NASCAR mulls ban of Top-35 rule
INDIANAPOLIS -- NASCAR's rule guaranteeing the top 35 teams in the Sprint Cup series a spot in each race may be going away in 2013.
Vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said on Thursday that NASCAR is talking to teams about doing away with guaranteed starting spots in the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series with the hope of putting more emphasis on qualifying.
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How would NASCAR Nation react if one of the sport's megastars failed to qualify for a Cup race? That could happen if the league banishes the controversial Top-35 rule, David Newton writes. Story
"People want to see it go back to where speed gets you in,'' Pemberton said from the infield at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Pemberton did not discuss specifics of the new qualifying rules, but sources close to the situation told ESPN.com one plan is to have the top 38 cars get in on speed with one past champions provisional and four provisionals for the top four drivers in points that didn't make it on speed.
Under the current system in Cup, the top 35 teams are guaranteed a spot in the field regardless of whether they run a qualifying lap or not. That number is 30 for Nationwide and 25 for Trucks.
The system was put in place in 2005 to assure full-time teams with big-name drivers and big sponsors did not miss the race.
Faced with declining attendance for qualifying and complaints from fans that don't like the system, NASCAR recently began talking to teams about changes for next year.
Pemberton said most teams are open to the change, understanding with fewer cars being sent home each week than in 2005 the risk of missing the race is far less.
"Performance and speed is what people want to see it takes to get you in a race," he said.
If the top-35 rule is eliminated, cars inside the top 35 at the end of 2012 won't be guaranteed a spot in the first five races of 2013 as has been the case in the past. Pemberton said that won't totally eliminate owners purchasing numbers for the Daytona 500, where points are used from the previous season, but the need won't be as great.
Pemberton said NASCAR also is talking to teams about adding testing in 2013. The governing body eliminated open testing a few years ago to keep the playing field level at a time when smaller teams couldn't afford to test as often as the big teams.
But with the economy turning around and teams testing at non-sanctioned tracks anyway, Pemberton said there's a good chance NASCAR will schedule tests at a few sanctioned tracks.