NASCAR close to implementing significant changes to points system, qualifying format

Jonathan Ferrey

By the end of the month NASCAR is expected to announce an overhaul to its points system and qualifying procedure for its three national divisions.

Significant changes are afoot in NASCAR but exactly what those changes are is yet to be determined.

The most discussed modification is how NASCAR distributes points, with the sanctioning body wanting to put a greater emphasis on winning. Three times within the past 40 days, high-ranking officials have strongly hinted that NASCAR will announce a revised points system before the start of the 2014 season.

"January is going to be full of announcements ... stay tuned."-NASCAR President, Mike Helton

The latest signal came during a news conference involving NASCAR president Mike Helton a week ago at Daytona International Speedway. Helton was asked directly about a revision of the points system, and his answer, though vague, was telling.

"January is going to be full of announcements, so we'll wait," Helton said. "But we are looking at different models and a lot of things that's been on the table for some time and we've not implemented or we've implemented part of that. But stay tuned."

These comments follow remarks made by NASCAR CEO Brian France during a radio interview last week. During an appearance on Motor Racing Network's "NASCAR Live" France said officials would like to strike a better balance between consistency and winning.

NASCAR has long structured its points distribution with an emphasis on consistency. The last time it adjusted its points system was before the 2011 season when it adapted a formula that awarded a point for every position, along with bonus points for leading laps and winning.

"We think we can make some tweaks that will incentivize risk-taking, racing harder and so on," France said. "We're looking at that. And we'll undoubtedly be coming up with things that put the incentive on winning races and competing at the highest level."

France's comments on MRN echo those he made during the Sprint Cup Awards Banquet in Las Vegas. It seems a given an announcement of some sort will be made within the next few weeks, most likely during the NASCAR Media Tour, which begins Jan. 27.

The forthcoming changes won't be limited to just how points are awarded. Additionally, a new qualifying format will be introduced in all three national series that will likely do away with single-car runs. Instead, NASCAR seems intent on staging group qualifying sessions with multiple drivers on the track at one time.

Although not officially announced, Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said during preseason testing at Daytona that an overhaul is on the horizon and like the revised points system, the new qualifying format will be rolled out later this month.

Furthermore, NASCAR has outlawed tandem drafting on restrictor-plate tracks in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. The common practice that sees two drivers run nose-to-tail in an attempt to break away from the pack is being banned for safety reasons.

Last season races at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway were marred by crashes featuring multiple vehicles. The February Nationwide race at Daytona saw the car of Kyle Larson get airborne and into the catchfence with large pieces of debris flying into the grandstands injuring more than 30 spectators.

To help curb bump drafting, teams will use a smaller cooling system to limit how long drivers can run in tandem before overheating their engines. This rule came at the urging of several owners who wanted the practice diminished.

Drivers who violate the new policy are subject to penalty at NASCAR's discretion.

"I don't particularly care for the tandem," Regan Smith said. "I liked the way the Cup races were last year where you could go out there as an individual and work your way up through the pack. ...It's tough to comprehend the concept of let me help this guy get to the front, knowing that I might have to finish second to him just so I can finish second because it happens that he's the car out front and I'm the car in back.

"I think getting rid of (tandem drafting) is going to be good."

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