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At least eight NASCAR races to include practice and qualifying in 2021

Oakville, ON, Jan 9/21 (GRW): As things slowly get back to normal this year, NASCAR has announced that eight of their Cup Series races will include practice and qualifying. Last year, once the pandemic protocols came in, only one race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte had a qualifying session to set the starting lineup. In every other case none of the NASCAR national series races had practice or qualifying sessions, teams simply unloaded the cars off the trucks and went straight to the start of the race itself.

The eight races designated so far for practice and qualifying are:

• Feb. 14: Daytona 500
• March 28: Bristol Motor Speedway dirt
• May 23: Circuit of the Americas
• May 30: Coca-Cola 600, Charlotte Motor Speedway
• June 20: Nashville Superspeedway
• July 4: Road America
• Aug. 15: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course
• Nov. 7: Phoenix Raceway

Presumably, these practice and qualifying sessions will be televised in addition to the actual race broadcast as before.

Plans to potentially include practice and/or qualifying at NASCAR Xfinity Series or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events will be determined at a later date.

I note that some of NASCAR’s ‘major’ events have been included – the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the Phoenix season finale. In all the other cases, these are events which are being run on a race track which will be new to the NASCAR Cup cars this year, mostly road courses. So it makes sense to give the teams a chance to get used to running on these ‘new to Cup’ venues.

For my part, I have long questioned the need for NASCAR’s qualifying sessions except as a device to sell more tickets on Saturday. Given the semi-endurance race nature of these NASCAR races, the starting position is of little or no significance; a fast car starting at the back of the field is normally able to get up to the front before the end of the first Stage. However, I hold the opposite view about practice. These NASCAR-style cars are not set up entirely by the computer like F1 cars are. The normal practice is to set up the cars as well as they can back in the shop and then, during practice at the track, they fine-tune them into racing form. This is part of the essence of this style of NASCAR racing.

Remember NASCAR forbids teams from conducting any private testing sessions. This is an especially big problem for drivers new to the Cup Series who have to somehow learn how to drive these cars which are built to different rules than the Xfinity or ARCA cars they may have been driving.

My vote would be for practice sessions, at least, to be included for every Cup race on the schedule. And, if the logic applies to Cup Series competition, it applies even more to the other two national series which have a large contingent of less-experienced drivers. It seems crazy to expect all of these drivers to adapt to the cars and the tracks only once the green flag drops to start the race.

Of course, right now, no one knows how the effects fo the pandemic will play out over the 2021 season. I hope that, if racing is deemed to be possible, that practice sessions (and qualifying as well, I guess) will return as a standard part of any NASCAR race weekend. Even if this means that drivers and crew members might need to sleep in their cars!

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