NASCAR adapts group, knockout-style qualifying format

Rob Carr

Thanks to drastic changes introduced by NASCAR Wednesday, qualifying just got a lot more exciting.

The monotony of single-car qualifying is no longer as NASCAR will utilize a multi-round qualifying format beginning with the 2014 season.

Akin to the configuration used in Formula One and IndyCar, NASCAR is implementing the knockout-style format in all three national division races with the exception of the Daytona 500 and the Truck Series at Eldora Speedway.

After every round lap times will be reset, which means a drivers best time could actually be in the first segment and the pole-winning speed could be the slowest time recorded. The new format will consist of up to three rounds depending on the size of the track with all drivers taking laps during the opening qualifying session.

On tracks 1.25 miles or greater in length:

  • The first qualifying elimination round will be 25 minutes in duration. The 24 drivers that post the fastest single lap from the first qualifying round will advance to the second round. The remaining drivers 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 drivers that post the fastest single lap time will advance to the third and final round. The fastest remaining drivers earn positions 13-24 based on their times posted.
  • The third and final qualifying round will be five minutes in duration and the fastest single lap time will determine positions 1-12 on the starting grid.
  • Between each session will be a five-minute break where teams are permitted to make adjustments, though teams are allotted just one set of tires. All adjustments must be made on pit road, and refueling is prohibited.
  • Drafting is allowed at the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega.

On tracks 1.25 miles or less in length:

  • The first qualifying elimination round will be 30 minutes in duration and includes all drivers. The 12 drivers that post the fastest single lap time from the first qualifying round will advance to the second and final round.
  • The drivers 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 1-12.

During all sessions, if there is an incident, NASCAR will display the red flag and stop the clock. In case of inclement weather, the field will be determined using practice speeds, per the NASCAR rule book. And starting positions 37-43 will continue to be set using provisionals based on owners points.

There are few if any downsides to the qualifying format. A driver's lap time will no longer be dictated by outside factors including weather and the position they randomly drew to qualify. The changes should add also some much-needed intrigue to a system that had grown stale, along with level of strategy and gamesmanship not seen previously.

The reaction among drivers and crew chiefs has been overwhelmingly positive:

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