What a difference a year makes. At this time a year ago, we were under the grips of a frightening pandemic. While COVID-19 hasn’t yet gone away, precautions and safety measures that have taken place have allowed us to come back out of our homes again and start a new way back to what normal life should look like. Last year, the NASCAR schedule was shaken and altered enough to allow the sport to not only start their season back up again, but to run it to completion as well.
The final 11 races went off as originally planned. The races from May to late August though were completely changed from initially scheduled. From weeknight races, to doubleheaders to moving dates to not going to some places to racing behind closed doors or at the very least a minimum crowd, NASCAR did what they had to do to get by.
Even at the start of the this season, as things started to look better and open back up, most tracks were operating at a limited attendance still. Then came late spring and that led to more openness. The Coca-Cola 600 on May 30 was the first track to go back to 100% capacity. Nashville, Pocono and Atlanta were quickly after.
Then came the rest of the ISC tracks minus Watkins Glen. Then came Las Vegas and New Hampshire. The only tracks heading into this week for the rest of the season not at full capacity was Watkins Glen and Indianapolis.
Scratch one more off that list. On Friday, Watkins Glen International announced that they will open its grandstands to full capacity for the NASCAR Go Bowling at the Glen weekend on Aug. 4-8. There will be no restrictions on the number of fans allowed to take in the action at the facility on Sunday, Aug. 8 for the NASCAR Go Bowling at The Glen race at 3 p.m.
Grandstands will also be fully open for the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races on Saturday, Aug. 7, as well as the ARCA Menards Series race on Friday, Aug. 6.
“We are thrilled to welcome fans back at 100 percent capacity to Watkins Glen International following clearance from New York state government and health officials,” stated Michael Printup, WGI President. “Fans are our lifeblood and their presence at the track creates the aura and energy this sport thrives upon. We are appreciative of Governor Cuomo and his administration for their diligent work and collaboration to help us safely and smartly host fans as we look ahead to our IMSA and NASCAR events this summer.”
The announcement comes as New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced Tuesday that COVID-19 restrictions are lifted immediately. Consistent with New York’s implementation of recent CDC guidelines, masks will still be required at WGI for unvaccinated individuals.
Watkins Glen International will continue to work closely with local and state government and health officials on any necessary health and safety protocols. Any updates will be made available at TheGlen.com.
In addition to the August NASCAR weekend, Watkins Glen International will host the upcoming IMSA Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, June 24-27, and the IMSA WeatherTech 240, July 1-2. Fans are welcomed at both events with general admission access.
Indianapolis held 135k for the Indianapolis 500 and there’s no doubt that there’s no way a crowd of that magnitude will attend the new Verizon 200 race weekend in August. So, while they don’t have to announce that they’re full capacity like everywhere else has, just the statement would be a warm welcome.
With pit and garage access opening up in most places as well as full houses, the next common question was would practice and qualifying start back up again. That answer is still a no. Here’s why.
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.