NASCAR officially announced changes in its Sprint Cup qualifying and testing formats for 2013 on Tuesday. And those changes might sound familiar.
The new qualifying format – 36 cars will make the 43-car field on speed, with six more “provisional” cars and one former champion also included – is the same as what NASCAR used until 2005, when it went to the current format based on the top 35 cars in owners’ points being guaranteed a spot in the field.
NASCAR also announced that race teams will be allowed to test in 2013 on up to four Cup tracks. Since 2009, testing has been allowed only at tracks that didn’t hold NASCAR national series races.
“Those other formats and test policies served us well for a period of time,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition. “But times change and we have to change with them.
“To come back and make the field the fastest 36 cars to get in the race, we feel that’s good so fans will see cars in the field based on speed. And by opening up testing around the country is good for the teams and the tracks. There is going to be action going on throughout the year as teams test.”
Qualifying order will also change. Rather than be based on practice speeds, it will be determined by a random draw. If qualifying is canceled because of rain, the field will be set by practice speeds.
Qualifying for the season-opening Daytona 500 will retain in its unique format. The top two spots will be determined by speed on pole day, with the rest of the field set by the two Duel 150 races through the first 36 spots (the remainder of the field will be set by provisionals and past champions).
The qualifying change might also make it more difficult on “start and parkers” – drivers on the fringes of the sport who race for a few laps to collect prize money, then leave the race early. They’ll now have to qualify on speed like those drivers in the top teams, rather than rely on owners points to get in.
“Over history, we’ve had drivers that didn’t run the distance,” said Pemberton. “That has fluctuated with sponsorships and other opportunities.
“They haven’t been eliminated before, so they probably won’t be eliminated as we know them today.”
NATIONWIDE CHANGE: NASCAR also announced Tuesday that Nationwide race fields will be reduced in 2013 from 43 cars to a maximum of 40.
“We feel like in order to strengthen our ownership base, we’re best served to reduce the field to 40 cars,” said Pemberton. “It will give us an opportunity to put what we feel is a better quality of field in play.”
EARNHARDT IN PITTSBURGH: The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Alan Robinson tweeted Tuesday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to see experts about his concussion. He attended a Steelers luncheon, where he shook coach Mike Tomlin’s hand. Earnhardt missed last week’s race at Charlotte and will also sit out Kansas this week because of his concussion.