NASCAR executive says Talladega qualifying likely will feature two cars on track at same time

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Qualifying will have a different look this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, as NASCAR debuts its new format for restrictor-plate tracks.

Instead of group qualifying – which has drawn some concerns since it was implemented at those tracks – NASCAR will go with a revamped version of single-car qualifying.

NASCAR likely will have two cars on the track at the same time for qualifying, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said during his weekly appearance Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

That way, O’Donnell noted, there could be one car running on the backstretch and one on the frontstretch at the same time. By separating the cars, the trailing car will not benefit from any aerodynamic advantage.

NASCAR announced the change last month after drivers complained at Daytona in February about accidents in group qualifying. Clint Bowyer blasted NASCAR after he was involved in a crash with Reed Sorenson during qualifying that collected three other cars. Tony Stewart ripped the format on Twitter, calling it a “complete embarrassment for our series.’’

A six-car crash during Xfinity qualifying added to the concerns. Tanner Berryhill, who was involved in that accident, stated on Twitter that he didn’t enter the following race at Atlanta because the team had been in a financial crunch and that “the new qualifying format killed any chance we had of racing this year’’ by losing out on the chance to make the race and the large payday at that event.

O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the new format gives drivers better control of their fate in qualifying.

“When you look at superspeedway racing, when we had conversations with the garage area, and you really determined that through no fault of a driver, there’s potential that an accident could take place – they could have the fastest car on the track and really through no fault of their own through an accident could fail to qualify for a race,’’ O’Donnell said.

“When we looked at that, especially in Daytona, that’s a circumstance we wanted to try to avoid if we could. We’re able to put this together, which is a little combination of (single-car and group qualifying) and puts it more in the driver’s hand for a superspeedway, which we like to see.’’

Here’s the format for qualifying that Sprint Cup and Xfinity teams will do at Talladega this weekend:

  • Qualifying will consist of two rounds.
  • Order of qualifying in first round will be determined by a random draw.
  • Competitors get one timed lap per round.
  • More than one car can be on the track at the same time with each vehicle released by NASCAR in a predetermined interval.
  • First round determines starting spots 13th to 43rd.
  • The 12 fastest cars advance to the second round and have their speed reset.
  • There will be a 10-minute break between the first and second round.
  • Only adjustments allowed to the car during the break – adjustment of tape and use of a cool-down unit.
  • The order for the second round is from slowest to fastest based on first-round speed, thus the fastest car in first round will go last.
  • The top 12 starting positions will be based on the car’s lap in the second round.
  • NASCAR will impound each vehicle after its qualifying lap.