When NASCAR returned in May 2020 after a 10-week shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it did so with a much different race weekend structure. Gone were practice and qualifying sessions that had long been staples of a NASCAR race weekend, replaced by no practice whatsoever and various mechanisms to set the starting lineup before NASCAR eventually settled on a formula to reward a team’s performance in the prior race and on the season overall. These changes were devised to limit the amount of time and manpower teams spent preparing cars at their shops during the week, eliminate the need for backup cars and help reduce costs amid an economic downturn brought about by the pandemic.
Almost universally, those within the Cup Series garage accepted that such measures were essential if NASCAR was going to complete the duration of its season as originally scheduled, which it did. Returning to a more traditional structure would occur eventually.
Entering the 2021 season, NASCAR made adjustments to its race weekend schedule, albeit slight tweaks, to accommodate for looser health restrictions and the anticipation of increasingly widespread vaccinations. One 50-minute practice and a qualifying session were installed at the five new tracks on the Cup Series schedule (Bristol dirt, Circuit of The Americas, Nashville, Road America and the Indianapolis road course), plus three existing marquee races (the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and the championship final at Phoenix). Every other race is deemed a “one-day show”: Teams arrive at the track on the morning of the race, have neither practice nor qualifying and the race itself is the lone on-track activity.
Looking ahead, practice and qualifying are expected to return in some form in 2022.
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