New Qualifying Format an Unknown


Joey Logano: “There is a lot that’s going to go into it, and I think we all have a lot to learn on how we want to approach it." (Photo: Getty Images)

What to expect when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series holds its first group qualifying session Friday at Phoenix International Raceway?

No one is sure.

Some wonder if anyone will go out when the session begins because track conditions likely will be better later in the period. Even with 30 minutes to complete a run, some worry about cars getting in the way of each other and affecting qualifying laps. While the tires typically perform better after a few laps at Phoenix, how many laps will be too many in the race for the pole?

“There is a lot that’s going to go into it ,and I think we all have a lot to learn on how we want to approach it,’’ Joey Logano said. “You’re going to have to change your game plan as it goes because if you’re sitting near that bubble spot what do you do? Do you go back out and put more heat in your motor and more laps on your tires and heat in your tires? Or do you just kind of wait it out and hopefully no one bumps you?’’

Those are just some of the questions teams will have with NASCAR dramatically altering qualifying. Instead of single-car runs, there will be knockout group qualifying. Nationwide teams ran one session last weekend at Daytona International Speedway before rain ended qualifying.

This weekend, Cup and Nationwide teams will have two sessions. Teams will have 30 minutes to set a qualifying time. The fastest 12 advance to the final round. Their first-round time will not carry over. They’ll have 10 minutes to post a lap to contend for the pole.

“I feel like we needed to do that a few years ago,’’ Jeff Gordon said of the new format. “I was real happy to see (NASCAR) being open-minded and them recognizing some things that needed to be done and they did that.’’

While most Cup drivers don’t have experience with this particular type of format, AJ Allmendinger does with running some IndyCar events last year.

He says when qualifying begins at Phoenix, it could be interesting.

“You don’t want to be the first guy on the race track,’’ he said, noting how slick the track can be early in a session. “Everybody is going to be sitting (there) ... and going, ‘OK, OK who is going to go, oh (no) there is 10 minutes to go.’

“That’s what makes knockout qualifying so much fun because there are so many different strategies that you can play. At some point, you’re going to roll out there and be on your lap, and some guy is going to pull out in front of you and it’s going to kill you on your lap. It’s going to be a lot of fun.’’

NASCAR originally did not allow any adjustments except between qualifying sessions but changed that after requests from teams. NASCAR will allow teams to make change to the tape on the front grille and adjust wedge, track bar and tire pressure. Those decisions will add to what takes place in qualifying.

“Moving through those segments, you’re going to see people make a quick adjustment and tune themselves right into the game or, more importantly, tune themselves right out of the game,’’ Clint Bowyer said. “It’s going to be cool.’’

Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage of qualifying for The Profit on CNBC 500 starting at 6 p.m. (ET) Friday with live streaming at

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