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Making the show at ‘Dega

From a competition standpoint, one of the most radical changes we’ll see on the track this year will come Saturday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway.

For the first time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, we’ll see the new knockout qualifying format in use at a restrictor-plate race track (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET on FOX). That ensures that times trials at Talladega will look nothing like the single-car qualifying we’ve seen in the past.

To achieve maximum speeds and thereby advance to subsequent rounds, drivers will have to draft in packs. Typically, the more cars in the draft, the faster they’ll go.

All cars entered in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race will take part in the first session, which will narrow the field to 24.

Round two will cut the number of drivers eligible for the pole to 12. What will be fascinating to watch is the way teams and cars representing each manufacturer choose to work together as the groups of cars grow progressively smaller.

Knockout time trials already have been an unqualified success at open-motor venues, and drivers expect proceedings to be even more frenetic at the plate tracks.

What’s more, the entire Cup qualifying session will be compressed into a window of roughly one hour, a far cry from the single-car sessions that typically have lasted between two and three hours.