NASCAR’s new qualifying format delivers ‘knockout’

Streeter Lecka

NASCAR deserves high praise for revising a qualifying format that had become stale and monotonous.

In the past week, NASCAR has been decried for being out of touch and not listening to a fan base that increasingly feels disenchanted. The repeated body blows followed a report that NASCAR is drastically overhauling the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and the fallout has left the sanctioning body battered and bruised.

On Wednesday, however, NASCAR pulled itself off the mat and responded with a resounding strike of its own in the form of knockout-style qualifying.

"This is really going to shake things up on Fridays -- in a good way. I'm all for it." -Clint Bowyer

The revised format will send a much-needed jolt to a system long viewed as plodding and tedious. Gone will be the days of two-hour plus qualifying sessions at Talladega with drivers taking single-car runs that could have been offered as a cure for insomnia.

In its place NASCAR has implemented a format used to great acclaim in Formula One and IndyCar; a configuration that sees several drivers on the track dueling mano-a-mano for the pole, and an increase in strategy and drama.

The revised qualifying format will consist of either two or three sessions depending on the size of the track for that week. Each session lasts a predetermined amount of time, and drivers are allowed to complete as many laps as they wish. However, teams are allotted just one set of tires and can only make adjustments on pit road in-between segments.

A driver's best lap in a given session will be scored as his or her lap of record, though times are reset at the start of each group. Also incorporated will be eliminations after each stage each until 12 drivers are left to challenge for the fast qualifier award.

It's straightforward, and the excuses of cloud cover and a poor qualifying draw will be of a bygone era. Where a driver lines up on the grid will almost now solely be up to them.

Furthermore the mind games played by crew chiefs could resemble a Mensa meeting. The weekly strategies that will unfold will center on whether it's best to get out on the track early ahead of the field, or wait until the final seconds, then jump on the track to put down a lap.

Few decisions NASCAR makes are met with near-universal acclaim. But this was one of them. The response on social media was overwhelmingly positive from both fans and drivers alike.

"Heck, I'm all for anything that makes it fun, for not only the fans but the drivers and teams, too," Clint Bowyer said in a statement. "This is really going to shake things up on Fridays -- in a good way. I'm all for it."

The euphoria will be short-lived, as next week is the likely announcement confirming the reconstruction of the Chase. Even so, NASCAR came through on Wednesday. Simply put: it delivered a knockout.

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NASCAR's reported changes to the Chase go too far

Can a healthy Denny Hamlin return to Chase?

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