NASCAR on Wednesday abandoned single-car qualifying for a group format that features elimination or "knockout" rounds to determine a race's starting lineup.
The changes apply to all three of NASCAR's national series: its premier Sprint Cup Series, the second-level Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series.
The only races excluded from the changes are the season-opening Daytona 500 Cup race at Florida's Daytona International Speedway and the truck race at Eldora Speedway in Ohio, which have their own unique qualifying formats.
NASCAR is joining the IndyCar and Formula One series, which already use group qualifying procedures, in hopes of boosting fan interest in qualifying. The prior format involved only one car on the track at a time.
Here's how the new qualifying works:
--At tracks 1.25 miles and longer, there will be three rounds. The first will be 25 minutes and include all the cars in the field. The 24 fastest cars in that round -- based on their fastest single lap -- advance to a 10-minute second round. The 12 fastest cars cars in the second round then move on to the final, five-minute round. There will be a five-minute break between each round.
--At tracks less than 1.25 miles, there will be two rounds. The first will be 30 minutes and the 12 fastest cars advance to a final, 10-minute round. There will be a 10-minute break between the two rounds.
Speeds in each round will be treated separately. In other words, if Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes it to the final round, his speed in that round is what would determine his starting spot, not his fastest speed of the day.
"We'll start over [with speeds] in each session," Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition and racing development, told reporters on a conference call.
Drivers can go out on the track multiple times in each round if they desire, but can use only one set of tires for all of qualifying. If there is a caution period, the clock will be stopped until the track is ready to resume qualifying.
The goal is "providing a more fan-friendly and exciting qualifying session," Pemberton said.
Qualifying typically is on the Friday before a race, and the changes are "really going to shake things up on Fridays in a good way," Cup driver Clint Bowyer said in a statement. "I'm all for it."
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