NASCAR's vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton, has announced many changes for 2013 in a press conference this afternoon.
The biggest affects how the Sprint Cup Series fields will be set. Instead of the Top-35 rule, (which ran its course long ago) NASCAR has implemented a system similar to the system prior to the Top-35 rule, which was based on provisionals.
Every week, the 36-fastest qualifiers will be locked into the field no matter what. Then the remaining six spots from 37-42 will be based on owner's points, with no limits on how many provisionals a team can use. Then 43rd will be reserved for the most recent past-champion not already locked into the race.
From 2012, they will use owner's points for the first three races, a change from five as in the top-35 rule.
This change will benefit Danica Patrick greatly, especially in the first three races, when Patrick will be using Ryan Newman's owner's points from the 39 car.
In the old system, if Danica was 36th in owner's points, and the slowest qualifier, then she'd miss the race. But now with this new system, Patrick doesn't need to be fast, just higher in owner's points.
If she qualifies 46th out of 46, but is higher than 43 in owner's points, the chances of missing the race are slim to none.
This benefits her greatly, a big reason why NASCAR made this change.
This will also affect the "start-and-park" teams, which have been under growing scrutiny.
Teams that were "go-or-go-homers," who were trying to actually race, were losing out to teams who were there to just park. For example, once this year, Scott Speed's No. 95 team tried to actually race, and failed to qualify.
Why? Because during practice, that team was making race runs and qualifying runs, while the 98 and 87 teams were just solely focused on qualifying. So Speed's team lost out, because they were trying to race. And because that team was running a partial schedule, the fact that they were racing meant nothing.
In this new format, racing will benefit a team who runs over the start-and-park teams.
Pemberton also announced changes to the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
The fields in each race will be shrunk from 43 to 40. This is a big change for the series, and will further help eliminate the start-and-park teams, especially Curtis Key and Rick Ware, who run four cars every week, parking the ones without sponsorship. The same thing was happening in the Nationwide Series with qualifying, too.
But the top-30 and Top-25 rules in the Nationwide Truck Series will remain in place.
Also, Nationwide and Truck series teams will be allowed to have two tests each, and a third additional test for rookies in each series.
Ultimately, testing will help performance. Since the testing ban, performance in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series has been down significantly. This will help teams who spend the money to test.
Yes, the smaller teams will be hurt some, but it will ultimately be better for them, as they will gain valuable practice information.
It will also make the Sprint Cup Chase more competitive. Right now, teams are using the "regular-season" races as test sessions. The teams who weren't are at a disadvantage.
Now, everyone can test at certain race tracks. This will help competition, which is still why people turn on the race.
That being said, the qualifying format wouldn't have been changed if the other system benefited Danica Patrick more than this one. Anyone who disagrees with that needs to think about this in a business sense.