New Sprint Cup Qualifying Format Makes Highly Anticipated Debut

Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway promises to be a knockout. The forecast calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s, ideal weather to watch all the fast-paced action on the 2.66-mile trioval. And there will be plenty of action to see. In addition to races in both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, Saturday marks the Talladega Superspeedway debut of the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying format in which drivers will hit the track in packs rather than one at a time.

Under this new format – dubbed “knockout qualifying" – all 47 cars that are entered in Sunday’s running of the Aaron’s 499 will be on the track for the initial qualifying run, ensuring plenty of the same type of thrilling pack racing that fans have grown accustomed to at Talladega Superspeedway on race day. The fastest 24 cars during the first session will advance to the second round, then the 12 quickest in that session will move on to the final round. The driver who posts the fastest lap during the final session will win the pole position for the Aaron’s 499.

This new qualifying format has been met with rave reviews at other tracks for the excitement it creates compared to single-car qualifying. And that excitement is expected to intensify at Talladega Superspeedway, the longest, fastest track on the Sprint Cup Series circuit, where drivers were topping 200 mph during practice on Friday.

“Qualifying will be very exciting," said six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, winner of the 2011 Aaron’s 499. “I don’t know what is going to exactly happen. But to win the pole, you’re going to have to go out there and race. We wanted to come here with a plan in place of how we’re going to qualify, but our opinion seems to change every 15 minutes."

Indeed, drivers will now have to develop a strategy for their qualifying sessions much like they do for the race. That is one of the reasons there is so much intrigue surrounding Saturday’s qualifying. Since this is a new format, even the drivers are uncertain how things will play out.

“I don’t think anybody has any answers right now," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., a five-time winner at Talladega Superspeedway. “The guy who gets the pole is going to have to hit it just right."

“There’s a lot of strategy that’s going to go into this," said Joey Logano, who already has two Sprint Cup victories this year. “You’ve got to be on your toes throughout the whole session."

And with the level of excitement that will be created by the new knockout qualifying format, it is likely that the fans will be on their feet throughout the entire session.

Saturday’s track activities begin at 10 a.m. with the ARCA Racing Series International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200. Sprint Cup qualifying is scheduled to begin at 12:10 p.m., followed by the Aaron’s 312 Nationwide Series race at 2 p.m.

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