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On Tuesday, NASCAR sent a bulletin to teams indicating that the length of the first round in group qualifying will be extended from 15 to 20 minutes at short and intermediate tracks, starting this Friday in Martinsville. The move is designed to make it easier for teams (especially at short tracks) to be able to get in a clean lap. While it is an increase from what teams have had at their disposal so far in 2015, it is still less than last season. Last year saw a 30-minute first round on short tracks (two-round format) and 25 minutes on intermediates (three-round format). However, that is not the only qualifying change that could be on the horizon in NASCAR.
The Charlotte Observer‘s Jim Utter is reporting that NASCAR is currently considering a more traditional qualifying format for May’s GEICO 500 and the Xfinity Series Winn-Dixie 300 at Talladega Superspeedway. Such a system would likely be a much faster version of single-car qualifying.
What that would entail is unclear. It might mean sending cars out on track two at a time, but separating them by enough so that they cannot affect each other.
What is certain is that NASCAR has not officially settled on a qualifying format for Talladega as of yet. NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell stated back at Daytona that NASCAR would review the qualifying format for future events.
At Daytona back in February, the three-round group qualifying format saw wrecks in all three of NASCAR’s National Series. In addition, there were multiple instances in which drivers waited too long on pit road to start their laps. As a result, there were instances in which drivers failed to record times. The immediate post-qualifying review saw a format change after that split the first round into four groups and the second round into two groups for Xfinity and Camping World Truck series qualifying. More recently, Auto Club Speedway saw NASCAR mandate that teams start qualifying sessions facing out of their pit stalls as opposed to facing in. While the facing in rule was designed to help the teams with engine cooling, it did create a mess at the beginning of sessions.
Prior to the introduction of group qualifying at Phoenix last year, traditional single-car qualifying for Sprint Cup races at Talladega in the past has taken nearly as long as the 500-mile race on Sunday to complete. TV time slots for qualifying in 2015 are not designed for three-hour sessions. Whatever NASCAR eventually decides will be the format for Sprint Cup and Xfinity series qualifying at Talladega will need to be able to fit in a 90-minute time slot for FOX Sports 1.