The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular season is more than halfway over, and the drivers are running out of opportunities to reach the playoffs. There are only 11 races left before the playoffs, the majority of which require the drivers to show up ready to go. They will only be able to practice and qualify three more times before the playoffs begin.
According to Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass, the remaining races with practice and qualifying sessions take place at Nashville Superspeedway, Road America, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. Two of the tracks are new to the Cup Series while the third — Road America — has not been part of the schedule since 1956. The drivers will also have the opportunity to practice and qualify ahead of the championship race at Phoenix.
As the trip to Circuit of the Americas showed, taking part in practice laps at new tracks is critical for the teams. They do not have any information about past setups to look at and make adjustments. Instead, they have to figure this information out as race day approaches in order to remain competitive during the race.
The Road Courses Pose a Different Challenge
While Nashville Superspeedway is a concrete oval, IMS and Road America are both road courses that force the drivers to navigate a series of right and left turns. Unlike races at ovals, the drivers can’t simply head out for the race and figure out adjustments while driving 200-400 laps. Instead, they have to focus on multiple factors, including the setup of the turns.
Preparation is extremely important for these events considering that the slightest mistake could send a car off the track and into the wall. The race at COTA proved this as several drivers entered turns too fast and had to lock up the brakes to avoid going off into the gravel or the grass.
There will be some NASCAR drivers that enter the race at IMS with previous experience. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe took the checkered flag in the inaugural Indianapolis GP Xfinity Series race in 2020, holding off several drivers in the process. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ross Chastain was among this group, finishing sixth.
Several Cup Drivers Will Likely Compete in the Xfinity Road Course Races
Given the level of unknowns at IMS, it’s likely that the Cup Series stars will line up for the second-ever Indianapolis GP. Drivers such as Tyler Reddick, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Cole Custer, and Austin Dillon all took part in the Xfinity Series race at Circuit of the Americas on May 22, 2021, in order to gain some crucial experience. They could opt to do so once again to see the unique road course’s layout firsthand.
However, these Cup Series drivers will first have to take on Sonoma Raceway. They have considerable experience at the road course considering that it was part of the NASCAR schedule until 2019. Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have each won a race at Sonoma while Kyle Busch has taken two trips to Victory Lane. Martin Truex Jr. has the most success among active drivers with three wins to his name.
The Cup Series drivers will not have the opportunity to revisit Sonoma due to the Xfinity Series heading to a different track instead of Sonoma. Drivers such as Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson will take on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course while Harvick and co. head to California.