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Drivers Sound Off on Practice & Qualifying Debate

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What’s Happening?

In recent years, NASCAR has decreased the amount of practice time during a typical race weekend. Drivers recently sounded off on whether or not NASCAR should increase the amount of practice time, and not everyone agreed. Should NASCAR increase the amount of practice time during a race weekend?

You Need to Know:

  • For much of the sport’s history, there were typically two or three practice sessions for each series on a given weekend. During the pandemic, to limit the time spent at the race track, NASCAR eliminated practice altogether for many races. Eventually, practice came back, but, now, teams are limited to only one-20 minute session before qualifying for most races.
  • Different drivers had different perspectives on practice time. Some prefer having more time for practice, while others like the limited practice time.
  • Fans are somewhat split on this as well. However, those who are at the race track tend to like more practice because that is more on-track activity during a weekend.

What the Drivers Had to Say

During driver media availability at NASCAR Champions Week in Nashville, four different drivers gave their take on whether or not NASCAR should have more practice. Surprisingly, each answer was very different.

Those Who Wanted More Practice

I think there is a value to having some practice…I don’t think that the cost savings [of no practice] are that significant. I think initially there was some thoughts that we could save a little bit of money and maybe increase the competitiveness of the field. I think yes and no, some of that’s happened, some of that hasn’t, but, I think that a little bit of practice is a good thing, I’ll still hold firm to that position.

Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski is talking as both a driver and an owner, so his perspective is interesting. He does not see the benefits of having little practice from either the financial or competition side. He is the one looking at the balance sheets after all, so he knows better than most drivers what the actual cost savings of no practice is.

When it comes to competition, not every driver agrees with Keselowski’s stance. Michael McDowell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. gave their thoughts on how a lack of practice helps smaller teams.

Those Who Do Not Want More Practice

If you allow [bigger teams] those opportunities to get everything just right, when you’ve got 75 eyes back at the shop looking through videos and looking at pictures and running simulation and having somebody back on the simulator running DOEs, you’re going to make it better than a team that doesn’t have those resources. I think that no practice for us, or the limited practice for us has been a huge help of keeping us beating a few more cars than we would on a given weekend.

Michael McDowell

McDowell specifically points out the resources a bigger team can use with more practice sessions. Throughout the weekend, those extra resources give the teams gradually more information as they learn. This is where smaller teams tend to lag, as they can’t devote as much to poring through every piece of data from practice sessions.

He specifically credits less practice with allowing Front Row Motorsports to improve throughout recent years. Well, Front Row has made the Playoffs two of the last three years, and McDowell had a legitimate chance to point his way into the Playoffs in 2023 regardless of his Indianapolis win.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. struck a similar note to McDowell. Stenhouse Jr. noted how big teams cannot take advantage of as many resources in 20 minutes.

20 minutes, if you start stretching that out, the big teams definitely I think start collecting more data on a weekend, and can send all four cars in a different direction and kind of hone in on something. In 20 minutes it’s tough for them to run that many different setups and then to change it for qualifying and then the race.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Tyler Reddick gave a slightly different perspective. He talked about how little can truly be changed with the Next-Gen car. As a result, he doesn’t see the value in extra practice time.

There’s only so many changes you can make honestly, so, 20 minutes is more than enough.

Tyler Reddick

This is coming from a driver on a bigger race team. It’s worth noting that Reddick does not have the same level of experience that McDowell, Keselowski, and Stenhouse Jr. do, but he still provides a unique perspective. He’s gotten used to it, and he feels that the current car does not allow for teams to change that much.

The Fan’s Perspective

There are two different fan angles to look at here. First, there’s the issue of on-track activity. Secondly, there is the issue of how practice affects the racing product.

The on-track activity issue primarily has to do with fans attending races in person, but it also has to do with fans at home as well. Before practice was reduced, every series was on the track for multiple practice sessions. This means there was always on-track activity for fans to watch from the stands while at the race track. Less practice means that fans have fewer sessions with cars on the race track.

However, practice is not a race. It’s literally just cars driving in circles and tuning up their cars in ways that are indiscernible to the naked eye. Therefore, does practice really add that much value to a race weekend?

When it comes to the racing product, what the drivers had to say is interesting. According to McDowell and Stenhouse Jr., the lack of practice helps keep the smaller teams more competitive. The more competitive the sport is, the closer the racing is, and the fewer runaway wins there are.

Now, there is an argument that racing in NASCAR can be too close. If the cars and teams are too equal, then it becomes harder to pass. This means the race can grind to a standstill parade of cars going around at the same speed.

Overall, there are multiple sides to this argument. Which side do you fall on? Should NASCAR increase their practice times during a weekend?

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