Top 35, qualifying changes considered for 2013

TALLADEGA, Ala. — An elimination of the top 35 rule and a return to qualifying order based on random draw are among the proposed changes for the 2013 season that NASCAR officials discussed with competitors in a meeting Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

hj_thumb Top 35, qualifying changes considered for 2013

The sanctioning body is mulling a number of procedural changes for next year, the most notable of which would be an elimination of the top 35 rule that has been in place since 2005, which guarantees starting berths to the top 35 cars in owners’ points. The plan being considered for 2013 would entail setting the top 36 starting spots based on qualifying speed, with six provisionals based on points and one provisional reserved for a past champion.

“I don’t think it’s going to have much of an effect, to be honest with you,” said car owner Tommy Baldwin, who owns two cars often at or around the top 35 in points. “I think if you go back through the last couple of years, I think it would have hurt us once and helped us once. I don’t think it’s a big deal. We’ve got other things to worry about besides that.”

Michael McDowell, who drives the No. 34 car often around the top 35 cutoff, agreed. “It’ll actually work out better for us, just because I think we’ll be in a position, being that we run all the races, to get one of those provisionals for every race,” he said. “So I think it really lends its hand to the teams that are more full-time. For us, having to make every race is difficult. I’m not sure how the first three races break down, but, beyond that, it should help teams like us.”

The changes have not yet been formally announced by NASCAR, which also is rolling out revamped car models for its premier series next season.

“We meet with our drivers and teams throughout the year, and we thought that at this point of the season it would be a good opportunity for us to provide them with an update on the new Sprint Cup car and the importance to the industry for having a successful rollout with it,” spokesman Kerry Tharp said. “We also updated them on some of the competition changes we are looking at for the 2013 season, and plan to talk to more of our stakeholders over the next several days and be in a position to formally announce the changes sometime over the next couple of weeks.”

One such change for next year, an amendment to the testing policy, was confirmed last weekend at Dover. NASCAR eliminated testing at sanctioned tracks because of economic concerns in 2008, but beginning next season, it will allow each organization to test at four facilities of its choosing, in addition to the annual January test at Daytona. For each car that runs full-time, teams will be able to bring one transporter and two vehicles to a test site. The correct tires won’t be allowed unless those tire codes have been raced earlier in the year at another event.

“I feel good with it,” five-time champion Jimmie Johnson said. “I don’t know how to manage it all. There’s a lot of opinions. When you talk to the big teams, there is a far different opinion than that of the smaller teams. So I think it’s a decent compromise. It’s going to be interesting with one team at a track with four drivers and how you go about testing — who drives, who tests, and who goes where. … It’s something different for us to play with. Being at the track is good. We need to test at the race tracks we’re racing on, and on the right tire. We’re going to test regardless. And a test at the wrong track on the wrong tire makes no sense. So this is a great step in the right direction.”

NASCAR also is eyeing a return to random draw for qualifying order. This year, the league used the tactic of setting the qualifying lineup based on first practice speeds. Those speeds also set the field in the case that qualifying is rained out, a policy that is unlikely to change for next season.

“The qualifying draw being random, a lot of drivers are not completely on board with that theory simply because qualifying is becoming so important and track position is so important everywhere we go,” Greg Biffle said. “Especially when you get to the Chase, that if you get an early qualifying draw — qualify fifth at Charlotte for the night race — you’re not going to be in the top 15 or 20 probably, even the fastest car. So it’s a huge penalty for the random draw for where you’re going to go out, but if that’s what fans want to see or what they want to do, then we’re on board with it.”

“It might alter five or six spots on the grid, but I don’t think it will completely turn things upside down,” Johnson added. “But I guess in the end, in the spirit of making it exciting, maybe that’s the angle NASCAR has, and we’ve got to keep an open mind to that as well.”

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