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NASCAR finally gets it right with knockout qualifying

NASCAR will use a new format to determine pole winners in 2014
NASCAR will use a new format to determine pole winners in 2014
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

It’s something I have wanted to see for years. And Wednesday NASCAR announced it. Starting this season the old days of boring single car qualifying sessions will be a thing of the past; NASCAR laid out its new format for qualifying and will use a knockout style format similar to that used in Formula 1.

It’s a great decision that will leave fans breathless on qualifying days instead of wondering how they will stay awake. It also gives tracks another outlet to sell tickets as qualifying will definitely be something to watch each week.

For tracks one and a quarter mile or longer,all cars will go out for 25 minutes; the top 24 cars according to their best lap will then go out for 10 minutes. The top 12 of those cars will then go out for a five-minute shootout to determine the top 12 starting lineup including the pole. For tracks less than a mile and a quarter, all cars will go out for 30 minutes, and then the top 12 will go out for 10 minutes.

“I think the direction NASCAR has taken on a new qualifying format is exactly what we need and I applaud them for taking this step,” said Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell. “These two qualifying sessions will be pressure-packed for the teams and drivers which will make it very exciting for the fans to watch.”

Under the new system, short tracks like Martinsville will use the two-session format. Either way the days of watching single car runs used to set the starting grid are over. Qualifying days will now become more exciting as those drivers wanting to start up front will have to race for it.

“NASCAR fans will be treated to highly competitive, elimination-based qualifying segments that will been more engaging to fans in the stands and those watching on TV and online,” Robin Pemberton NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition and Racing Development said during a conference call shortly after the announcement.

“We believe the timing is right for this new style of qualifying, and for our drivers and teams,” he added. “We believe it will create even better competition leading into the events. “

While there are still a great deal of unknowns, we do know that provisional’s will still get a driver in and if weather is an issue, the field can still be set by the rule book.

What is unknown, and what will be something to look forward to, is the intrigue and drama racing for the pole or even a top five starting spot will create. Pemberton also mentioned that the “boys have at it” policy of the last few years will still be in play.

“We’d like to leave it in the competitors' hands to conduct themselves properly during these sessions,” Pemberton said. “We will always have the ability to make a call when we have to, but at this point in time, we are not anticipating any problems.”

What NASCAR and its fans can anticipate are qualifying session unlike anything the sport of NASCAR has ever seen.

“I know that throughout the summer we'll see trends develop through the race teams to get the most out of these types of sessions,” Pemberton said. “It's hard to outguess these guys. They're the best in the business. We'll just have to sit back and watch how this unfolds.”

Indeed it will be an exciting time for NASCAR fans, teams and officials. What we will see when it comes to qualifying in 2014 is unlike anything ever seen since organized stock car auto racing began. Hold on it’s liable to be a very exciting, and bumpy ride.

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