This week, NASCAR released its Speedweeks schedule, and there was one notable flaw according to many fans and drivers. There will be no practice sessions before qualifying or the Duel races. Both practice sessions are scheduled for Friday and Saturday respectively. This has made many people upset, but, why?
- This is the second season in a row that NASCAR has not allowed the teams to practice before qualifying or the Duel races. Previously, NASCAR would hold at least one and oftentimes multiple practice sessions before qualifying for teams to tune their cars up for the race.
- NASCAR has generally cut down on practice in recent years, but, no practice before qualifying is not a common practice. Generally speaking, teams only get one 15-minute practice session before qualifying for most races, with a few exceptions. Sometimes NASCAR will allow for a longer session, especially if they are racing at a new track or a new racing surface.
- Fans and drivers alike decry this move. While many are split on the idea of cutting down practice, having none before qualifying for the biggest race of the year is seen as a frustration to some.
What the Fans and Drivers Had to Say
While the lack of practice is far from the only controversial topic of Speedweeks, it’s a major blow to many fans. Jonathan Kade Woodson says that it makes absolutely no sense to qualify without practice first.
ElitePrecision29 points out how this could be a problem for teams. He does not see the benefit of cost savings when it comes to no practice before qualifying.
Austin Mongold says that even a short practice session would help race teams. He doesn’t feel the teams need a super long session before qualifying.
The fans are not the only ones who are upset about this recent trend. Even some of the drivers have had some negative comments, but, it seems the opinion is more split. It’s worth noting that drivers are split on whether or not there should be more practice which we dug into in the article below, but, when it comes to Speedweeks, some share the same opinion these fans have.
Denny Hamlin was fiercely critical of the move in 2023, and he even claimed that NASCAR never consulted the owners on the lack of practice for the Daytona 500. He echoed that sentiment in the buildup to 2024 Speedweeks, even suggesting eliminating the Clash in exchange for more practice before the Daytona 500 to increase the buildup to the race.
A few drivers spoke with the media before the Daytona 500 qualifying on the lack of practice. Here’s what they had to say Ken Willis and Ryan Pritt of the Daytona Beach News Journal.
Travis Pastrana was not particularly happy about the lack of practice before the Daytona 500. He wished that he had more time to figure out how his car feels.
For me, I’ll find out in the first turn what my balance is like, but it sure would be nice to have more than one turn to figure that out.Travis Pastrana
Brad Keselowski was surprised by the move in 2023. He seemed to reserve judgment before the race in 2023.
Oh, it definitely surprised me. But you know, the sport’s always changing. I’ve gotten to a point where I try not to be surprised, but that one got me.Brad Keselowski
It’s worth noting Keselowski did end up becoming one of the proponents of more practice before a Cup Series race in the offseason. He caught up with the media in Nashville during the NASCAR Awards. He did not mention the Daytona 500 specifically, however.
Back to Speedweeks of 2023, Alex Bowman seemed to be fine with the lack of practice. Ultimately, he felt that he had to do his job no matter what the rules and circumstances were.
“I think it’ll be fine. It’s obviously stressful. I came down here not locked in once, or twice, but it’s the same for everybody. Just gotta go do your job.Alex Bowman
Drivers seem to have a more nuanced opinion on this. Some were on the fence, others were staunchly against the lack of practice, and others did not mind at all. Still, the fan consensus still seems to be adamantly against the lack of practice.
The Consequences of No Practice Before Qualifying
One of the reasons people are clamoring for a practice session before qualifying and the duels is that teams can work out minor mechanical issues that the car unloaded with. They don’t necessarily make major adjustments, but, they cross all the T’s, dot all the I’s, and make sure everything is working as it should.
Without that session, teams can unload with big issues that could have been addressed during a practice session. In 2023, Kaulig Racing and the Money Team both had major mechanical issues during practice and qualifying. Kaulig Racing’s Chandler Smith had an issue with the engine that caused him to fail to set a time, and he ultimately missed the race.
The Money Team and Connor Daly had all sorts of issues during both qualifying and the Duels. They failed to set a qualifying time and were woefully off the pace during the Duels. The only reason they made the race was because of Austin Hill crashing out in his Duel race.
Those are two examples of race teams who could have benefitted from a practice session. Both teams may have been able to fix these issues and made a better attempt at making the race.
One suggestion for NASCAR to fix this is to move one of the sessions that are later in the week to Wednesday afternoon. Maybe not a long session, but enough for teams to work out these little bugs.
There’s also the issue of lack of activity during Speedweeks. Now that the Super Bowl is the week before the Daytona 500, Speedweeks has been condensed into essentially an elongated weekend. Gone are the days when there was at least a week straight of on-track activity including multiple practice sessions.
The current sports calendar makes it tough for NASCAR to extend Speedweeks, especially in years when the Super Bowl is broadcast on Fox. Super Bowl pregame usually starts around 5 or 6 hours before game time, so, NASCAR can’t run a Sunday qualifying session anymore. However, that does not mean that a shorter Speedweeks goes over well with the fans.
Why Would NASCAR Cut Practice Out Before Qualifying?
There are two major reasons why. Those are to cut costs and increase parity.
The logic behind cost-cutting is less wear and tear on the equipment. The less a car is on the track, the less stress it puts on its parts which means the car lasts longer. It also limits the risk of extra cars crashing during the weekend.
Does this actually help? Brad Keselowski in the video we listed above claims that less practice does not help that much in terms of cost-cutting.
Then there’s the second reason, which is to increase parity. Michael McDowell elaborated on this during NASCAR Champions Week in Nashville.
Essentially, the more practice that teams get, the bigger the advantage for the bigger teams. Bigger teams have more employees and specialists who are interpreting practice data at the same time. They can use these resources that other teams do not have to perfect their cars.
The Next-Gen era has been renowned for its parity with 19 different winners in 2022 and 15 winners in 2023. McDowell specifically said that the lack of practice has helped his team become more competitive.
Should NASCAR increase practice time at Daytona, or simply move one session before qualifying on Wednesday? Many fans seem to agree that no practice before qualifying is not a great idea.