NASCAR announces new knockout qualifying format

6 Comments

Taking a page from the playbooks of Formula One and the IndyCar Series, NASCAR will adopt a form of knockout-style qualifying across all three of its national series: Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck.

NASCAR will use two or three-round sessions depending on the length of each track. Here are the main details:

FOR TRACKS LESS THAN 1.25 MILES LONG – TWO ROUNDS
Round 1: 30 minutes long for all cars; Top 12 drivers on single-lap speed advance.
10-minute Break
Round 2: 10 minutes long for the Top 12 from Round 1; sets positions 1-12.

FOR TRACKS 1.25 MILES LONG OR LARGER – THREE ROUNDS
Round 1: 25 minutes long for all cars; Top 24 drivers on single-lap speed advance.
5-minute Break
Round 2: 10 minutes long for Top 24 from Round 1; Top 12 drivers on single-lap speed advance; sets positions 13-24.
5-minute Break
Round 3: 5 minutes long for Top 12 from Round 2; sets positions 1-12.

With this new format, teams will have a single set of tires to use throughout qualifying and will only be allowed to adjust their cars during the breaks between the rounds.

Should a caution emerge during a qualifying round, that round will be red-flagged and the clock on that round will be stopped. If all qualifying rounds are not completed due to weather or other circumstances, the lineup will be set by the last official completed round; if no rounds are completed, the lineup will be set per the NASCAR rule book.

“We believe the timing is right for a new qualifying format across our three national series,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president for competition and racing development in a statement. “This style of group qualifying has all the makings of being highly competitive and more engaging to our fans in the stands and those watching on television and online.

“For the drivers and teams, we believe this new qualifying will fuel even greater competition leading into the events. Additionally, it provides our tracks, broadcasters and other key partners with a greater opportunity to develop more entertaining content for our race weekends.”

There are some exceptions to note, however. The new format will not apply for the Daytona 500, non-points Sprint Cup races (such as the Sprint Unlimited and the Sprint All-Star Race), and the Trucks’ “Mudsummer Classic” event at Eldora Speedway.

The Daytona 500 and the Eldora truck race have unique qualifying formats. Daytona has single-car qualifying to set the front row, followed by a pair of 150-mile “Duels” to determine the rest of the grid.

Eldora also has single-car qualifying but uses that to set the field for a subsequent series of qualifying heat races. After those heats, a “last chance” qualifier and a Camping World Truck Series’ champion’s provisional completes the lineup.

More to follow…

MRTI: Herta standing tall, riding wave of momentum in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

It would be hard to top the month of May that Colton Herta is coming off of.

The 18-year-old, now in his second year competing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, enjoyed a sweep of the three Indy Lights races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning both events on the IMS Road Course – charging through the field to do so (he fell back as far as sixth and fourth between Race 1 and Race 2) – and outdueling Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to win a frantic Freedom 100.

In short, it was a near perfect month for the young Herta.

“It’s super special to win in Indy and to get do the triple there at a place that’s so nostalgic, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Herta told NBC Sports about his Indy success.

And all three were thrilling drives in which Herta spent the entire time battling with rivals – Santi Urrutia on the IMS Road Course, and the aforementioned O’Ward and Kellett, and Urrutia as well, in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta edged Pato O’Ward to win the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Herta is no stranger to winning – he won twice in 2017 (Race 2 at St. Petersburg and Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park) – both times in dominant fashion.

As he explained, it isn’t necessarily more challenging to dominate a race versus battling rivals the entire way, but different mindsets are required to survive each.

“It’s a different skill set,” he asserted. “Obviously when you start up front, there’s a lot more pressure to perform, so it’s more about managing the gap to the guys behind. Whereas you’re not as nervous when you’re in the back of the pack, because you can’t go any further back. So there’s less nerves going into the race. And it’s more about attacking the whole time and taking a little more risk.”

In discussing his Indy victories more, Herta detailed that outdueling opponents in intense duels – like the ones at Indy – comes down to thoroughly analyzing one’s opponents and making aggressive, yet smart passes.

“You can see what the guys are doing ahead of you, and obviously if you follow them for a lap or two you can see where they’re struggling and you can make up ground on them,” he explained. “And that’s the biggest thing: going for an overtake that you can make – especially when you’re in the running for a championship fight like this – going for an overtake that you know you can make without taking a massive risk, and kind of seeing the tendencies of the car in front of you and where they’re struggling and when you’re making up time.”

Herta’s run of recent success comes as more evidence of a driver who appears to be more polished than he was last year. While blisteringly fast – Herta captured seven poles in 2017 – there were also a number of errors that kept him from making a more serious championship challenge.

Though Herta began 2018 with a somewhat ominous crash in Race 2 at St. Pete, the rest of his season has been much cleaner. He finished third in Race 1 at St. Pete and second and third at Barber Motorsports Park before his run of victories at IMS.

Still, despite the appearance of a more polished driver, Herta explained that his approach is no different than it was in 2017.

“Not much has changed,” he asserted. “The mindset obviously is still the same because, especially with a (seven car field), you need to win races and you need to win quite a few of them to win the championship. (Staying out of trouble is about) just kind of settling in and knowing that a second or third place, or even a fourth or fifth place, isn’t terrible to take every now and then.”

And because the field in Indy Lights is small this year – only seven cars are entered at Road America – Herta revealed that maintaining a hard-charging style and going for race wins is paramount, in that the small fields make it harder to gap competitors in the title hunt.

“It’s hard to create a gap. On a bad day, you’re still going to be closer (to the guys ahead of you). Like Pato O’Ward in Indy (on the road course) had an awful weekend and finished in the back in both races (fourth and seventh), but I’m only at a (six point) lead. It’s tough to get ahead, so you want to minimize mistakes. It’s tough to make a gap, but it’s also tough to fall behind.”

As such, Herta is most certainly focused on bringing home an Indy Lights crown in 2018, which would propel him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, but he isn’t putting undue pressure on himself to force it to happen.

“In the second year, you have to get it done, and it’s tough to move up to IndyCars without that $1 million scholarship. So yeah, it’s important, but there’s no need to put more pressure on myself for how it is. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down, and if we can replicate what happened in May more and more, we should be in IndyCar next year,” he detailed.

And a potential move to IndyCar is certainly on the minds of Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, even if the Indy Lights title ends up in the hands of someone else.

“We are thinking about it for sure, and we have some sponsors already committed on this year that I think we could bring up into IndyCar,” Herta revealed. “But, if we win the Indy Lights championship, we’re going to race (IndyCar), whether it’s the four races that we’re given or whatever it may be.”

Herta will look to improve upon his results from last year at Road America, when he finished 12th in Race 1 and third in Race 2.

Follow@KyleMLavigne