NASCAR

Starting lineup procedure finalised for NASCAR qualifying-less races

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Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

With qualifying and practice sessions expected to be cancelled for much of the upcoming races on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar, officials have revealed a new procedure to determine the starting lineup for such events, based on random draw and field inversions. A modified competition caution order will also be implemented.

For the season restart on 17 May at Darlington Raceway, the 40-car grid will be set by random draw. The first 12 positions are drawn by charted teams within those positions in the owner’s championship, followed by the same for positions 13 to 24 and 25 to 36. The final four spots will be taken by non-charted cars, also based on owner’s points.

The next race’s starting grid, scheduled for three days after, will use a field inversion. The top twenty finishers in the first race will be flipped, while the bottom half will start from their finishing positions. This concept takes a page from the Pocono Raceway doubleheader scheduled for June, though Pocono’s is limited to cars on the lead lap. Although inversions have drawn skepticism from some for being too gimmicky, many local racing series and international leagues like the Stadium Super Trucks use them to allow faster drivers to fight their ways through the field and produce more interesting racing.

Hypothetically, the inversion can produce late-race decision making from the crew chief and driver or even drama. For example, a team running in twenty-first in the first race would push harder to gain a position and start the second round on the pole, while the driver in twentieth might make a more concerted effort to hold them off.

The Coca-Cola 600 on 24 May will skip the random draw in favour of single-day qualifying. On the other hand, Charlotte Motor Speedway‘s following race three days later will also utilise the field invert.

The Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, which have expanded to 40 entries per race for those without qualifying, will follow their parent series with random draws based on owner’s points. At the Xfinity level, the pools are split into 1–12, 12–24, 25–36, and 37–40. The Trucks will go 1–10, 11–21, 22–32, and 33–40.

All three series will also use a special competition caution process to provide more time to teams to make adjustments that they otherwise would have done during practice and qualifying. For instance, there is no wave-around rule, while pit stops will be split in half with the top twenty pitting first. As long as the pitting driver leaves pit road before the pace car passes them, they may retain their position at the time of the yellow.

UPDATE (13 May): Upon clarification, only the top twenty finishers will have their starting positions inverted.

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Justin is neither a NASCAR nor off-road racer, but he has covered them for The Checkered Flag since 2018.
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