Drivers given further incentive to make late-round qualifying laps at Texas Motor Speedway
NASCAR plans to entice its teams to get out onto the race track in times to post lap times in qualifying by punishing those who fail to do so. Beginning with the tripleheader race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway that will culminate in Sunday's running of the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and also include races for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck and Xfinity series, drivers who advance to a round of qualifying but don't post a timed lap in that round will start the corresponding race in the back.
“Qualifying is an important element of the race weekend, and NASCAR has worked closely with the teams to implement a procedure that is both fair from a competition perspective and entertaining for our fans,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said. “Starting this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, we will implement a procedural change that will be in effect for all three national series. We expect the updated procedure to result in a better outcome for drivers, fans and our track and broadcast partners.”
Previously, a driver who advances to a specific round of qualifying who, then, didn't make an attempt before the time clock expired in that round started the race in the last position determined by that round. For example, a driver in the third round who didn't make an attempt started the race in 12th position. In the second round, a driver not posting a lap time would garner the 24th starting position. Under the new rule, a driver not making a lap in a round to which he advanced would have his previous round lap time(s) disallowed, moving him all the way to the back of the race starting grid.
The change is a result of none of the 12 drivers advancing to the final round of qualifying at Auto Club Speedway on March 15 making an offical lap in that final round. Those drivers still started the corresponding Auto Club 400 in the top-12, with their starting order deterimed by their second-round lap times.
Two weeks earlier at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman advanced to the third round of Cup Series qualifying but failed to cross the start/finish line in time to post official laps in the round. As a result, they garnered the 11th and 12th starting spots in the Las Vegas race.
NASCAR's new aerodynamic rules package for tracks 1.5-mile and larger has resulted in drafting during qualifying. That draft puts the first car on the track during a round of qualifying at a disadvantage, as the other cars will follow them off the track, and the last cars in that draft will have the advantage. A waiting game, then, ensues, as nobody wants to go out first; instead, everyone wants to go out last.
Also under the new rule, all lap times for a driver during a qualifying session will be disallowed, and therefore, the driver moved to the back of the race starting grid if NASCAR determines that driver blocked other cars from going onto the race track during qualifying.
The changes apply to all qualifying sessions for all three of NASCAR's national series.