The 2019 NASCAR season will see various new changes to the sport’s competition setup across the three national series. Announced Monday, teams can now expect disqualification for infractions and a new qualifying format.
“I think for us, we’re really looking at a total culture change,” NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell stated.
Perhaps the biggest change to the race format is the introduction of disqualifications. In previous years, NASCAR utilised a penalty system in which failing post-race inspection resulted in a certain punishment announced days after the race, usually on Tuesday or Wednesday; the maximum L1-level penalty meant a loss of points, a fine, and losing the car and crew chiefs to suspension. If the driver won the race, they could not use it to guarantee them a spot in the playoffs, but retained the win in the records, meaning the victory was “encumbered”.
While it might seem practical to simply revoke the win, NASCAR had frowned upon taking away race wins for much of its history, believing race fans should leave the track knowing who is victorious without any developments days later. Nevertheless, although uncommon, it has occurred in the past, most notably during the sanctioning body’s inaugural race in 1949 when winner Glenn Dunnaway was disqualified for rear spring violations and Jim Roper was named the victor.
Starting in 2019, however, penalised drivers will no longer keep their victory. Following the race, the top two finishers and a randomly-chosen driver will have their cars inspected for up to two hours. If any of the three’s vehicles is discovered to have violated the rulebook, they will be classified in last and any stage and playoff points earned during the race nullified. Those behind the penalised will improve by one position, meaning runners-up could be the race winner if the original victor is disqualified.
“We’ve been through a deterrence model where we’ve really worked with the race teams at the track and probably been more lenient than we should in terms of the number of times teams can go through inspection and pass, fail and there’s almost incentive to try to get something by NASCAR, so we want to really reverse that trend,” O’Donnell added.
“Times have changed. We’ve moved forward with a lot of things,” Monster Energy Cup Series Managing Director Jay Fabian said. “There’s always been different thoughts on what the right way is to do it and it’s migrated to saying, hey, we really need to do this as more of a real-time thing and make sure it’s right post-race and move on with it from the weekend.”
Despite the changes, NASCAR Vice President of Officiating and Technical Inspection Elton Sawyer pointed out penalties stemming from inspection in the Research & Development Center may still occur, though it is unlikely with the tougher rules. The tier system will also be retained for such situations.
“I think the positive was that disqualification, it’s really clean,” Sawyer said. “It’s simple. Our fans will understand it. It won’t be that someone won the race and had an L1 or L2 and they get no benefit from it, but the second place, third place and fourth place on down, they were somewhat penalised. They basically ran second, third or fourth to a vehicle that was not in compliance to the rule book.”
To conduct inspections, NASCAR will have separate officials for the three national series: the Cup Series will have 12, while the Xfinity Series will have 10 and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series will feature eight members.
To quicken qualifying, NASCAR has also revealed various adjustments for 2019, though the usual three-round elimination format will remain.
For races conducted at short and intermediate tracks, round one will be 10 minutes long, equaling the length of the second round and shortened by five minutes. The final round will stay at five minutes. Between rounds, the seven-minute wait will change to five.
Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, being superspeedways that use their own format of two-round single-lap qualifying, will stay the same. The road courses will also keep the two-round, 25- and 10-minute rounds like in previous years.
“Really as we looked at what was going on, it was obvious that we didn’t need that extra five minutes,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller commented. “Tightening that first round up a bit and tightening up the time between the rounds, we think that was somewhat with TV partners and just making a tighter, more interesting show out of it for our fans.”
Triple Truck Challenge
In the Truck Series, NASCAR’s third-tier national series will now feature the chance to compete for money. Like the Xfinity Series’ Dash 4 Cash, the new Triple Truck Challenge is a three-race event that allows Truck drivers to vie for as much as $500,000.
Scheduled for the Texas Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway, and Gateway Motorsports Park rounds in June, whoever wins any of the three races will earn $50,000. If a driver wins two of three, they can collect an additional $150,000. A round sweep will notch $500,000.
“It’s neat in the sense that it’s a little bit different,” NASCAR Managing Director of Racing Operations and International Development and former Truck race winner Ben Kennedy said. “There’s no qualifying ahead of time or any of that. It’s solely focused on the Truck Series drivers — you have to declare driver points in order to participate and then you’ve also got to win. It focuses on winning.”
Cup and Xfinity drivers are prohibited from competing in Triple Truck Challenge races and the season-ending Ford EcoBosot 200.