When NASCAR Cup Series drivers hit the track for qualifying and practice at Bristol, it will be the first time they’ve done so since Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway in February. But instead of traditional qualifying setting the grid for Sunday’s main event, the grid will be set based on the outcome of four 15-lap heat races.
The starting order for Saturday’s heat races will be determined by random draw, but the lineup for Sunday’s feature will be based on a combination of “passing points” and points a driver earns for his finishing position in the heat race. The winner of a heat race will collect 10 points while the driver who finishes second will earn nine, etc., all the way down to 1 point for the 10th-place finisher. Passing points are the difference between a driver’s assigned starting position and finishing position in his heat race. So a driver who finishes better than where he started in his heat will be awarded passing points. A driver who finishes in the same position or in a worse position than where he started his heat race will earn no passing points.
“The heat races, they’ll be challenging,” Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon said. “It’s a short amount of time, and you’ll want to get as many passing points as you can. Your starting position matters at any type of racing level. I think the whole process is going to be fun. I’m not really worried about where we start, though, because I feel like if you do your job and practice that you should be able to move forward through the race.”