The NASCAR Cup Series schedule is getting back to normal. There are two more races remaining in May, and racing’s sanctioning body is setting the drivers up to change their season trajectories by temporarily bringing back the pre-race procedures. There will be practice laps and qualifying sessions once again.
According to Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports, the top three series will all have the opportunity to practice and qualify before their respective races at Circuit of the Americas. The Truck Series and Xfinity Series drivers will practice on Friday before qualifying and racing on Saturday. The Cup Series drivers will practice on Saturday before qualifying and racing on Sunday.
The trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day Weekend will follow a similar schedule. The only difference is that the Truck Series drivers will practice, qualify, and race on Friday. The Cup Series drivers will qualify on Saturday. The ARCA Menards Series will also take part in practice, qualifying, and the race on Saturday.
Preparation is key ahead of the trip to Austin
With the drivers heading to unfamiliar terrain, it will be critical for them to log some practice sessions before heading out onto Circuit of the Americas for qualifying and the race. A simple mistake could result in a damaging trip through the grass or a collision with a wall.
Only a select number of drivers — Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Brad Keselowski among others — have logged laps on the unique road course and experienced some of the tricky areas firsthand. The others have just spent time in the simulator while trying to learn everything they can about the upcoming course.
“I am blown away. You cannot fully appreciate COTA for itself until you actually come and have a chance to run a lap,” Xfinity Series driver Daniel Hemric said after his test laps in April. “We can all have simulation and look at film and do all kinds of stuff, but being on the racetrack, seeing all the elevation, seeing how fast some of the high-speed stuff is, how hard some of the braking zones are and how tight some of the switchback corners are, it’s going to be incredible to see how everybody, all of us – the whole field – can navigate that together. It’s going to be a challenge for these race teams, a challenge for the drivers, but I’m sure we’re up for it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The return of practice and qualifying is only temporary
While NASCAR fans will express excitement about seeing their favorite drivers out on the track for practice and qualifying sessions, they will only have limited opportunities to do so. Racing’s sanctioning body is only bringing back these pre-race events for a limited time. Most of the 2021 season will still use the starting lineup formula to determine the grid.
The drivers have only had limited opportunities to test out their cars before races in the 2021 season. They took part in practice and qualifying sessions before the season-opening Daytona 500 and then competed in the Busch Clash races to determine the starting lineup of the Great American Race.
The NASCAR Truck Series and Cup Series drivers took part in some more practice sessions prior to the dirt races at Bristol Motor Speedway. They slid around the short track and kicked up a lot of dirt while trying to adjust to the unique surface.
The qualifying races, however, did not last very long. Heavy rain in Tennessee turned the track surface into mud. The Truck Series drivers only completed one lap before heading to pit road. Heavy mud completely covered the fronts of their vehicles, causing some to overheat and limiting the view of others.