NASCAR announced over the weekend at Talladega that it would be making some major changes to qualifying for next season. The biggest change that will take place is that the top-35 rule that has been in use since 2005 will no longer be used to determine the starting field for a race.
The top-35 rule that is now in use assures that the drivers who are currently in the top 35 in owners points will be guaranteed a starting spot regardless of their qualifying speed. That rule was put into place to protect drivers who attempted to qualify for every race on the schedule and to protect those drivers’ sponsors from teams that would just try to qualify for selected races. That was a common practice just a few years ago when the economy was better and a driver could easily pick up a sponsor for a race or two.
Qualifying will still be all about turning a fast lap, but even the way the qualifying order is set will be changed for next season. The past two seasons, the qualifying order was determined by the fastest speeds in the first practice session. Next year the qualifying order will be determined by a random draw that will give everyone the same chance of going out early to qualify or having to wait. There is no real set advantage to either as changes in the weather dictates the best time to be on the track.
The top 36 positions will be set by qualifying speeds with the remaining spots in the field being filled by provisionals. NASCAR has used provisionals for years to make sure that established teams would not miss a race because of one bad lap during qualifying.
NASCAR didn’t go into complete detail on just what criteria it would use to award provisionals except that it would be based on car owner points. It was announced that there would be a champion’s provisional in place to be used by a past Sprint Cup champion that had failed to qualify on speed. There will not be a limit on how many provisionals a driver can use next year, but there will be some restrictions on the use of the past champion’s provisional.
There will also be a change in how the field is set for the races at the beginning of the 2013 season. This season the field for the first five races used last year’s owners points standings to award provisionals for drivers who didn’t make it into the starting field on their qualifying times. Next season that number drops to the first three races before the new provisional system takes over.
Fans at the track will also notice a change in the weekend schedule at tracks that host Sunday Cup races. NASCAR is going to revert to its old schedule that included practice and qualifying sessions on Friday with a final Cup practice on Saturday. In the past, that final practice session was so popular with the fans that it earned the name of “Happy Hour” as it gave the teams one final chance to get their cars in race trim as well as give the fans another glimpse of what they would be seeing the following day.
CHASE NOTES: Even though Talladega produced one of its famous “big ones” that collected 25 cars, the race had very little impact on the Chase standings. Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin entered the race in the first three spots in the standings and after the smoke cleared they loaded their cars back on to their haulers in the same spots. There were a couple of big winners on the day as Jeff Gordon moved up four spots to sixth and his Hendrick teammate Kasey Kahne picked up two spots that moved him into fourth. While both were moving up in the standings as far as positions go, they didn’t make a huge gain in the points due to Keselowski finishing seventh. Gordon is 42 points out of the top spot while Kahne is now 36 points back. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the biggest hit in the standings on Sunday as he dropped four spots to 11th, 51 points behind the leader after getting caught up in the last lap wreck and finishing 2oth.
Event: Bank of America 500
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway
(1.5 tri-oval, 24 degrees of banking
in the turns)
Date: Oct. 13, 7:45 p.m.
Defending Champion: Matt