ORLANDO, Fla. — Continuing a season of major changes to its business model, NASCAR announced a group knockout-style qualifying format for all of its three major series, including the Sprint Cup, Wednesday afternoon.
The format — similar to Formula One and the IndyCar Series — will be tweaked based on the size of the tracks and will be in play for 35 of the 36 points races with the exception of the Daytona 500 next month. That race, the first of the season, will maintain its unique qualifying format based on a combination of individual qualifying laps a week before the race and two sprint races the Thursday preceding the Daytona 500, set to run Feb 23.
“We believe that the fans will be receptive to this,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president for competition and racing development “.All the ones we’ve talked to so far think it’s a great idea. The competitors think it’s a great idea ... and it’s going to be a better show for TV and the people at home will have a better opportunity to watch these guys qualify.”
The new format should fit in nicely for a one-hour show on traditional days for qualifying, usually the Friday preceding a Sunday race. The traditional one-car qualifying format did little to drive fans to the track in recent years, and NASCAR officials — in conjunction with its TV partners — moved to put some drama in play every weekend.
The new format at tracks measuring 1.25 miles in length or larger will consist of three rounds:
— The first qualifying round will last 25 minutes and includes all cars or trucks. The 24 cars with the fastest single lap will advance to the second round. The remaining cars will be sorted based on their times posted in the first round of qualifying in descending order.
— The second qualifying round will last 10 minutes. The 12 cars with the fastest single-lap time will advance to the third and final round. The remaining cars will earn positions 13th through 24th based on times posted.
— The third and final qualifying round will last five minutes, with the fastest single lap time determining positions 1st through 12th in descending order.
There will be two rounds of qualifying at tracks measuring less than 1.25 miles:
— The first qualifying round will last 30 minutes and includes all cars or trucks. The 12 cars with the fastest single lap time will advance to the second and final round. The remaining cars will be sorted based on their times posted in the first round of qualifying in descending order.
— The second and final qualifying round will last minutes and the fastest single lap time posted will determine positions first through 12th in descending order.
More significant changes are brewing next week, when NASCAR is expected to announce a major overhaul of its Chase format that determines the Sprint Cup champion. The Chase field is expected to be expanded from 12 to 16 cars, with elimination checkmarks at selected races during the 10-race playoff format.
The Cup champion could be determined by a four-driver, winner-take all format in the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.