The rest of the 2020 NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series season and playoffs will continue the trend of practice- and qualifying-less races. On Tuesday afternoon, NASCAR announced practice and qualifying sessions will not be held for the remainder of the year as the sanctioning body continues to condense race weekends due to COVID-19.
“Following discussions with our race teams and the broader industry, NASCAR will continue to conduct its race weekends without practice and qualifying for the remainder of the 2020 season in all three national series,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said. “The current format has worked well in addressing several challenges during our return to racing. Most importantly, we have seen competitive racing week-to-week. NASCAR will adjust the starting lineup draw procedure for the Playoff races, and will announce the new process at a later date.”
Since the season’s resumption in May, qualifying has only been held once with the Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600 later in the month. The Xfinity Series is the only tier to have a practice session with two in preparation for the Pennzoil 150 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, a layout that NASCAR had never raced on before, in early July. Ironically, the announcement means drivers running the Daytona International Speedway infield layout, also a new configuration for NASCAR, in August will not have any preparation.
In lieu of qualifying, NASCAR has used a group random draw to determine the starting lineup, though a field inversion of the first race’s top half has also been utilised for doubleheader races. For example, the top twelve in Cup owner points will be in the same range for their starting spots, though a specific location is based on how they draw. However, the groupings will likely be changed for the playoffs as the Cup postseason consists of sixteen drivers.
With qualifying out of the picture, the Xfinity and Trucks also expanded to allow up to 40 drivers per race from their original 36 and 32, respectively; such a change is permitted under Section 1.6 of NASCAR’s rulebook (a clause called EIRI – “Except in Rare Instances”). The Trucks had not seen such large fields since 1998, with four of the six races since the season restart being filled to its maximum. Some entry lists were so loaded that drivers were prohibited from racing if they were too low in points. Xfinity races have not had the same situation, with 39 at Talladega Superspeedway in June being the most so far.
Although other forms of motorsport like Formula One and the NTT IndyCar Series have continued hosting practice and qualifying sessions with their season restarts, Miller explained NASCAR cannot do so due to crew limitations as a result of the pandemic.
“There’s a lot more things that need to go on in the garage area, so very much more difficult to execute all the safety protocols with the COVID-19,” he added. “To get back to anything different than what we’re doing now is really going to take a significant change in sort of the landscape on COVID-19.”