A NASCAR Cup Series race can actually take place without qualifying or practice?
I’m sure there have been instances of such a happening when weather has been involved but in Sunday’s ‘The Real Heroes 400’ at Darlington Raceway that was the plan all along. In order to keep person-to-person contact to an absolute minimum, both of those NASCAR racing rituals were scraped well ahead of the time teams were scheduled to arrive at the track. As a result, drivers were kept separate from their teams and literally walked straight to the starting grid, got in their cars, and took off.
The real benefit of all of this wasn’t simply that practice time and qualifying laps were cut from the program. Instead, it was that teams didn’t have two or three sessions to get themselves all on basically the same setups prior to the race, and thus, create a situation where everyone would be running basically the same speed all day. Drivers and crew chiefs had to plan for adjustments on the fly during each run then crew members had to actually implement those changes during the haste of pit stops.
All of that combined with Darlington’s abrasive pavement created a situation in which there were comers and goers throughout much of the race bringing about numerous passing opportunities. And more, the tire wear caused by the worn racing surface and the varying setups also led to cars that were more difficult to handle than is often the norm.
Granted, Darlington always has its share of wall scrapes throughout every race. But the aero package in use in the NASCAR Cup Series typically has cars so stuck to the pavement that bobbles and spins have become rarities. This time around seemed to offer more than what is usual for the sport’s top tier.
As an example of the comers and goers scenario, Alex Bowman took the lead of the race on lap 45 and jetted out to a lead of more than three seconds, looking as if he would run away from the field. However, as his tires faded and those who had setups that allowed for better speed deeper into the run were able to catch up and pass by the No, 88 car. Ultimately, Bowman fell back to third in the running order by the end of the first stage.
The series hopes to return to Darlington on Wednesday(weather permitting) under the same conditions with no practice and no qualifying taking place. Of course, teams have had 400 miles worth of practice coming into this go-around at the track ‘Too Tough to Tame’. But to keep things interesting, a new twist has been added. The top-20 finishers from Sunday will be inverted to create the starting order for Wednesday’s event.
And more, this race will be shorter at 500 kilometers which will put it at almost 100 miles less than Sunday’s distance.
No practice. No Qualifying. An inverted starting lineup. And a shorter race.
Those sound like pretty interesting ingredients to me. This could make for a really entertaining race.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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