The 2015 season is rapidly approaching, and a new year is often accompanied by changes. Sometimes, enhancements are necessary. Other times, not so much. At the conclusion of this year, NASCAR will have a new title sponsor for their second-tier division with Comcast’s XFINITY product taking over for Nationwide Insurance. But with the change of logos is going to come a new qualifying procedure.
This year, the top 30 cars in the season’s owner point standings were locked into each race. Positions 1-30 have been locked into each race during qualifying, but for those qualifying 31st or worse – they were not guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup if more than 40 cars were entered. The remaining 10 positions were determined by owner points if anyone had to go home. If not, the lineup stayed as they qualified, but things will be different next year.
On Wednesday, NASCAR announced changes to their qualifying format. Ones that weren’t really necessary, but are believed to create a higher level of intensity in qualifying. Positions 1-33 will be locked into the race during qualifying. However, there will no longer be a top-30 owner points rule. The final seven positions will be determined by the highest ranked drivers in the owner standings, or if there is a past champion that did not qualify inside of the top 33, that driver will take the final spot in the field.
This change likely won’t have much of an effect on the teams that are inside of the top 20 in points. But for a team like The Motorsports Group, who runs two full-time cars with one of them being a start-and-park effort, they might have a better chance at racing because they’ll have three extra spots to make the race compared to 2014.
“I think it’s good for some of the smaller teams on the Nationwide side mainly because it allows us to qualify a little bit further back in the pack,” said Ryan Ellis, who races the No. 46 car for The Motorsports Group. “With the new procedures, it should make it a little bit easier for us to make the races as a smaller team. I think a lot of the team owners that are barely holding onto a top-30 points position to race and try to sell that locked in seat to a driver will go away.”
Vision Racing’s Tanner Berryhill DNQ’d for three events thus far in 2014, but he also qualified 34th or worse in four contests, which would put him in serious jeopardy of missing races since his No. 17 team is 35th in owner points. If this team returns in 2015, they’ll likely be banking on having just 40 cars entered in each race.
Through 30 of the 33 events this season, there have been four short fields. The only races where drivers missed the event were at both Daytona and Bristol events, Talladega, Michigan, Kentucky in June, Indianapolis, Richmond in September, Chicagoland, Kentucky in September, Dover, Kansas and Charlotte.
This new qualifying rule is going to make things hectic for the teams at the back of the pack with more than 40 cars on the entry list. Some of them can’t afford to miss a race. But with short fields in several races, it might be time to reduce the starting lineup once again.
After the 2012 season, NASCAR reduced the fields in the Nationwide Series from 43 cars to 40. But with two short fields last year and an increasing amount possible next year, the sport needs to reconsider the size of how many cars should race in their second-tier division.
The sanctioning body announced that the Camping World Truck Series field would decrease from 36 to 32 trucks in 2015, but why not make changes to the Nationwide Series? With a new sponsor coming in, it would be the perfect time to change the on-track product. The series has been under heat for a lack of competition due to the dominance by Cup Series drivers racing in this division.
“I agree with what they did for the Truck Series since they have less than the maximum of 36,” Ellis continued. “On the Nationwide side, there are going to be some races where you have less than 40 cars, but overall – we have 40 to 42 cars on most weekends. You don’t want to hurt some of the smaller teams by sending them home. It’s good to have a balance where there are a few teams that are getting sent home, but we also don’t want short fields.”
But lowering the amount of cars on the starting grid could make the competition tighter. Not only would it eliminate some start-and-park teams, but with two or three fewer vehicles on track, there is a chance that it could make the teams are the rear of the field more competitive. Instead of having cars being lapped within 20 laps, maybe the leaders will catch the slower cars after 30 or 40 laps, which would make things more exciting in the middle of the pack.