As COVID is starting to clear, things are looking more normal and normal. This past Memorial Day weekend, the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 held the largest event in this COVID era. 135k fans showed up on Sunday to witness history being made. Later that night, the Coca-Cola 600 was held in front of a crowd of 100% capacity.
Moving forward, Sonoma will have 33% capacity this weekend and that’s the last race so far other than New Hampshire, Watkins Glen, Indianapolis, Bristol and Las Vegas that will operate with less than full attendance on the NASCAR side. The Texas All Star race, Nashville, Pocono, Road America, Atlanta, Michigan, Daytona, Darlington, Richmond, Talladega, ROVAL, Kansas, Martinsville and Phoenix are now at 100% capacity levels. New Hampshire, Watkins Glen, Indy, Bristol and Vegas can all follow suit if allowed.
So, as this happens and more and more access is opening up to the infield, fans are wondering, why isn’t practice and qualifying coming back either? Well, that answer is simple – budgets are already made for the year and if you just add them back, it changes everything.
You’d have to build backup cars to bring to the race track again and that costs money. It costs money for the car, the parts and everything in between. It costs labor to put them together. It costs money for extra Goodyear tires. It costs for more racing fuel. It costs for additional days to the race weekends so you need more lodging, food, etc.
It’s not as easy as saying ‘okay everything is opening up, lets just add practice and qualifying to race weekends.’
The only races that were slated to have practice and qualifying this year were –
• 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
That means just four race weekends left have practice and qualifying. I don’t foresee anything changing for the other races and the only reason these do is due to new events or the championship being set.
But, I do expect it to return to a more normal for 2022. See, even if COVID was still around, there’s a brand new car coming out and NASCAR said that they were going to add more practice sessions back for next season since all the other notes from this year and prior are thrown out the window. This new car changes everything and you can’t just show up and race with it. You need on track time.
Now, with more venues opening up more and more plus the new car factor, I expect all 36 points paying races next year to have some sort of practice and/or qualifying added back into the mix. Will it look like the old days of Friday-Saturday-Sunday? That is open for debate. I think one can make a case that you really just need 1-2 practice sessions and be good.
Still, I don’t think we’ll see any practice sessions coming back for the rest of the season for races that weren’t initially supposed to have them.