As was discussed during a Saturday morning meeting with drivers and crew chiefs at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR is expected to drop the rule that provides guaranteed starting positions in Sprint Cup races to the top 35 in owner points, starting next year.
Instead, the sanctioning body is expected to return to the sort of provisional system that characterized the qualifying format before the top-35 rule was introduced. Also under consideration is a return to a random drawing for qualifying order.
Currently, qualifying order is set by the top speeds registered in the first Cup practice session, with the slowest car going out first and the fastest qualifying last. Under this system, teams often manipulate or sandbag practice speeds to ensure a qualifying draw they consider advantageous.
NASCAR officials said an announcement should be forthcoming later this month, probably within the next seven to 10 days, but Jimmie Johnson provided insight into the types of changes that may be coming in a question-and-answer session with reporters during Saturday's time trials for Sunday's Good Sam Road Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Johnson said he liked the current system for determining qualifying order because it forced drivers to earn their spots in the draw. But he conceded that the change to a random drawing will allow teams to use their tire allotments more efficiently.
"It might alter five or six spots on the grid, but I don't think it will completely turn things upside-down," Johnson said. "I guess, in the end, in the spirit of making it exciting, maybe that's the angle NASCAR has, and we've got to keep an open mind to that as well."
Ryan Newman said a reversion to a provisional-based qualifying system probably won't be significant because it's concurrent with the development of NASCAR's new-generation race car. In large part, the top 35 rule was instituted to protect top stars and their sponsors, but with field sizes potentially smaller, that's less of an issue.
"My two cents is I don't think it's going to be a big issue at all to start the new season, because, with the new cars, I don't see us having an extra surplus of cars. . . . I don't see 48 or 50 cars (trying to qualify) each and every week," Newman said. "I see 43, maybe 44 type deal, so I don't think it's going to be a deal breaker for many people at all."