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NASCAR Adopts IndyCar Style Qualifying

One of the exciting parts of an IndyCar Series race weekend at a road and street course is the “Knockout Qualifying” which culminates with the “Firestone Fast Six.” A similar form of qualifications is used in the Indianapolis 500 when the fastest nine drivers in single-car qualifications advance to the “Fast Nine” with the pole determined among those drivers.

Those concepts are coming to the Brickyard 400 in July as NASCAR announced dramatic changes to qualifications for the 2014 season, which means all cars will be on the track for the first round of a three-round qualification format. The pole will be decided in the third and final round that pits the 12 fastest cars out of the 24-car second round in a five-minute slugfest for the pole.

Consider it three sprint races to determine the pole for the Brickyard, and that should make Saturday’s Pole Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway even more thrilling for the Brickyard.

The same qualification format will be used for the Indiana 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race, as all three of NASCAR’s national touring series will adopt the new format.

Here is how it works:

At tracks measuring 1.25 miles in length or larger, qualifying for the Coors Light Pole Award will consist of three rounds:
 
The first qualifying elimination round will be 25 minutes in duration and includes all cars / trucks. The 24 cars / trucks that post the fastest single lap from the first qualifying round will advance to the second round.

The remaining cars / trucks will be sorted based on their times posted in the first round of qualifying in descending order.
 
The second qualifying elimination round will be 10 minutes in duration, and the 12 cars / trucks that post the fastest single lap time will advance to the third and final round. The fastest remaining cars / trucks earn positions 13th through 24th based on their times posted in qualifying 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.
 
There will be a five-minute break between each qualifying round.
 
At tracks measuring less than 1.25 miles, qualifying for the Coors Light Pole Award will consist of two rounds:
 
The first qualifying elimination round will be 30 minutes in duration and includes all cars / trucks. The 12 cars / trucks that post the fastest single lap time from the first qualifying round will advance to the second and final round.
 
The remaining cars / trucks will be sorted based on their times posted in the first round of qualifying in descending order.
 
There will be a 10-minute break between the two qualifying rounds.
 
The second and final qualifying round will be 10 minutes in duration, and the fastest single lap time posted will determine positions 1st through 12th in descending order.
 
The new qualifying format does not apply to the Daytona 500, which will preserve its historic and unique qualifying format. Additionally, it does not apply to non-points NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events or the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Eldora Speedway.

The new format is very similar to that used by the IndyCar Series at street and road course races. IndyCar has discovered that format creates excitement and drama, as the fastest drivers to advance in each round are able to determine the pole position. And oftentimes a few surprises advance into the “Firestone Fast Six” because of the knockout format.

“We believe the timing is right for a new qualifying format across our three national series,” said Robin Pemberton, 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. Additionally, it provides our tracks, broadcasters and other key partners with a greater opportunity to develop more entertaining content for our race weekends.”

With the new format expect to see even more competition and drama from the drivers behind the wheel of the race cars.

“Heck, I’m all for anything that makes it fun, not only the fans but also the drivers and teams too,” said Clint Bowyer of Michael Waltrip Racing. “This is really going shake things up on Pole Day – in a good way. I’m all for it.”

NASCAR will not award points for winning the pole similar to the old rule. Cars can go out multiple times during the session and strategy will be used by the teams when they believe they can get a clear lap or – in the case at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – when a cloud may cover the sun and bring down track temperatures to more optimal conditions.

There will be just one set of tires used for all three sessions, and the only time adjustments can be made to the car will be in the breaks between sessions.

“Well, we believe the one set of tire rule has served us well and our tire limits over the past few years,” Pemberton explained. “But as many of us remember, the day that we did have two rounds or three rounds of qualifying at any given venue, the pole speed was not always the fastest lap run of the weekend under qualifying situations.  We know there are racetracks that are a little more abusive on tires than others, but we feel this will be part of the strategy that will get played out by the teams on how they use their tires or abuse their tires during the three qualifying sessions, two or three qualifying sessions.”

With the new format, expect to hear the term “blocking” used by disgruntled drivers who believe a car in front of them kept them from a clear lap.

“As always, we'd like to leave it in the competitors' hands to conduct themselves properly during these sessions,” Pemberton explained. “We will always have the ability to make a call when we have to, but at this point in time, we are not anticipating any problems.”

Pemberton believes the new format will create additional interest in the television broadcast and hopefully gives fans more reason to attempt qualifications in advance of the race.

“I think any time you can add content, it's better for the tracks, it's better for all of us,” Pemberton said. “One of the things that this format will allow us to do, if you remember the times that we had qualifying sessions that take extended length of times, 90 minutes, two hours to get an entire field qualified one car at a time.  What this will allow us to do if we get weather that sets in, it will allow us, if we have the time and if all cars run during that first session, it will allow us to set the field in a 25?minute session.  So this will be the advantage of the competitors to get that in.

“What's fair is people look at our product.  It doesn't matter if it's a track owner, a car owner, a crew chief, a driver, a sponsor; everybody has different ideas to help move this sport forward.  It's something that we've been talking about for quite some time.  You know, you make these decisions, some benefit more than others at different times, but I don't think you could put a finger on any one group that would have encouraged anything like this.

“We have really great relationships out there and we work hard together, and these are the products that we come up with when we work hard together.”

The new qualification format will also better replicate race day conditions and setups. Under the old qualification format the fastest car in single-lap qualifications was not always the best car on race day, although at the Brickyard last July, pole winner Ryan Newman went on to win the race the following day.

“It will simulate more of a racing condition,” Pemberton said. “I also believe our competitors work as hard as they can to get any advantage that they can.  I know that throughout the summer we'll see trends develop through the race teams to get the most out of these types of sessions.

“It's hard to outguess these guys.  They're the best in the business.  We'll just have to sit back and watch how this unfolds.”
 

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NASCAR Adopts IndyCar Style Qualifying
 
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