NASCAR has no timeline to reintroduce practice and qualifying in the coming weeks but the series is beginning to consider its options for qualifying, according to senior vice president of competition Scott Miller.
During an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Miller said the sport is committed to not holding practice or qualifying through Aug. 23 at Dover. The timeframe includes the Daytona road course, which drivers in all three series will compete on for the first time without the benefit of previous track-time in their respective cars. Dover will host five NASCAR national series races with doubleheaders for both the Xfinity and Cup Series on the schedule.
“What’s beyond that, I think is still a little bit up in the air,” said Miller. “To have practice and qualifying, we have to have more people on the rosters. There are a lot more things that need to go on in the garage, so very much more difficult to execute all the safety protocols with the COVID-19.
“To get back anything different than what we’re doing now is really going to take a significant change in sort of the landscape on COVID-19. At least through Dover, it will be the draws as we know it.”
In the Cup Series, the starting lineups are determined by a random draw in groups of 12 according to owner points. At Pocono, where the series ran a doubleheader, the lineup for the second race was a top-20 invert of the finishing order from the first race.
Aside from the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, where qualifying was held, NASCAR has not run conventional practice or qualifying since returning from its COVID-19 shutdown in May. Dover is two weeks before the postseason is scheduled to start at Darlington (Sept. 6). The final regular-season race for the Cup Series is Aug. 29 at Daytona. NASCAR has only released the schedule through Aug. 30.
Under COVID-19 restrictions and safety protocols, teams are working in shifts at race shops and have a limited number of spots on the roster for track access. Without the added track time of practice and qualifying, the burden of having to prepare additional race cars has been lifted.
“I don’t think if we had backup cars weekly, we could do it with the scheduled we’ve had,” said Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Alan Gustafson after winning the All-Star Race. “The way we’re working split shifts, trying to keep the road crew away from the shop crew as much as possible… man, it would be just a monumental task to do that with backup cars. I don’t think us, or any team, could keep their head above water in this kind of COVID era, the scheduled we’ve run, with having to do two cars every weekend.”
However, Miller said NASCAR officials are beginning to review its procedures of “what would be the right thing to do in the playoffs if we can’t have qualifying.
“Maybe still some kind of draw, but obviously, probably something that encompasses the playoffs cars in one lot and the rest of the field in another,” he said. “Haven’t really gotten there yet, but we know that once the playoffs come, we may have to adjust the way we draw if we aren’t practicing and qualifying.”