NASCAR is trying something new this week at Fontana

Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) /

NASCAR is utilizing a different qualifying format at Auto Club Speedway, which is scheduled to host its first Cup Series race since 2020.

After COVID-19-related restrictions wiped it off the 2021 schedule, the NASCAR Cup Series has returned to Auto Club Speedway for this Sunday afternoon’s WISE Power 400.

This could very well be the final race at the four-turn, 2.0-mile (3.219-kilometer) oval in Fontana, California, with plans to turn the track into a half-mile short track possibly before 2023. Those plans are still somewhat up in the air.

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This weekend also marks the return of a somewhat regular qualifying format, something the Cup Series hasn’t seen since 2019 before the pandemic.

Qualifying sessions were all but wiped off the schedule in 2020 after the sport returned from the unexpected 10-week hiatus caused by pandemic-related restrictions, and they only returned in a limited capacity in 2021.

But this weekend’s qualifying format, which is set to be used for most oval races throughout the rest of the 36-race season, is new for 2022.

Drivers are split into two groups based on the finishing order of the previous race (odd finishers in one group, even finishers in another).

In this single-car session, each driver will make a single-lap qualifying run, with the qualifying order determined by the same metric that had been used to set the starting lineups when qualifying sessions weren’t taking place in late 2020 and 2021.

The top five drivers in each group will then transfer to the final round. Each of those 10 remaining drivers will make another single-lap run in this round, and the fastest qualifier in this round takes the pole position.

The remainder of the results from this final round will set the remainder of the top 10 in the starting lineup. The drivers set to start in 11th place and lower are determined from the results of the two groups in the first round.

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Qualifying for the WISE Power 400 is set to be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 from Auto Club Speedway beginning at 2:35 p.m. ET this afternoon, and the race itself is set to be broadcast live on Fox beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET tomorrow afternoon. Now would be a great time to start your free trial of FuboTV!