NASCAR is changing the way drivers qualify for races this season to add excitement to the days leading up to the race. And Thursday in Charlotte, drivers and speedway executives expect NASCAR to announce huge changes to the sport's playoff system.
Let's start with the change NASCAR has announced. At almost all the racetracks, no more boring, one-car-at-a-time qualifying.
Drivers used to see how fast they could go on an empty track on Thursdays or Fridays to set their starting order for the actual race on Saturdays or Sundays.
Now cars will be whizzing around the track at the same time during qualifying, and there'll be two or three rounds, with the fastest cars advancing. NASCAR driver Tony Stewart says that type of knockout qualifying is like what Formula One uses.
“That's what I watch – I never watch the race, I watch the qualifying,” Stewart said with a laugh. “So I know that there's excitement that's going to be added to that for us, for sure.”
Another hot topic among drivers is how NASCAR crowns its champion. Many teams expect NASCAR to scrap its current point system that rewards consistency, in which there's not much of a difference between finishing first or fifth.
The new system would be all about first-place finishes – you have to win a regular season race to get into the playoffs.
At an event uptown this week, the heads of the sport's speedways said they love that idea.
“Every general manager for speedway motorsports from our chairman, Bruton Smith, on down has been saying that you have to reward winning,” said Mark Simendinger, general manager of the Kentucky Speedway. “Our race is June 28, and our fans when they come there, they want to know that that race is important.”
And Simendinger said every race would be more important if NASCAR makes the change. He and the drivers are expecting that to happen at an event uptown Thursday afternoon.