Stats say lack of practice and qualifying working, here’s a deeper dive into why

NASCAR recently announced that they won’t bring back practice nor qualifying for the rest of the 2020 season. It’s something that the feel is best for the industry in order to keep the spread of COVID-19 down within their teams.

See, with practice and/or qualifying, is the need for a backup car. With the risk of a crash around every turn, you can’t crash before the race starts and have a car sitting idle without being able to be in the race. It would hurt the bottom line of all the teams with a sponsor that has paid to be on that car not getting any action.

So, with needing a backup car means more personnel needed at the race track and more hands preparing an extra car each weekend back at the shop.

While I get their reasoning behind that and frankly love the fact that practice has been outlawed, some of the current drivers would love to see both return in some capacity.

See, the lack of practice is hurting some teams. Kyle Busch is one of them. He’s winless this season and openly says that just a little bit of practice could get them steering in the right direction.

Same for his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate of Denny Hamlin. He notes that he gets why NASCAR doesn’t want to have practice in fear of a crash and a need of a backup car, but he says that even if someone crashes in practice, they likely would have crashed in the race anyways — so just give them last place points.

Joey Logano brings up a good point for his struggles in performance since the COVID-19 return in the fact that he and his new crew chief Todd Gordon haven’t worked with each other prior to this season. While both have seen these tracks before, they haven’t seen them together. That’s why he started off with three wins, including a Duel, in the first five races together but none in the 14 races since the return. They had practice for those early races before the pandemic but haven’t had a chance to dial in what Logano needs out of the car to be a contender since.

These are some big named drivers that are guessing on setups each week. Clint Bowyer isn’t a fan of it at all.

“Not only are you behind the eight ball, you’re behind the eight ball of cars that are capable of winning races,” Bowyer said of the lack of practice and qualifying now. “I mean, there’s a reason they’re up front. But it’s in a situation right now where you’re protecting those fastest cars on the racetrack. And if I’m a promoter and got my promoter hat on, I wouldn’t think that that would be necessarily the best case scenario to put on a great race for fans, you know, the more you shake those starts up, the better off.”

I for one, think that it makes the field much more competitive this way. NASCAR agrees.

Despite the changes to schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plus the lack of practice and qualifying, the NASCAR Cup Series competition is putting up some solid passing stats this season.

Since 2007 through 19 races of a season – the 2020 season ranks first in total green flag passes and second in green flag passes to the lead.

In a year-over-year comparison (2019 vs. 2020) we are up 32.7% in green flag passes and up 24.1% in green flag passes for the lead through 19 races

Race Season

Total Passes

Total Passes for Lead

2007

10,720

69

2008

9,994

101

2009

8,951

44

2010

13,299

205

2011

10,788

151

2012

9,444

70

2013

8,109

55

2014

13,373

186

2015

15,780

111

2016

15,676

112

2017

10,662

144

2018

8,583

116

2019

10,790

145

2020

16,028

191

 

Average number of leader through 19 races in 2020 is 10.41 – the most since 2014 (11.05). The average number of leaders through 19 races in 2019 was 9.58.

Average number of lead changes (19.63) per race through the first 19 events of the 2020 season are the most since 2014 (24.1) during that same time frame.

Average margin of victory over the first 19 races of the 2020 season is 1.809 seconds, with 10 of the 19 races (52.6%) this season finishing with a margin of victory of less than a second.

Yes, I do feel like the actual aero package could use some work. There’s way too many races dictated still by track position. But, these stats do show that passing is occurring throughout the field still and that if we can tweak this package a bit more, NASCAR may be onto something.

What this also says is, this could be the start of a new norm of practice and qualifying being a sign of old times.

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