Sprint Cup Qualifying Process for 2015 Events

Remember when qualifying for an event was “a race within a race?” There was a time when setting the 43-car starting order was a drawn out, dramatic process, sometimes stretching over two days, one car at a time. That’s all changed now, with the 2014 adoption of “knockout qualifying,” an exciting and action-packed “opening act” for the weekend’s racing schedule.

NASCAR, an organization that learns by doing, has continued to examine the knockout qualifying process since its adoption, and has revamped the overall approach for 2015. In fact, changes have been made since the start of the season, reflecting NASCAR’s intent to continually tweak to improve. And while knockout qualifying in one form or another applies to all three of NASCAR’s top tiers, it’s likely that reformatting will continue as the season unfolds.  For that reason, we won’t try to nail down the procedure on a track-by-track basis, and instead we’ll only be able to provide a set of general guidelines announced as applicable to short and intermediate tracks and road courses.

It is also expected that there will be variations from series-to-series among the top 3 tiers, as evidenced by the “Late Breaking” addition at the bottom of this post.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work as of this point in the 2015 season:

General Procedures Applicable to all Tracks:

At the start of qualifying, all cars will line up on pit road according to a random draw. There is no set number of laps a car must complete, and cars can exit pit road and re-enter as often as they wish during the qualifying segment. Tire changes are not allowed during qualifying.

When the qualifying segment begins, timing will begin at the start/finish line, not on pit road. When time expires in a given segment, the next time the cars individually cross the start/finish line will mark the completion of that round.

Accidents sometimes occur during qualifying, and often result in a red flag being displayed (which means the cars must stop). In this situation, the timing for that segment is also stopped, to be resumed when the track is cleared.

In the event of inclement weather, NASCAR officials may likewise elect to adjust the timing of the qualifying segments. If qualifying is terminated due to weather, the most recently completed segment will determine the pole position and remaining starting positions. In the event qualifying is cancelled altogether, NASCAR will issue a decision on how the starting positions will be set. This may be based on practice-round speeds, or it may be based on season-to-date points; or it may be based on factors documented in the NASCAR Rule Book.

On the short and intermediate tracks (all tracks except Daytona, Talladega, and road courses): There will be three timed rounds (20 minutes, 10 minutes, and 5 minutes, in that order). All cars attempting to qualify will enter round one, with cars having speeds outside the top 43 disqualified.  The drivers with the top 24 highest single-lap speeds in round one will advance to the second round, with the remaining cars assigned starting positions 25 to 43. There is a break between rounds 1 and 2.

In round 2, the top 12 will advance to round 3, with speeds ranked 13th to 24th assigned starting positions 13 to 24 in the race. The final round will see the 12 fastest cars compete for the pole position, with the highest speed earning the pole and the 2nd through 12th highest speeds assigned starting positions 2 through 12.

On Road Courses: there will be two timed rounds (25 minutes and 10 minutes, respectively). All cars will compete in the first round, with the fastest 43 cars qualifying for the race. The 12 fastest cars will advance to the second round, with the cars posting the 13th through 43rd fastest times assigned positions 13 to 43 on the starting grid. After a ten-minute break the remaining 12 will start the 10-minute second round, with the highest speed earning the pole and the 2nd through 12th highest speeds assigned starting positions 2 through 12.

On the big tracks (Daytona and Talladega): There has been so much confusion and revision that we won’t attempt to provide the “rules” in advance. Rather, we encourage anyone interested in the qualifying rules for upcoming races at these two tracks (the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona on July 5 is the next event) to visit the “Next Race” alert posted on our Motorsports page just prior to the race. If it’s published in advance, we’ll post it there!

*****

Late breaking: On July 2, 2015, NASCAR announced a revised qualifying format for the Camping World Truck Series, and scheduled it to take effect for the July 9 UNOH 225 event at Kentucky Speedway. In summary, the revised format will be:

  • Two rounds of qualifying, with the top-12 fastest eligible trucks advancing to the final round;
  • Trucks taking one timed lap in each round of qualifying;
  • Each truck will be released in a predetermined timed interval as determined by NASCAR, with the sanctioning body reserving the right to have more than one vehicle engaging in qualifying runs at the same time;
  • Qualifying order for the first round will be determined based on slowest to fastest single lap speeds posted in the first practice session; final round qualifying order is determined by slowest to fastest speeds from the first round;
  • A 10-minute break will occur between the first qualifying round and the final round;
  • Upon completion of the first qualifying round, the field will be set with positions 13 and beyond determined from first round qualifying speed;
  • The 12 fastest vehicles from the first round will have their speeds reset for the final round with starting positions 1-12 determined by the fastest laps in the final round.

(Source: NASCAR.com)

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