The NASCAR playoffs will feature races that don’t have practice or qualifying.
NASCAR said Tuesday that all races that remain in the 2020 season across the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series won’t have practices or qualifying before them. That includes all playoff races in the three series and the inaugural NASCAR race weekend at the Daytona road course on Aug. 15-16.
“Following discussions with our race teams and the broader industry, NASCAR will continue to conduct its race weekends without practice and qualifying for the remainder of the 2020 season in all three national series,” NASCAR vice president Scott Miller said in a statement. “The current format has worked well in addressing several challenges during our return to racing. Most importantly, we have seen competitive racing week-to-week. NASCAR will adjust the starting lineup draw procedure for the Playoff races, and will announce the new process at a later date.”
NASCAR has been limiting track activity since it resumed racing in May amid the coronavirus pandemic in an attempt to keep teams at the track for as little time as possible.
The Daytona road course was added to the schedule in all three series to replace races at Watkins Glen for the Cup and Xfinity Series and at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the Truck Series. Drivers in those series will enter their respective races without any sort of laps in their vehicles on the track, meaning their first laps on the track will be on the first lap of the race.
The decision to not have practice at the Daytona road course doesn’t make much sense either when contrasted with protocols NASCAR implemented just weeks ago. NASCAR had two practice sessions for drivers ahead of the Xfinity Series race at the Indianapolis road course in July. Those two practices were held because it was the first Xfinity Series race on the Indy road course.
What will NASCAR do for the playoff starting grids?
Starting grids have been decided by a modified random draw for all races outside of the Coca-Cola 600 since NASCAR started racing again in May amid the coronavirus pandemic. The drivers in the top 12 of owners points entering the race draw or the top 12 starting spots, the next 12 draw for the next 12 and the next 12 draw for spots Nos. 25-36 before the final four starting spots are filled out via points.
A similar type of draw for playoff races is going to mean that playoff drivers will start at the front of the field in each race. Is that the best way for playoff races to begin? Part of the fun of the playoffs is seeing a playoff driver have to work his way through the field after a poor qualifying effort. And if you’re out of the playoffs there’s no chance you would get to start ahead of any playoff drivers.
There’s no good solution to solve this conundrum that NASCAR is creating for itself. Holding a 30-minute qualifying session ahead of all playoff races sure seems feasible. And it would create a somewhat organic starting grid, especially ahead of the winner-take-all championship races in November at Phoenix. Watching the four drivers racing for the title in each of the three series occupy the first two starting rows just because isn’t nearly as fun as if they earned those spots via qualifying times.
NASCAR’s lack of practice and qualifying has also led to early-race issues across a number of races since it resumed. And it’s practically a guarantee that a playoff driver will have some sort of issue preventable with practice or qualifying in the early laps of a playoff race.
That’s not an appealing prospect either. But it’s one that teams are going to be facing this fall.
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