Track officials pleased by qualifying changes
January 23, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Talladega Chairman: 'It'll just be better'
RELATED: More on the changes | Official release | Changes 101 | Reaction
CARAVIELLO: New qualifying format will be a knockout indeed
NASCAR officials hope the new qualifying format in place for 2014 will help bring excitement to the process of determining the starting grid for its races.
No one is counting on that more than Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway.
"Anything that … gives us a chance to qualify differently at Talladega I think is a plus," Lynch told NASCAR.com on Wednesday. "I think the fact that now the cars are potentially going to qualify at the speeds they race is going to provide a lot more excitement for the fans than seeing a single car ride around a 2.66-mile track."
Beginning this season, the qualifying process for all three national series -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series -- will consist of either two or three timed rounds, depending on track size, with brief breaks in between each session. Those posting the fastest laps in each session will continue to advance, while those who don't will be assigned starting positions based on their times in the just-completed round.
While it has some aspects of a "qualifying race" format, teams can choose to run as many or as few laps as they deem necessary during the allotted time in each session. And while all entries will participate in the opening round, they likely won't all be on the track at the same time.
Qualifying at Talladega has been a lengthy process, often lasting two-and-a-half hours or more. The new format should shorten the amount of time it takes to less than one hour at each venue.
"Anybody that sat through three hours of qualifying at Talladega is going to have to enjoy what we're going to see in May," Lynch said. "It'll just be better. It has to be better. Now how much better?
"If your remember back to the days when they didn't impound the cars and we had that last, late happy hour (of practice) … I used to joke back then that happy hour at Talladega was better than racing at most race tracks, because you're finally getting to see what they could do with those cars, kind of a mini look at how the race would play out as far as the type of competition you would see. With all the different packages we've had on the cars as well as the restrictor-plate sizes, you never really knew what you were going to see until they got out there for that last practice.
"I think it may give us a little bit of an opportunity, and NASCAR also, to let them go a little faster at Talladega. I really believe that we should be the fastest race track in NASCAR, that's what we were built for."
Because of the draft, race speeds at Talladega often eclipse the 200 mph mark. But in qualifying trim and running alone has generated pole speeds some 10 mph below that.
"You can't have Talladega qualifying in the 190 (mph range) but then we're racing at 200,” he said. 'We need to figure out a way to get them to qualify at least as fast as we race. I think this new system will give us that.
"… We're all looking for better experiences for our fans in the stands whether it be things we can do with our seating, new Jumbotrons, different ways to communicate … but the competition elements mean a lot to the fans."
Lynch isn't the only track operator pleased with the format change. Roger Curtis, the president of Michigan International Speedway said, "the whole dynamic of qualifying has changed.
"You have a lot more pressure, more strategy and the pure excitement of more than one car on the track at one time," he said. "This is going to be really exciting for fans and competitors alike."
With multiple cars on the track at the same time, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said, "you are going to have to worry not only about getting a perfect lap but that somebody else doesn't come down and mess up your line a little bit. They may squeeze you down a little bit and you have to get out of the gas a little earlier than you might otherwise."
Since 2001, NASCAR qualifying has consisted of single-car qualifying runs to determine the starting order for its races. The only exceptions have been at road courses, where group qualifying had been the norm of late; the Daytona 500, which uses its own unique single-car and qualifying races format to set the field; and Eldora Speedway, which used heat races to determine the bulk of its starting lineup during last year's inaugural Truck Series event.
According to NASCAR officials, the qualifying formats for the Daytona 500 and Truck Series race at Eldora will remain unchanged while the road course events will adopt the new format.