Group qualifying format being fine-tuned
February 06, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- Continuing to fine-tune its new group qualifying format, NASCAR will likely move road courses into the procedure used for shorter tracks, and is considering allowing teams to make minor adjustments to cars during qualifying sessions.
In a media briefing on competition matters Thursday at the NASCAR Research & Development Center, series officials said road courses will likely use the group qualifying procedure reserved for tracks of less than 1.25 miles -- which includes a 30-minute first round, a 10-minute second round comprised of the fastest 12 cars and a 10-minute break in between. The tweak stems from feedback from race teams and the length of laps on circuits like Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
NASCAR will move to group qualifying this season for all three of its national series, with the exception of the Daytona 500, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora, and non-points events. Tracks of 1.25 miles or longer will utilize a three-step process consisting of an opening 25-minute segment for all cars, a 10-minute segment for the fastest 24 vehicles and a final five-minute segment for the fastest 12 drivers. Road courses had originally fallen under that format, but will likely instead use the two-segment procedure.
Also, NASCAR is considering allowing teams to make some minor adjustments -- such as tape, tire pressure and wedge -- to cars during the sessions. As it stands now, such tweaks can only be made during the breaks in between segments. But teams are asking to be able to make adjustments during the sessions, in an effort to more immediately improve their qualifying efforts.
The procedure for group qualifying is also coming into clearer focus. The lineup will be set by a random draw conducted one hour before opening practice, and cars will line up two to a pit stall, their noses pointed toward the wall. When the track goes green, it will be up to the teams' discretion as to when they go out, and how many laps they make in any given session. Series directors will now watch qualifying from the tower, and count down every five minutes over the radio so drivers know how much time is left.
NASCAR will enforce pit-road speed during group qualifying, but not as tightly as it would during a race. Any egregious misbehavior could get drivers parked for the duration of the session, and the sanctioning body will take action if it determines that one driver is intentionally trying to impede another competitor's lap.
Other notes of interest:
• NASCAR said the issue that contributed to Michael Annett's broken sternum in a NASCAR Nationwide Series crash last year at Daytona was that the driver's belts were anchored too far forward on his seat. A change was recommended across all series. For this season, NASCAR also changed the foam under the driver's seat to better prevent jackhammer-type vertebra injuries, and is moving toward a seven-point harness to be implemented by 2015.
• Camping World Truck Series teams will receive two extra hours of practice at four events this season, during which they can use data acquisition: Martinsville, Charlotte, Gateway and New Hampshire. Nationwide teams will receive an extra set of tires at 15 different races, with the goal of improving practice and offsetting the lack of testing in that series. Nationwide teams will also have an open test day at Iowa in May and at Kentucky in June, when they can gather data.
• A change in NASCAR's appeals process will allow both sides in the deliberation room at the same time, which is different from the previous method where NASCAR and teams argued their cases separately. Track operators have also been removed from the pool of appeal board members and replaced by industry experts, though the number of appeal board members will remain consistent at around 35.