NASCAR announced the news on March 2. The new practice format will feature the Cup Series drivers in one group instead of two. Additionally, practice will last 35 minutes after two separate 15-minute sessions at Fontana. FS2 will provide coverage for the expanded practice session at 1:30 p.m. ET.
This change to the practice format will only go into effect for one week. The current plan is for NASCAR to use it for the trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway and then go back to the normal format for Phoenix Raceway and other oval tracks.
Qualifying will then unfold over two rounds immediately after practice comes to an end. However, it will follow the format used during the weekend at Auto Club Speedway. The drivers will split into two groups for single-car qualifying. The five fastest from each group will move on to the final round and battle for the Busch Pole.
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Practice at Auto Club Speedway Featured Multiple Incidents
The extra time on the track will be crucial for the Cup Series drivers, especially after the trip to Auto Club Speedway. They quickly learned during the first practice session that the Gen 7 stock cars were as difficult to drive as previously advertised.
Kevin Harvick was the first to show this fact. He spun entering Turn 1 at the two-mile track and hit the wall, causing damage to the No. 4 Subway Ford Mustang. This incident brought out the red flag and stopped the 15-minute practice session early on.
The issues continued with Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, Josh Bilicki, and other drivers losing control at various points during the race weekend. Each time, they had to head back to pit road for new tires. Many also had to receive a tow back to their pit stalls due to being stuck on the track surface.
Extending the practice time from 15 minutes to 35 minutes will not automatically prevent the drivers from spinning out. It will provide more opportunities to learn how the Gen 7 cars handle on the 1.5-mile track outside of Las Vegas.
The Practice Will Benefit Returning Drivers
The trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway will provide the majority of Cup Series drivers with expanded opportunities to adjust to their new stock cars. It will also benefit the drivers that did not compete at Auto Club Speedway.
Greg Biffle, who returned to the Cup Series for the Daytona 500, will be back in the No. 44 NY Racing Chevrolet Camaro for the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube. He will adjust to the 1.5-mile track while showcasing Florida A&M University as his primary partner. Biffle gained experience with the Gen 7 cars during the trip to Daytona International Speedway, but the shorter track outside of Las Vegas provides an entirely different set of challenges.
Another driver who will benefit from the expanded practice session is Josh Bilicki. The Wisconsin native will spend the majority of the Cup Series season with Spire Motorsports. He made his season debut during the trip to Auto Club Speedway, and he was one of the drivers to spin. Now he will suit up once again and gain more experience that will help him as the season continues.