Drivers not in top 35 in owners' points to share track in qualifying
CONCORD, N.C. -- Michael Waltrip suggested last season that drivers outside the top 35 in owners' points should be allowed to qualify together so nobody would have an advantage in track conditions.NASCAR officials must have listened. The governing body kicked off its annual media tour by announcing that those outside the top 35 in all three series -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and Craftsman Truck Series -- will qualify at the end of their respective session. As America's No. 1 auto racing series heads into a new season, chairman Brian France said he wants the attention to return to the competition after several years of tweaks to the 60-year-old series.
"We want the focus to be on the best product in the world," France said. "We want the story lines of the sport to be the focus."The announcement was immediately embraced by drivers. "Now we know we aren't going to miss or make the show because of track temperatures or where we draw in the qualifying order," said Patrick Carpentier, a former open-wheel star who will begin his first NASCAR season outside the top 35 in points.
"We are all going out when the track is about the same. NASCAR is trying to make things as fair as it can, and that's something I am always going to support."It also was announced that teams will be provided tires for testing at non-sanctioned NASCAR tests. Sprint Cup teams will be given 200 tires, Nationwide teams 160 and Craftsman Truck Series teams 120. There will be a slight tweak to the pit road rules. Over-the-wall crews will be limited to three pit box lengths to push cars off of pit road. Outside tires removed can no longer be free rolled to the pit box wall. Also, NASCAR will donate all driver fines to the NASCAR foundation as a part of the sport's charitable initiative. The average year's fines amount to about $200,000 while last year's total was nearly $1 million.
NASCAR also wants its drivers to feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of penalty. Since NASCAR began penalizing for cursing on live television, there's been a reluctance for drivers to speak their minds.
"We want the drivers to be themselves," president Mike Helton said. "The character of the sport is built by all the drivers that participate, as well as owners. But I think part of NASCAR's responsibility is for us to keep our hands around the entirety of the sport.
"NASCAR is in that same position, as is other sports. When you see things escalating, you react in accordance to that until you feel good about the environment that you've got, you've got your hands around it, then you're able to give a little bit of breathing room."David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.