Breaking Down NASCAR's Planned Changes to Sprint Cup Qualifying

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2014

Ryan Newman (left) and Jeff Gordon are among the most prolific active pole winners in current NASCAR annals.
Ryan Newman (left) and Jeff Gordon are among the most prolific active pole winners in current NASCAR annals.Paul Connors/Associated Press

According to's David Caraviello, it is likely that NASCAR will reveal significant changes to one of the most enduring traditions of the last several decades, that of qualifying for races in the Sprint Cup Series.

When the current form of qualifying was introduced, it created quite the buzz and excitement. Fans flocked to see which driver would be the fastest—and possibly set a new track record in the process.

Over the years, numerous drivers stood out as excellent qualifiers and pole-sitters. Richard Petty leads the list with 123 career poles, followed by David Pearson's 113. Among active drivers, Jeff Gordon leads the way with 74 career poles, followed by Mark Martin's 56 and Ryan Newman's 51.

But for the last six or seven years, the luster of qualifying has worn off considerably. Whereas in the past, how a driver qualified could oftentimes translate to where he'd finish in the actual race, such has not been the case in recent years.

Drivers have won dozens of races over the last 10 years starting from as far back as the last position on the 43-car grid.

Frankly, qualifying just isn't what it used to be.

That's why NASCAR is expected to announce changes to the qualifying system.

There have been a number of different scenarios bantered about already from both people in the know and people who want to know.

If I had to make an educated guess, I'd say the most likely scenario is we'll see four or five drivers go out at a time and run perhaps as many as four laps, with the best/fastest lap run being the official qualifying time for that particular driver.

One possibility is as many as 10 cars on a track at any one time, particularly the longer ones such as Daytona, Talladega, Michigan and California.

Those types of tracks could easily accommodate that many cars on the track at any given time—not so much, however, at places like Bristol, Martinsville, Richmond and even Phoenix, the shortest of the short tracks on the Cup circuit.

Other fans would like to see the kind of system used at many grassroots short tracks around the country, namely qualifying heat races. However, that scenario is unlikely to suddenly appear on the Cup circuit, but there's no question it definitely has its fans on the short tracks across the country.

I'm kind of torn on the rumored new qualifying efforts. On the one hand, yes, I think something has to be done to put more excitement into trying to earn the pole—to make it somewhat of an art form, if you will.

And, yes, NASCAR would certainly like to see significantly larger crowds turn out for qualifying, unlike the dearth-like "crowds" (if you want to call them that) that often turn out.

While it's a different form of motorsport, I still fondly remember every May during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, when one by one, cars would take to the fabled Brickyard to see who was the fastest and the bragging rights that came with saying you were the pole-sitter for the 500 in a certain year.

It still gives me goose bumps recalling the late Indianapolis Motor Speedway public address announcer, Tom Carnegie, with his signature call of "Andddddd, he's on it!"

That's why qualifying for the Indy 500 has been and will continue to be an exciting day for race fans at IMS, perhaps the second-most exciting thing after the actual race itself.

We used to have that same kind of aura in NASCAR, but no longer. Sure, there are some places where qualifying still draws a decent crowd—like that for the upcoming Daytona 500—but when you get to races in the second half of the season, fan turnout at qualifying sessions is usually sparse, to say the very least.

Something had to be done to put more oomph in qualifying, and no matter what NASCAR does eventually announce, anything will likely be better than what we've had in place for the last 25 years or so—and perhaps a few years too long, indeed.


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