The rules changes scheduled for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season creating reduced engine power with boosted drag and downforce promise to make drafting much more important. It should be such an important factor, in fact, that NASCAR may need to go back to single-car-style qualifying at many tracks for the first time since adopting multi-round group qualifying in 2014 in an effort to prevent drafting during qualifying.
NASCAR officials were mum early in the offseason about specific changes to the Cup qualifying format but acknowledged that it was under consideration. More on-track testing was needed before a decision could be made.
Last season, all Cup tracks but Daytona and Talladega featured group qualifying consisting of two or three rounds. Teams were given an allotted amount of time to enter the track as much and whenever they pleased, with the top 24 and then top 12, respectively, advancing to the next round. At the superspeedways, teams participated in qualifying one car at a time with just a single timed lap per round. The top 12 advanced to an additional single-lap session. There were two group qualifying rounds at road course events.
Though NASCAR briefly allowed drafting during qualifying sessions when the group qualifying was introduced in 2014, it soon banned the practice by using the single-lap system after crashes and wonky pit road strategy began to sow chaos in the system. The current single-lap qualifying system does typically run quicker than the pre-2014 single-car system due to the single-lap limit and NASCAR officials sending the next qualifier on track as soon as possible once the previous qualifier has started a hot lap.