Breaking down new ‘knockout-style format’ for 2022

Michelle R. Martinelli

NASCAR teams and fans who have been longing for the return of practice and qualifying on race weekends will be happy to know that both are back for the 2022 season, the governing body announced Friday.

But the formats are bit different than before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which forced NASCAR to limit travel days and the amount of time people spend together at the track. In 2022, all races in all three NASCAR national series will feature practice and qualifying, and it includes what NASCAR described as a “knockout-style” format.

“I miss it,” Martin Truex Jr. spoke out about qualifying and practice in advance of the championship race at Phoenix Raceway. “Miss hanging out with the guys, spending more time with them and really kind of getting in depth on getting the car right and what we think the track is going to do and all that kind of stuff. …

“Sometimes you go with a gut instinct and it doesn’t work, and then sometimes you go with a gut instinct and you kick everybody’s ass. You get the idea? We have at least a little bit more sanity in the car.

Kevin Harvick's No. 4 Ford and other cars are pushed to the grid ahead of qualifying for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship race.

Here’s a breakdown of NASCAR’s new practice and qualifying formats for the Cup Series during the 2022 season:

General setup for Cup qualifying in 2022 and practice in 2022

A look at the 2022 qualifying format in the NASCAR Cup Series.

As far as the premier Cup Series goes, most of the 36-race schedule will include practice and qualifying.

The race field will be divided into two groups based on the finishing order from the previous race for a combined two-hour practice and qualifying event, which will differ in format depending on the track.

But in addition to that, for six Cup Series weekends, there will be an expanded practice schedule with one more 50-minute practice. The same goes for five second-tier Xfinity Series weekends and eight third-tier Truck Series weekends.

Cup’s expanded weekends will be for the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race in April, at the newly added World Wide Technology Raceway (Gateway) in June, at Nashville Superspeedway in June and for the season finale at Phoenix Raceway in November.

NASCAR 2022 practice and qualifying format: Ovals

As previously mentioned, for Cup Series oval races — they make up most of the 36-race schedule — the field will be separated into two groups based on the odd- and even-numbered finishing order of the previous race.

Known as Group A and Group B, each subset will get 15 minutes of practice to start. Then they’ll move onto qualifying rounds where the top cars will transfer through to the final round.

Here’s how it’s broken down:

  • Qualifying Round 1: Group A single-car, one-lap qualifier with the top-5 drivers advancing to the Final Round.
  • Qualifying Round 1: Group B single-car, one-lap qualifier with the top-5 drivers advancing to the Final Round.
  • Qualifying Final Round: From the initial qualifying round, the top-10 drivers will then run a single-car, one-lap qualifier for the pole.
  • Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of six tracks that will have an extended practice session in 2022.

    Tracks that will use this format with one-lap qualifying are: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Auto Club Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway’s oval, Darlington Raceway, World Wide Technology Raceway (Gateway), Kansas Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, Pocono Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway.

    However, instead of getting just one lap, teams will get to run two laps during qualifying at Bristol Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway, Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway — tracks that are one mile or less.

    NASCAR 2022 practice and qualifying format: Road courses

    Similarly for road courses, the field will be divided into Group A and Group B, and they’ll each get 20 minutes of practice. Then…

  • Qualifying Round 1: Group A will run a 15-minute timed session with the top-5 drivers moving onto the Final Round.
  • Qualifying Round 1: Group B will run a 15-minute timed session with the top-5 drivers moving onto the Final Round.
  • Qualifying Final Round: The top-10 cars from the opening round will run a 10-minute timed qualifying session with the fastest car winning the pole.
  • The 2022 road-course race at Watkins Glen International is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 21.

    Road courses will be the only ones with multiple cars on the track at the same time for qualifying. And the races that will use this format are: Charlotte Motor Speedway’s roval, Circuit of the Americas, Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Road America, Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

    NASCAR 2022 practice and qualifying format: Superspeedways

    Qualifying at superspeedways — and the lone dirt race, but more on that in a second — are a little bit simpler than for the ovals and road courses. But there are still rounds with the top drivers advancing.

    Qualifying Round 1: All cars participate in a single-car, one-lap qualifier, and the top-10 drivers will transfer to the Final Round.

    Qualifying Final Round: The top-10 cars will run a single-car, one-lap qualifier with the fastest starting on the pole.

    Alex Bowman, right, and William Bryon, left, were the fastest drivers in pole qualifying for the 2021 Daytona 500.

    Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway are the only two tracks that will offer this practice and qualifying format.

    NASCAR 2022 practice and qualifying format: Dirt

    OK, so there’s only one dirt race on the schedule, and it’ll be the second of its kind at Bristol Motor Speedway. For that race, as we mentioned, there will be a different kind of practice. Here’s what it will look like for that April 2022 dirt race.

    The practice sessions will last 50 minutes. Four qualifying races will then be held to establish the field for Saturday’s main event. Random draw will determine who will compete in the qualifying races.

    Denny Hamlin, bottom left, leads the first lap during the 2021 Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
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