NASCAR introduces new group qualifying procedures today at Phoenix

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NASCAR will debut its new group qualifying procedures today at Phoenix International Raceway.

Somewhat influenced by Formula One’s qualifying procedures, the new Sprint Cup Coors Light Qualifying begins at 6:30 pm ET at PIR.

Unofficially known as “the pack is back” (and no, that’s not a reference to the NFL’s Green Bay Packers), the new procedures replace NASCAR’s former one car at a time qualifying. Last Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500 was the last time solo one-car qualifying will be seen for a Cup race.

The new qualifying system may be a bit confusing to fans at first, but they should quickly get the hang of it.

Essentially, tracks that are less than 1.25 miles, such as Phoenix, Bristol, Martinsville, New Hampshire and Richmond, will see two qualifying rounds. The first will last 30 minutes, with all cars expected to be on the track.

The fastest 12 drivers in the first round will then move to a 10-minute second round, which will determine the pole sitter. The other cars will be placed on the starting grid based upon their best single qualifying lap during either the first or second sessions.

At tracks longer than 1.25 miles, such as next week’s race host, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there will be three rounds of qualifying.

The first round will feature all entries and will take 25 minutes.

The 10-minute second round will be the 24 fastest from the first round.

The third and final round will have the 12 fastest from the second round vying for No. 1 qualifier over a brief five-minute session.

The same qualifying procedures will also be used for both the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series.

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Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”