Red17, humble apologies, I neglected that some of the posts were from our overseas NASCAR fans. OTOH, nosaj has no such excuse!
Short track racing is not as common in europe as it is the US. I very much doubt it exists in more than a half a dozen countries on this side Jim.
It's been ages since I watched a full race and it was in the internet. It's tricky keeping up with the latest definition of hole/whatever in Formula 1, let alone keep up with short track. Not that I don't like short track, but it's nearly impossible for me to watch due to availability and shedules.
I cant even watch the V8 Supercar races that have been streamed live for free because it was bloody late for me!
Transferring cars through heats is a very common short track format for some time. The "progressive heat" format has been around more than 40 years. Some tracks/associations used heat races for starting positions in the feature. Some they seemed there simply for tune-up or simply to fill out the program.
When using the "progressive" format, the heats were quite exciting. When not, not so much. Interestingly, open wheel had a tendency to do this format far more than stock cars. Stock car associations rarely used the progressive format, at least until latter era dirt stocks.