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NASCAR keeps group qualifying format but makes tweaks

NASCAR America reviews the three pillars to the new qualifying procedures that will debut at Texas Motor Speedway.

NASCAR sent a memo to teams in all three national series today that states that group qualifying will remain but penalties will be increased to those who do not make a lap before time expires in a round.

The changes debut this weekend with the Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series all at Texas Motor Speedway.

NASCAR stated that competitors who do not start a timed lap before the clock expires due to “excessive waiting” will have their qualifying times from earlier sessions disallowed and start at the rear. Previously, if a car failed to complete a lap before time expired, it started at the back of the group it was in. So, if it happened in the second round, the car would start no worse than 24th. If it happened in the final round, the car would start no worse than 12th.

If NASCAR determines that a competitor blocks or impedes another vehicle from taking off properly or blocks on the track, that competitor will have its posted qualifying times disallowed from earlier sessions and start at the rear.

NASCAR stated that improper staging, stopping or impeding on pit road or the track, and pit road speed “will all be strictly enforced.”

“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,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, in a statement. “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.”

NASCAR vowed to make changes after all 12 Cup cars in the final round failed to complete a lap before time expired earlier this month at Auto Club Speedway.

Drivers wait as long as possible on pit road because no one wants to be among the first cars out, leading the pack. Those further back get more of an aerodynamic advantage. At Auto Club, teams waited too long before leaving pit road.

At Las Vegas, the fast times of Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman were disallowed in the final round because they did not cross the start/finish line before time expired. Had they done so, they would have started on the front row instead of 11th and 12th (the last cars in the final round of 12).

Then nobody got a time at Auto Club in the final round.

“Drivers and NASCAR have spoken,” Jimmie Johnson said earlier this month at Auto Club Speedway. “It’s not going to be perfect everywhere. We’ve known this coming into the season. ... We’ve known that this situation could exist, either nobody takes the green or there’s a huge wreck. As soon as we heard multi-car qualifying with this package, (drivers told NASCAR), ‘You know what it’s going to mean?’ ”

When the Truck series had group qualifying, it had a similar situation. Ryan Blaney won the pole at Michigan in 2014 when his truck was the only one in the final round to cross the start/finish line before time expired, making his lap count.

Before NASCAR announced what it would do, drivers had various ideas this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

Brad Keselowski said: “Pull off (tapered spacers) and let them go run. At least for qualifying. Empty the grandstands, make (fans) go in the infield for all the tracks, and we’d put on a hell of a show. But nobody asked me, so. That’s what I’d do. You wouldn’t see any of this drafting nonsense, and you’d see cars going 215, 220 mph for one lap. But I think it’d be awesome.”

Martin Truex Jr. said: “Take the spoiler off. Take the Lexan off the spoiler. So then we can’t draft. And put it back on for practice. That’ll keep teams from having to rebuild the car after qualifying Friday for Saturday. Race trim. You do your thing. Qualifying trim, just take the Lexan off, and I promise you we won’t want to draft.”

Kyle Busch said: “I don’t know. I just follow the rules. Whatever the rules are. ... We’re talking about it rather than there just being single-car qualifying and nobody is saying a damn word about it. Pick and choose your battles wisely folks.”