Saturday’s Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Sonoma Raceway this weekend is different than what fans have been used to in years past.
Instead of the traditional single-car runs, drivers will be set into groups based on practice speeds and take the track for five minutes – which will approximately be three laps – to set the starting order for Sunday’s race.
While the format is new to the Sprint Cup Series, it’s far from new to NASCAR as the Nationwide Series and NASCAR’s touring series’ have used the format in recent years.
“I guess if you make a mistake it gives you a second chance,” said Marcos Ambrose Friday about the format that will be used both this weekend and at Watkins Glen in August.
“In the original one-lap format, if you made a mistake and you lost a second, you could lose 20 spots on the starting grid.”
Ambrose, who won the pole for the Sonoma race in 2012, said the new format shouldn’t change the the drivers we see up at the front of the grid.
“With this format, I guess if you make a mistake you’ve got a second lap to make amends,” he said.
“You may not get the pole and you may not go as fast as you could have on the first lap, but you’re still gonna minimize the position loss.”
Despite the groups for qualifying based on practice speed (which should mean all cars in a group would be relatively the same speed), there could be potential problems if a driver spins or his considerably faster than other cars in said group.
“If you’re gonna wait until one minute to go to bust off your lap, you’re gonna have guys out there roaming around coming into the pits or trying to cool their stuff down,” he said.
In order for no driver’s lap to have interference, NASCAR will have a five-second gap in between each car when initially sending them onto the track for qualifying.
“I think it’s a good idea. Just for the fans, it all goes back to the fans,” said defending race winner, Clint Bowyer.
“They want to see us on the racetrack and when we go behind those billboards on the drag strip and pull on halfway down the backstraight and make a run for it, then they don’t see us very much.
“It’s good for the fans and it’s good for us because we get to get into a rhythm.”
Qualifying groups for Saturday’s qualifying. *Groups set from slowest to fastest*
Group 1: David Stremme, Victor Gonzalez Jr., Justin Marks, Paulie Harraka, JJ Yeley,Tomy Drissi
Group 2: David Ragan, David Gilliland, Boris Said, David Reutimann, Josh Wise, Alex Kennedy
Group 3: Ron Fellows, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jason Bowles, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jacques Villeneuve, Danica Patrick
Group 4: Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton, Travis Kvapil, Bobby Labonte, Aric Almirola
Group 5: Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne
Group 6: Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Paul Menard
Group 7: Greg Biffle, Brad Keselowski Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano
Group 8: Marcos Ambrose, Juan Pablo Montoya, Casey Mears, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray