Jeff Gordons crew pushes his car onto the track for qualifying at Bristol Motor Speedway last year. Qualifying has been moved from Friday to Saturday for many races this season.
Photo by Sherryl Creekmore
FONTANA, Calif. Kyle Petty the car owner was glad to get NASCAR's help against Kyle Petty the driver.
The car owner side of him wants to save money and time. The driver side of him wants to spend every penny if it means going faster.
NASCAR got in the middle and broke them up by asking the speedways on the Nextel Cup Series circuit to move qualifying sessions to Saturday, ending the final practice session and forcing teams to use their qualifying setups in the race.
The move not only gave teams Saturday afternoons off, it will eliminate the practice of using tricked-up gears, transmissions, engine and chassis parts and special lubricants during time trials.
"Qualifying doesn't add anything to the show," Petty said. "A guy who runs 190 mph in qualifying means nothing in the race, so I'm glad they came up with this idea."
Tracks had the option to change its qualifying schedules and about half signed on. Of the 36 regular-season events this year, 21 will have Saturday qualifying sessions. This weekend's Auto Club 500 will be the first to use the new format.
The new qualifying procedures set into motion several other rule changes. Not only will NASCAR eliminate the final practice session after Saturday qualifying sessions, it scrapped its policy of adding seven drivers to every race with provisional exemptions.
On weekends that use the new qualifying format, teams will be allowed to practice on Friday afternoon. Following time trials on Saturday, cars will be impounded and teams won't be allowed to make any changes before the race.
The speedways that agreed to move qualifying to Saturday hope the change will result in more business. Despite giving up tickets, souvenirs and concessions on Friday, the additional attention time trials create as a preliminary to either a Busch or ARCA series race should make up the difference.
"We're going to have alternating Cup and ARCA practices on Friday, and they'll be doing it race trim," said Pocono Raceway spokesman Bob Pleban. "That will make for a lot more exciting practice sessions. On Saturday, you get a Cup practice, ARCA qualifying, Cup qualifying, then the ARCA race. You get a 200-mile race plus qualifying. We think more fans will like that."
Speedways like Texas and Las Vegas that generally attract good qualifying crowds or have a Friday night truck series race will stick with the old schedule. Texas, for example, traditionally draws about 80,000 fans to time trials.
NASCAR changed the way it sets the field to make sure some teams didn't show up for Saturday qualifying with a special setup just to make the race and no intention of racing more than a handful of laps on Sunday. The top-35 teams in the standings now are guaranteed a spot in the race. The final eight spots then will go to the fastest leftover speeds from qualifying. A former champion can earn the only provisional exemption into the starting lineup at the expense of one of the eight speed slots.
A year ago several teams exploited the provisional system by starting the race with plans of only lasting a couple laps. They collected last place money and more important points that allowed them to maintain their exemption status for the next race.
NASCAR implemented the new policies for several reasons, president Mike Helton said. The most important, he said, was to control the amount of engineering and spending for qualifying.
"We did it to take the pressure off of race weekend itself," he said. "Teams, car owners, engineers back at the shop were doing so much research and development, spending so much time and money to develop ways to qualify quicker that weren't practical for racing.
"It's a continual flow, that cat-and-mouse game; us trying to stop them and then them coming to us and saying we needed to stop them."
Petty said he's glad NASCAR stepped in to protect his family's racing operation from himself.
"NASCAR created this monster and now they're stepping back and fixing it," Petty said.
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