We have all heard the phrase “new normal” far too many times over the past three months or so. Everything we do has been altered as a result of the restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. The way we work, the way we eat, the way we worship, the way we shop, and the way we are entertained do not even remotely resemble the ways in which those activities were once carried out.
And among the things to have changed is racing. Who would have ever dreamed when the Daytona 500 took the green flag back February that NASCAR racing in May and June would be contested in front of completely empty grandstands?
But it’s more than the fact that fans have not attended the last several races that is different in the sport. Just like races playing out in front of empty grandstands seemed highly unlikely just a few months ago, the idea of NASCAR staging event weekends without practice and qualifying would have seemed completely impossible as recently as March. Now, however, there have been multiple races since the reopening in which the first time cars were on the track in question was when they rolled out for pace laps prior to taking the green flag.
Throughout most of NASCAR’s history, with the exception of some rainy weekends, it has been thought that a race could not possibly take place without at least two hours worth of practice followed by a qualifying session. And often times, there would even be another practice after qualifying had been completed.
Now that it has been established that race weekends actually can go on without activities that were once considered to be absolute necessities, it may be time to change the entire mindset of how a race weekend should play out.
The model used by the Atlanta Motor Speedway could serve as the “new normal” for NASCAR-sanctioned weekends in the future at more tracks. Since 2015, AMS has hosted the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series in a one-day double-header on the Saturday prior to the running of the NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday.
Previously, I have advocated the separation of the two “support series” from the top level of the sport. And while I have taken that stance in other pieces posted to this site, I have come to the realization that such is not going to actually happen. The Xfinity Series and the Truck Series are, for the most part, always going to be tied to the Cup Series. So if that is always going to be the case, why not have more tracks do it like Atlanta does?
That’s not to say that every race weekend should include an Xfinity and Truck double-header on the day before a Cup race. There can still be times in which there is separation so that tracks not hosting the Cup Series can still be a part of NASCAR. Further, there are tracks that host the Cup Series which may not have the facilities or the desire to host all three divisions at once. But now that it has been demonstrated that weekends can indeed go on without practice and qualifying, a change offering more racing and less of things that in reality provide no real value could prove to be beneficial to fans and tracks alike.
Because of the craziness of 2020, There will be other weekends like the one Atlanta Motor Speedway just hosted. As a matter of fact, several of the next few event weekends will offer multiple races with little or no practice and qualifying. With the ARCA Menards Series also now part of the NASCAR mix, weekends in Homestead, Talladega, and Pocono will offer all sorts of racing options within a short time span.
NASCAR stated even before this particular season began that there would be changes coming to the schedule for 2021. The unpredictable nature of this year has brought about changes to this season’s schedule that could not possibly have been foreseen just a few weeks ago. Now that the blueprint has been laid, albeit an unexpected blueprint, the sanctioning body may consider things that may not have even been on the table as recently as February.
And considering the sport has learned it can live without some of the things once thought of as essential, there could possibly be more weekends with lots of racing and little to no practice and/or qualifying in the not so distant future.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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