NASCAR revealed on Tuesday a number of competition changes for the 2013 season, including a revision in Sprint Cup Series qualifying and a reduction of the starting field for Nationwide races.
Instead of the top-35 rule, NASCAR will move to a 36-6-1 format in qualifying for its premier series next year. The fastest 36 cars will make the race based on qualifying speed/time.
The next six highest-ranking cars in owner points that have not already earned a starting position through qualifying and who have entered the race by the posted entry deadline will also make the field. The final starting spot will be awarded to the most recent eligible past champion driver. If there is no eligible past champion, then a seventh car will make the field based on owners' points. Provisional positions in the 36-6-1 format will be lined up by owner's points, not speed/time.
Since the start of the 2005 Cup season, the top-35 cars in owner points have been guaranteed a starting position for a race. A maximum of seven cars instead of eight will be locked into a given event under the new format.
"This is a big win for our fans," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said in a statement. "They'll see the fastest cars earn their starting spots. This change adds intrigue, drama and excitement to qualifying."
Starting next year, the qualifying order for Sprint Cup will return to a random draw. If qualifying is canceled due to weather or any other reason, the field will be set per the rule book and the starting lineup will continue to be determined by practice speeds/times.
NASCAR also made changes to the provisional positions for all three of its national touring series races next season. Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series provisional positions will be based upon the previous year's owner points for the first three races only, as opposed to the first five events in previous years for Sprint Cup and Nationwide as well as four for Camping World Truck.
As part of its rule changes, NASCAR announced the maximum starting field for Nationwide races will be trimmed from 43 to 40 cars. NASCAR said it made the change "in an effort to strengthen the ownership base and create a sense of urgency among teams to make the races." The maximum starting field of 43 for Sprint Cup and 36 for the Truck Series will remain the same.
NASCAR is revising its testing policy for all three series as well.
Each Sprint Cup team will be allowed to test at a maximum of four sanctioned tracks. Nationwide and truck teams will be able to test at no more than two tracks that are on their respective schedules.
As a cost-cutting measure, NASCAR has restricted teams from testing at sanctioned tracks since the start of the 2009 season.
"We feel like it's time to open that up and allow the teams to manage their testing and get back to facilities that host our events," Pemberton said. "We made the decision at the end of 2008 to restrict testing, primarily for economic reasons. Now we believe it will be best for the garage and for the tracks to have some testing return in 2013."
If a Nationwide or truck team has an "official" rookie-of-the-year candidate, that organization will receive one additional test. NASCAR will open track activity early for extended practice at two additional races per series, which has yet to be determined.