Getting ready for racing’s rule changes

The Daytona 500 goes green in less than two weeks, so it’s time to get up to speed on some of the changes in the NASCAR rule book for 2013.

Like all sports, NASCAR examines its rules for issues like safety, fairness and improving the level of competition. But racing has even more shareholders to please than most sports, with 43 teams in each race and literally hundreds of sponsors who make it possible for the teams to compete, not to mention car and parts manufacturers, fuel providers, track facilities and more.

The Daytona 500 marks the debut of the sixth generation race car, a departure from the “car of tomorrow” with an emphasis on getting back to the stock car concept that made NASCAR great. The racing Chevy SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry will more closely resemble the cars you could see on the real road.

They’ll boast new paint schemes with the driver’s name on the windshield, team numbers on the bumpers, and clean headlights and taillights.

The need for speed may sound cliche, especially in racing, but it becomes tantamount to success under the new Sprint Cup qualifying system, which removes the favoritism of the series point standings in determining the starting line-up.

For the last eight seasons, the top 35 cars in owner’s points were guaranteed a spot in the field on race day. This year, the first 36 spots will be decided on qualifying times alone.

That leaves only seven provisional slots in the lineup.

Six of those will be decided by owners’ points – the other spot is reserved for the most recent series champion who does not qualify by speed.

This adds a twist to Daytona 500 qualifying. In the past, the Duels have set starting position with little chance that a place-winner from the previous year would not make the field. Now they are true qualifiers.

A mishap not only moves drivers to the back of the field, it may oust them from the starting line-up altogether.

In a preseason news release, NASCAR vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton praised the new format as a bonus for fans: “They’ll see the fastest cars earn their starting spots,” he said. “This change adds intrigue, drama and excitement to qualifying.”

Particularly for Daytona, where drivers will be riding a fine line between putting the pedal to the metal and playing it safe to get their best spot possible for race day without ruining their weekend and their start of the season. The new system adds even more value to the traditional qualifying day, which locks in the front row for the 500.

Drivers will be adjusting to the new rules while balancing healthy competition against hot-headed aggression, so as with all change, tensions and tempers could be riding high come race day.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.