 10 minute round will follow with the 12 cars/trucks that post the fastest single lap time advancing to the final round. Those cars not making the final will earn positions 13th through 24th based on their times in descending order. The third and final qualifying round will be five minutes in duration and the fastest single lap time will determine positions 1st through 12th in descending order. The format will be slightly different at shorter tracks, with a 30 minute opening session. The fastest 12 cars move on to a second and final round. The remaining cars will take spots 13 on, and the second session will settle spots 1 through 12.

Let’s face it, watching race cars come out one by one to qualify is about as thrilling as watching grass grow. For this observer, this gives a NASCAR race a bit more of a local track feel. It also adds a greater element of risk with the possibility of a collision, and it also puts drivers and crews in the position of making strategic decisions about any changes to the car.

There are risks. Critics mention the possibility of wadding up the car in a collision. It’s true; but to be fair, that can happen with a car all by itself on the track. Yes, it’s one more change among a plethora of changes that can often be confusing and unwelcome. This change makes sense. It’s easy to pull off and has the effect of another competition for the fans to take in race weekend.

There may be unintended consequences, but it is certainly worth a try. There’s certainly nothing sacrosanct about single-car qualifying. This won’t be enough to mollify the most disgruntled of NASCAR nation, but this move on an overall level has created a positive buzz heading into 2014 that the sport needs. While changing the chase is like creating a new “new Coke,” changing the qualifying gives fans reason to try a product they had not been buying.