Rainier Ehrhardt, Associated Press
TALLADEGA, Ala. — NASCAR met briefly with drivers Saturday morning at Talladega Superspeedway to discuss new rules and procedures that will be implemented next season.
Among the changes is the return of a random draw to set the qualifying order, and the elimination of the top-35 qualifying rule. NASCAR instead plans to revert to the old system of setting the top 36 spots in the field on speed, then filling the remaining spots with six provisionals based on points and a provisional for a past champion.
There will be no limit as to how many times a driver can use a qualifying provisional.
Ryan Newman believes the introduction of the new 2013 car will prevent an ongoing threat of top teams failing to qualify for a race.
"I don't think that it's going to be a big issue at all to start the season because with the new cars, I don't see us having an extra surplus of cars," he said. "I don't see 48 or 50 cars each and every week. I see 43, maybe 44, so I don't think it's going to be a deal-breaker at all."
But Martin Truex Jr. doesn't support the random draw, and prefers the current format of setting qualifying order based on practice speeds.
"I'm not a fan of it because I like being able to — if you have a fast car determine when you're going to go out if you can," Truex said.
Other things discussed Saturday with the drivers was the new testing policy, which will allow an organization to pick four tracks and Daytona where they'd like to test. Teams can bring two cars per car number to the test, but can't have the correct tires for the test unless the tire codes have already been used at an earlier event.
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson praised the return of testing.
"Being at the track is good," he said. "We need to test at the race tracks we're racing on and on the right tire. We're going to test, regardless, and a test at the wrong track on the wrong tire makes no sense. So this is a great step in the right direction."
HOW TO HANDLE FRUSTRATION: Denny Hamlin had the same fuel mileage problems as teammate Kyle Busch last week at Dover.
Hamlin just didn't voice his frustration the same was as Busch, who launched into a profanity-laced tirade against manufacturer Toyota over his team radio. Busch issued an apology four days later, and Hamlin took to Twitter in defense of some of the criticism being levied against his teammate.
"It would be very hard for anyone in here and any fan to go out there and lead three-quarters of the race and then something that you have no control over takes you out of it," Hamlin said at Talladega. "Because as a driver you did your job, but unfortunately something else kept you from winning so I understand those frustrations."
Busch had to make a late stop for gas after dominating Sunday's race at Dover, and Hamlin also had to make a fuel stop. But the Dodge of winner Brad Keselowski and the Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson both got better mileage and neither had to make late stops for gas.
Hamlin didn't think Busch's message was on point, but could empathize with Busch's frustration.
"When you vent and you are frustrated, it hurts the team more than you realize and I think that when the team gets frustrated, it's hard to get that chemistry back," Hamlin said. "We all know our weaknesses. The problems that are going on with fuel mileage and this that and the other, those are things that we're all working on. It's not like one statement will make someone work harder at their job at that particular time — it's not."
UNHAPPY HARVICK: Kevin Harvick has a long way to go to get back in the championship race, but he doesn't seem to think that's a possibility this season.
Harvick goes into Sunday's race at Talladega trailing leader Brad Keselowski by 46 points in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings. A driver can only earn 48 points in one race.
So what's wrong with Richard Childress Racing?
"I don't have time to tell you," Harvick said.
His No. 29 team has had some upheaval this season, which opened with Shane Wilson as crew chief. But in August RCR brought back Gil Martin, who was replaced by Wilson at the start of the year, and there's only two top-10 finishes to show for the change.
So Harvick hopes RCR soon fills the hole created when competition director Scott Miller moved to Michael Waltrip Racing late last year.
"I think that definitely would be the key piece to start at," Harvick said. "A lot of it comes with that piece falling into place and structure. When you don't have that guy in there, it just didn't pan out the way that we all thought it would pan out and mesh together. It just kind of became a little bit more disruptive than I think everybody had anticipated.
"Richard and those guys are working hard on putting back structure and pieces in places and trying to get everything where it needs to be. It's a big machine."
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