It’s another example of the new normal – at least for now: elimination of practice and qualifying for most NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck races due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
While most crew chiefs might like to keep practice and qualifying to optimally set up cars for race day, some drivers seem to be of the opposite mindset.
“From a driver standpoint, I personally like it like a lot of (drivers) because I feel it puts a little more in the driver’s hands because everybody starts off on an even playing field, nobody’s car is going to drive perfectly, you have to figure it out and adapt,” Xfinity Series driver Chase Briscoe said during a Thursday media conference call. “It’s super important for the crew chief and team to unload somewhat close because you have to still be close, you can’t be way off in left field and still make something happen.
“But yeah, I think we could definitely limit practice. Looking back on it, if I was a rookie and at a place like Darlington, it would be tough to just start the race and figure it out. I think 15-20 minutes, maybe, of practice, just enough to make sure your travels are set, and you’re not going to bottom out or anything crazy. And then the drivers get at least a look at the track and just shake everything down.
“Maybe that’s a potential thing we can do down the road to shorten practice. … It takes me back to my dirt racing days where you show up, you get two laps (of practice) and you’re racing. I’ve enjoyed it, I feel like it’s been good for our team because we’re typically pretty close in practice as it is, so it’s been good for us.”
Veteran drivers like reigning Truck Series champ Matt Crafton also likes the run-what-you-brung aspect.
“It’s interesting how we’ve done this, like with Charlotte, we went with what we’ve known and what we’ve ran with the last couple years, and the baseline setup and what we ended up with and started from there,” Crafton said in the teleconference. “I think it’s a lot harder for some of the rookies that don’t have a whole lot of notebook to lean on.
“It’s a good thing for the veterans to have more of a notebook, but I love it (no practice or qualifying), to be honest. It’s kind of a cool thing that we’re doing with no practice. The last time we did that was at Kentucky (2015) and I actually won the race because it was rained out practice and qualifying. Under the circumstances we’re going through right now, I’m glad at least we’re racing.”
Fellow Truck Series driver Zane Smith, who earned a career-best third-place finish last week at Charlotte, said not having practice is “100% absolutely” a disadvantage for rookie drivers not to have practice or qualifying – but he’s also quickly learned to adapt.
“This deal kind of sucks for me, but I’ve always kind of liked where you line ‘em up and race,” Smith said. “It’s kind of like you’ve got what you’ve got and figure out as soon as you can.
“That’s what I did in Charlotte. … I tested at Atlanta not too long ago and that was my first time on a mile-and-a-half in a truck. But racing a truck and driving a truck are two entirely different things.”
Still, Smith found a bit of humor about racing Saturday at Atlanta without practice and qualifying.
“I can’t wait to see my heart rate right after Stage 1,” Smith, who turns 21 next Tuesday, said with a chuckle. “I have this Apple Watch and it tracks all that and it’s kind of cool to see after the race.
“I could tell I was out of breath after Stage 1 (last week at Charlotte) from starting near the back and coming to the front. But at least this time, I think I’ll start top 10 because they changed the points deal, so that’ll make my job a lot easier – I hope.”