The lack of practice has drastically altered the way that these NASCAR races have looked in the COVID-19 era. While I get the notion to just skip practicing all together, heck even the drivers and crew more times than not are welcoming to just showing up and racing what you brought, it’s starting to grow a little more difficult for the teams that have crew chief swaps this past offseason.
Joey Logano, a recent Cup Series champion, said as much on his side of things on Friday. Team Penske swapped all three driver and crew chief combos this past offseason and when the old normal race weekend schedule was around, Logano and Paul Wolfe won two of the first four points paying races. In the nine races after, all not having any practice, they’ve had just one top five combined.
“I look at coming out of the gates, especially the 22 car since I can speak to that the most since I drive that one, with Paul Wolfe and that whole team we came out of the gates super strong being able to win at Vegas and right after in Phoenix, getting a Duel win down in Daytona. We came out of the gates super strong,” Logano said.
“Since then, we’ve had opportunities for wins. Bristol comes to mind. We had some other races that were close. We’re in the ballpark. Particularly in the 750 races. The 550 races have been our weakness that we need to continue to work on throughout the season.
“The challenging part of all to all of this is there’s no practice. That’s the challenging part of all of this with a new crew chief and trying to build that relationship up. What works and what doesn’t work?
“We’re going to these race tracks together for the first time. Although I’ve been there 100 times and he’s (Wolfe) been there 100 times, we’ve never been there together. We’re trying to put 2-in-2 together for what I like and what worked in the past with Brad (Keselowski) and that’s a tough combination to put together without practice.
“I think that’s why we came out of the gates so strong is since we had practice to get the car ready to go for the race. Some practice would be great at this point. There’s some questions that we’re definitely wanting to answer. This weekend kind of gives us that opportunity with a doubleheader.”
Fellow Ford driver in Chris Buescher agrees. He’s in his first season at Roush Fenway Racing and has a new crew chief in Luke Lambert. The lack of on track activity throughout a race weekend has hurt their pace as well.
In the first four races of the season, Buescher finished third in the Daytona 500 and was a top 15 car for much of the time. He had three top 15’s in the first four races and never finished worse than 17th.
In the nine races post COVID-19 break, Buescher has six finishes worse than 17th.
The Texas native said that they knew it was going to be difficult to start back up in May as basically a new team and without having the ability to practice or test, their No. 17 Ford’s pace would take a hit.
“That’s made it extremely difficult for us as a team trying to build chemistry and come together, so we’ve been put at a pretty serious disadvantage, and I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do in the last several weeks,” Buescher said this week. “We’ve made some huge gains that are really helping us be able to be more competitive.”
Unfortunately for them though, there’s no practice sessions at least through the end of next month. They’ll have to figure out a way to find speed elsewhere.
“I feel like we should be stepping our game up every week going forward right now,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten a lot of the elementary stuff behind us that we had to learn as a group and being new with Luke Lambert leading the charge for the 17 group, for me not being able to go into the shop and be a lot more hands-on with everything has been very difficult.
“It’s something I’ve always enjoyed and pride myself in being able to know exactly what’s underneath our race cars, what’s going into it and how we’re going to be better. With this distance, it’s just made it difficult, so where we’re at we definitely have a chance to make (the playoffs) still. We just have to clean up. We have to keep progressing in what we’ve been able to do the last couple of weeks.”