CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR on Tuesday announced competition changes for 2013 that includes the elimination of the top 35 qualifying rule and a reduced field size in the Nationwide Series.
Starting next season, the top 35 cars in owners’ points will no longer be guaranteed a spot in the Sprint Cup field. NASCAR will use a 36-6-1 format in which the fastest 36 cars make the race on speed. The next six highest ranking cars in owners points not already qualified then earn a starting spot, followed by the most recent eligible past champion driver.
“This is a big win for our fans,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “They’ll see the fastest cars earn their starting spots. This change adds intrigue, drama and excitement to qualifying.”
In the Nationwide Series, NASCAR will only allow a maximum of 40 cars to race each week instead of 43. The change cuts three cars from the field who likely would have started then parked shortly after with no intention of attempting to race.
“We feel to strengthen the ownership base it’s best served to reduce that field to 40 cars,” said Pemberton. “It gives us an opportunity to put what we feel is a better quality field of cars in play at those Nationwide events.”
The Sprint Cup fields will remain at 43 cars and the Truck Series field will stay at 36 trucks.
Among other changes announced Tuesday:
• The Sprint Cup Series qualifying order will be based on random draw instead of practice speeds.
• If qualifying is rained out, the field will be set by the rule book but the starting order for the race will be determined by practice speeds.
• Last year’s owner points will be used to set provisionals for the first three races; the rules currently have last year’s points carry over for the first five races.
NASCAR also opened its testing policy for next season. Teams had been banned from testing at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks since 2009 as a cost-cutting move, but beginning next season Sprint Cup teams will be allowed four tests at tracks that hold NASCAR races.
Nationwide and Truck Series teams will be allowed two tests, and teams with rookie drivers will get one additional test. NASCAR also will pick two tracks to open one day early for testing at the start of a race weekend.
“We feel like it’s time to open that up and allow the teams to manage their testing and get back to facilities that host our events,” Pemberton said. “We made the decision at the end of 2008 to restrict testing, primarily for economic reasons. Now we believe it will be best for the garage and for the tracks to have some testing return in 2013.”
Earnhardt sees specialist
Dale Earnhardt Jr. visited a noted concussion specialist in Pittsburgh on Tuesday as part of the planned rehabilitation program to get NASCAR's most popular driver back in a car.
Hendrick Motorsports confirmed that Earnhardt met with Dr. Micky Collins, the clinical and executive director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
Collins is one of the leading experts in the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of athletes who have suffered concussions. He and Dr. Mark Lovell developed the ImPACT test now used by many professional sports leagues, including the NFL, to assess concussions and determine when an injured athlete can safely return to play.
Earnhardt was accompanied by neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty, the doctor who would not clear Earnhardt to race last week because of two concussions suffered over the past six weeks. Earnhardt did not seek treatment for the first one, suffered in an Aug. 29 crash at a tire test at Kansas. He went to see Petty last week because of a lingering headache following a 25-car crash in the Oct. 7 race at Talladega.
Earnhardt missed Saturday night's race at Charlotte, and will miss this weekend's race at Kansas, too. The injury snapped his streak of 461 consecutive starts, which was the fifth longest active streak in the Sprint Cup Series.
Petty said last week that Earnhardt could not be cleared to race again until he's gone at least four days headache-free, then goes through testing. After that, Earnhardt would get back in a car and “drive a lap or two and see how that goes, and if that goes well, we'll probably clear him to race,” Petty said then.
After visiting UPMC on Tuesday, Earnhardt, a rabid Washington Redskins fan, had lunch at the Pittsburgh Steelers facility. The Steelers tweeted a picture of Earnhardt meeting coach Mike Tomlin in the lunch room, calling him “a surprise lunch time guest.”