NASCAR: Sprint Cup new world of qualifying starts today

Friday afternoon, at Phoenix International Raceway, NASCAR’s premier level Sprint Cup Series will see its’ first major overhaul of qualifying since this writer can remember.

And, it’s about time.

Nothing was more depressing in recent years seeing a lonely car turning a few laps in a virtually empty stadium. The process was tedious, and, thus fans avoided it in huge numbers.

Knock-out qualifying, which has existed in Formula One and IndyCar for years is the new order of the day.

The general rule of the day for Phoenix and other tracks shorter than 1.25 miles will be two segments:

The first qualifying segment will be 30 minutes long and include all cars entered in the race. The 12 cars that post the fastest single lap time in this session will advance to the second and final round. The remaining cars will be sorted based on their times posted in the first round of qualifying in descending order.

There will be a 10-minute break between the two qualifying rounds. A few minor adjustments to the cars are permitted.

The second and final qualifying session will last 10 minutes, with the fastest single lap time posted by each car setting the top 12 spots on the grid.

NASCAR’s Nationwide Series debuted in Daytona to mixed reactions by the some Cup-level drivers.

“It was quite a handful, a lot going on,” Kyle Busch said.

“It’s just chaos at first, just sitting at the end of pit road trying to figure it all out and what was going to happen and then trying to get out there in a group and get a good-enough run. All in all, I think it was fun.”

Things appeared a bit confusing in person, but, in fairness it was the first time out for new qualifying rules.

And, the usually unflappable Matt Kenseth admitted it was a bit intense.

“Whenever you do that you’ve got people going different speeds and there’s always that chance of having a big wreck,” Kenseth said. “Yeah, I mean, it’s a little nerve-racking.”

In the past a driver might have found single-car qualifying a little nerve-wracking, but, that just didn’t translate to fans watching an all-but-empty track. Now fans will get a virtual heat race and a final. A throw back to short track racing years ago.

It may have taken NASCAR a long time to change the rule, and it may take a while to get the quirks straightened out, but, knock-out qualifying wrings the bell for this writer.

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