NASCAR has changed qualifying for the Coors Light Pole Award for 2014. These changes are to make qualifying more exciting for the fans at the track and at home watching TV. These changes affect the Sprint Cup Series as well as the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. The Pole Award in the Camping World Truck Series is called the Keystone Light Pole Award.
There will be two different qualifying procedures depending on the length of track. Qualifying for the Daytona 500 has always been special and will not change. Qualifying for the Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway is similarly special and also will not change.
On speedways 1.25 miles in length and larger, qualifying will consist of three “elimination” rounds:
The first qualifying round will be 25 minutes in length; all cars attempting the race can be on the track at the same time. The fastest 24 cars based on their fastest single lap will move on to the next round of qualifying. Those cars not advancing will be arranged by their fastest time from fastest to slowest. Provisionals will be used to eliminate those cars from the field if more cars are entered than the race allows. This means that if a car has no provisional and makes it to the subsequent rounds they would make the race.
The second qualifying round will be 10 minutes in length; all of the top 24 cars can be on the track at the same time. This time after the 10 minutes is up 12 cars based on their fastest single lap will move on to the next and final round of qualifying. The 12 missing the race will be arranged fastest time in this round to slowest and be placed ahead of the cars that did not move on from the first round.
The third and final qualifying round will be five minutes in length; again like the first two round all twelve cars can be on the track at the same time. At the end of this round the cars will be arranged from the fastest time in this round to the slowest and will be placed ahead of the cars that did not move on from the previous two rounds. The fastest car from this round will win the Coors or Keystone Light Pole Award.
There will be a five minute break between each qualifying round. During this time teams will not be able to change tires but can make wedge, track bar, tire pressure and tape adjustments and also plug in oil on pit road. They cannot jack up the vehicle or raise the hood. Changes to the car can only occur during a break. If any car goes to the garage their qualifying session is done and they cannot come back on the track.
If weather causes qualifying to be canceled before it is complete, positions will be set based on the last qualifying round that was completed in full. If no rounds are complete starting positions will be by the rule book, i.e. speeds after the first practice or points if there was no practice.
On tracks 1.25 miles and smaller qualifying is similar except there will only be two rounds of qualifying. The first round will be 30 minutes in length and only the top 12 cars will move on to the second round. The second round will be 10 minutes in length.
Anticipating qualifying brings to mind many different strategies. Just because you can run the whole allotted time one does not have to. This means a car can run a single lap, test the water per say, and if they don’t end up in the top 24 or 12 depending on the round, go back out. If a car does make the top 24 or 12 they can park and wait for the next round saving tires. They may also go back out if they should get “bumped” out of the top 24 or 12. It wouldn’t be surprising to see some tracks, especially those hard on tires to resemble qualifying much like it used to be.
Opening the mind further a team could just use qualifying as another opportunity to get a feel of how the car will perform to make it better for the race. On the bigger tracks some of the larger teams might use team cars that are in the top 24 to draft the other team cars that did not make the top 24 in order to improve their position. You might also see someone try to draft a fast car from another team in order to “Steal” their way into the show.
These different strategies will be what makes this style of qualifying exciting for at least 2014 until all the teams see what works well and at what track. If there is a benefit and it’s repeatable every team will be doing much the same thing.