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New NASCAR group qualifying format set

This year’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, taking place June 20 through 22 at Sonoma Raceway, will feature a new group qualifying format, which NASCAR hopes will enhance the fan experience for the popular motorsport. Bill Hoban/Index-Tribune

This year’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, taking place June 20 through 22 at Sonoma Raceway, will feature a new group qualifying format, which NASCAR hopes will enhance the fan experience for the popular motorsport. Bill Hoban/Index-Tribune

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Sonoma Raceway’s highest attended major event, the popular NASCAR Toyota/Save Mart 350 weekend, highlights the 2014 Big O Tires racing season, and with its recent announcement of a new group qualifying format, NASCAR hopes to enhance the fan experience for the featured motorsport.

The new group qualifying format has been established for NASCAR’s three national series is more compelling and more closely emulates actual on-track competition and underlines the sport’s ongoing commitment to innovation.

Under the new procedure, at tracks measuring 1.25 miles in length or larger, including Sonoma Raceway, qualifying will consist of three elimination rounds to determine the starting grid.

For the Toyota/Save Mart 350, taking place Friday through Sunday, June 20 to 22, drivers will hit the track for two practice sessions on Great Clips Fast Friday followed by Lean1 Pole Day qualifying on Saturday.

With the new format, the first qualifying elimination round will be 25 minutes in duration and includes all cars. The 24 cars that post the fastest single lap will advance to the second round. Top lap speeds will be reset between each round.

Then the remaining cars will be sorted based on their times posted in the first round of qualifying in descending order.

The second qualifying elimination round will be 10 minutes in duration and the 12 cars that post the fastest single lap time will advance to the final round. The fastest remaining cars earn positions 13 through 24 based on their times posted in qualifying in descending order.

The third and final qualifying round will be five minutes in duration and the fastest single lap time will determine positions 1 through 12 in descending order. The fastest driver in the final round will earn the pole position for the race.

There will be a five-minute break between each qualifying round.

“There is a lot for our fans to like about the new format – suspense, strategy and plenty of action on the track.  This will be a terrific addition to the overall storyline of the weekend,” said Steve Page, president and general manager of Sonoma Raceway.

Sonoma Raceway’s 2014 major events schedule will open with the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival on May 17 and 18, then following the NASCAR event will be the annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals weekend July 25 through 27, preceded by the NHRA Division 7 Drag Races July 18 through 20.

The IndyCar Series, featuring the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, comes to the Valley the weekend of Aug. 22 through 24; while the FIA World Touring Car Championship takes place Sept. 20 to 21; and the Classic Sports Racing Group Charity Challenge is set for Oct. 4 and 5.

For details on 2014 tickets; getting an early start in renewing Toyota/Save Mart 350 tickets or sign up for priority pre-sale; or for general Sonoma Raceway information, call 800-870-RACE (7223), or visit racesonoma.com or ticketmaster.com.