When NBA star Allen Iverson said the word “practice” 22 times in a press conference rant 18 years ago this month, the jargon of sports fans changed forever.
One part of Iverson’s statements to stand out from that day was, “we talking about practice.” The phrase has been used on t-shirts and as a punch line.
“Practice” is now getting a similar kind of treatment in NASCAR. While no driver has gone on a rant or used the Iverson line, practice, or the lack thereof, has been a talking point as NASCAR returns from an unexpected 10-week break due to COVID-19, and with a revised May and June schedule that does not include any on-track practice sessions.
“Let’s race,” said Joey Logano this week. “We’re racers, that’s what we do. We’re race car drivers, not practice car drivers.”
NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams seemed unfazed by the lack of practice ahead of their events at Darlington Raceway. The Cup Series ran two races – Sunday and Wednesday – while the Xfinity Series group finally got on track Thursday. Every driver jumped back behind the wheel cold turkey, aside from some iRacing or simulator time.
“It doesn’t hurt my feelings,” said Brad Keselowski of one-day shows without practice. “I think some of your major events it probably makes sense, but I think this way is good. Of course, we’re a little biased because we’re experienced. If we were rookies, we would be calling BS. I think you should be rewarded for experience, but I also think you should be rewarded for hard work.
“I’m all for not having all these practices. I can’t figure out why some tracks we used to go, to we would practice at 9 a.m. That never made a lot of sense to me. I think this cuts costs down and puts emphasis on drivers that are experienced and professionals, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing overall. I feel a little bit differently about the lower-tier series. Those guys definitely need some practice. For us, I think we’re showing it can work.”
Back in March at Phoenix, Cup Series teams had two Friday practice sessions ahead of Saturday qualifying. The race ran Sunday, which made it a typical three-day race weekend. The same schedule occurred at Las Vegas and Auto Club Speedway.
Other times, there have been more practices than teams know what to do with. For instance, last year in Fontana, there were three practice sessions plus qualifying. February in Daytona usually includes up to four practice sessions – plus the Duel qualifying races – leading into the Daytona 500.
Clint Bowyer believes this week has proven that “we really don’t need practice anymore in our sport. I don’t know if not having practice or qualifying changed anything in the outcome of these races in Darlington.”
Not having practice – or qualifying for that matter as teams only get that option for the Coca-Cola 600 – isn’t something Denny Hamlin sees becoming the norm. When racing gets back to its regular routine, he expects practice sessions to be a part of the schedule. However, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver did acknowledge that maybe everyone is getting a lesson in how there is no need to be at the track three days a week.
And NASCAR has cut down on activity over the last year, going to what is known as a condensed weekend. Under that format, Cup Series teams only get on track either Friday for two practices and qualifying ahead of a Saturday race, or Saturday with practices and qualifying for Sunday races.
Practice? Talking about the lack of practice left Chase Elliott admitting that he found the two Darlington races exciting.
“It’s added an element that I think NASCAR has been missing for a long time,” he said. “I think we’re learning as an industry, and I think the fans are also learning too, that we don’t need to practice for three days before a Sunday event and we can still put on a really good show. I hope as time goes on, we can race more and practice less. Maximize the time that the teams are at the racetrack, and, with that being said, we can put on a full day of activities and events, and still maximize the fans’ time at the racetrack with the Xfinity Series and the Truck Series.
“I think we can have just as much racing for the people there, whenever they can come back and watch, as what we’ve had in the past. We’re just maximizing the time that the teams and drivers are there when we go. I hope we can learn from this, and I think NASCAR has been in a unique situation with this situation to try different things, and that being one of them. So I’m looking forward to seeing how things change as time goes, and I hope it does a little bit because I think this has been a really nice learning experience, and I think it’s been a home run so far.”