To train and qualify, or not to practice and qualify is the debate in NASCAR
Jared C. TiltonGetty Images
- Until COVID-19, every NASCAR race had practice and qualifying
- One-day shows became the norm in 2020
- A total of 8 races will have practice and qualifying this season
Something happened at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday that is becoming a rarity in NASCAR workouts. NASCAR’s top three touring series took to the track for a practice session. The NASCAR Truck Series followed that up with a qualifying session ahead of their race on Friday night. The Xfinity and Cup series qualified for their respective races on Saturday.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the NASCAR show included a few practice sessions and a qualifying session leading to a multi-day affair before the race. But as part of the process to get racing back on track when the pandemic shut the world off last year, NASCAR condensed the normal schedule by moving to single-day shows with a limited crew in a bubble and drivers showing up, getting in the car and racing.
Now that the world is opening up again, as part of NASCAR’s “new normal”, the condensed calendar has become something of a hybrid. When the sanctioning body announced its radical new schedule for 2021 late last year, there was only one day left for training or qualifying sessions. But eight races in 2021 added the most to training and qualifying on new tracks.
This week’s Coca-Cola 600 is one of eight training and qualifying weekends. Already this year sessions were held at the opening of the Daytona 500 season, the Bristol dirt race and last week at the Circuit of the Americas. Teams and drivers have been through a lot on weekends with and without practice and qualifying since NASCAR returned in May. However, anyone looking for a consensus among these drivers and teams, will not find one.
Charlotte marks the first practice session and qualifying has taken place for the second week in a row since last March.
“It wasn’t exactly like that, obviously,” said Kevin Harvick. “But I’ve been as busy this month as I have been throughout my career… being here to train is different than it has been and I’m happy to see my guys and to be able to be in the garage. and go there. through some things, instead of just jumping in and jumping.
Martin Truex Jr. has won three times in Charlotte, included in those wins are two Coke 600 wins, one of which was training for the rest of the field as he led 392 of the 400 laps of the race. Truex enjoys working out but doesn’t think the sessions will really change anything.
“It was good, but we’re not going to do a lot of different things,” Truex said. “I would say we haven’t really come here with a driving experience. I think the guys who really needed to find something are probably happier that we practiced because maybe they tried some things that they really wanted. We really didn’t go down that road. We weren’t too far off on a limb. From this point of view, I would have been fine without practice.
“I’m good without it,” said Alex Bowman. “It’s not something that I really missed. I have a feeling for a long time I have felt like we ended up running what we unloaded, about half the time anyway. So less practice the better in my opinion. I mean, I think the race is pretty much the same either way.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., however, enjoys training and qualifying, pointing out that it gives him and his team a chance to learn.
“We tried stuff in Kansas and Darlington that I would have preferred to try in practice, it didn’t work in those places; I felt like we had abandoned two races there. So we felt like we learned something yesterday and can’t wait to see if what we learned pays off. “
Kyle Larson said on Friday he would prefer not to train. On Saturday Larson won pole for Sunday’s 600. After his ninth career pole, Larson clarified what he meant.
“I think if we were to wrestle this year I would want as much practice as possible,” he said. “But with us being as quick as we have been, I think it’s more opportunities for others to get better and potentially for us to get worse. We could also improve, but I think we have more to lose than other people with training. This is why I appreciate that the program is as it is now, and we are not training a lot throughout this year.
The schedule calls for four more practice and qualifying weekends, with the next in a few weeks when NASCAR heads to Nashville Superspeedway for the first time the Cup Series has raced there in 37 years.
“Training there will be good because we don’t have a lot of data for this location,” Larson said. “I only tested there. I never ran. And the last time I tested it was probably in 2013, so it will be good to familiarize yourself with this track. But coming to a place like this, where we have tricks and stuff, I’d rather not practice. I think it shows with our results yesterday and today, our team is really strong and very fast at the moment.
Charlotte marks the first time that the NASCAR garage has been opened to more people and regardless of the side of the argument, all drivers agree that this is a very good thing.
“I was talking to someone earlier, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t seen you in two years.’ Joey Logano laughs. “Seeing someone walking around in the garage, practicing, all of you being able to come and talk to us is a first, especially without a mask. It’s nice to see everyone’s faces again and not zoom in. I’m on the zoom. I moved on. I like it. It’s nice that we have the ability to do it, but it’s nothing like a face to face.
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