NASCAR Announces Practice and Qualifying Will Return With a Twist in 2022 and Candidly Admits It’s Geared for the TV Audience
With the exception of a handful of races this year, practice and qualifying for all three of NASCAR‘s top touring series became a thing of the past when the pandemic shut down the world of sports. Fans and drivers have wondered if and when the two pre-race components might return.
Wonder no more. NASCAR announced that practice and qualifying will return for all three series in 2022, but with a twist and the television viewing audience in mind.
NASCAR practice and qualifying stopped due to pandemic
The pandemic forever changed the way we do things. The world of sports was not immune to change once action finally returned. For NASCAR, one way it tried to navigate the pandemic was to reduce travel days and on-site personnel. Translation: no practice and no qualifying.
Initially, a lack of practice proved to be challenging for the teams and drivers in particular. Over time, it became the accepted new norm. That’s not to say everyone willingly accepted it. Some drivers were more vocal than others.
Kyle Busch, whose performance has dramatically dropped off in the last two seasons and included just three wins and his two worst finishes in the standings since 2014, has openly talked about his struggles absent practice and qualifying.
“Absolutely, I know what I’m capable of and what Adam [Stevens] and our team can do,” Busch told Beyond the Flag in 2020. “It’s certainly been frustrating and wish we had just a little bit of practice to be able to work out some of the things. But that’s not the case right now. I know everyone is working as hard as they can right now and we’ll keep digging.”
How NASCAR Cup Series practice and qualifying will work in 2022
After months of speculation, NASCAR announced that in 2022 all three series would once again include practice and qualifying. For the Cup Series, it comes with a twist as the field will be split into two groups that will participate in practice and qualifying, which will last approximately two hours.
The practice times will vary by style of track. On ovals, each group will receive a 15-minute window for practice. Qualifying will then be broken down into two qualifying rounds of single-car, one-lap runs, with the top five cars from each group transferring to the final round.
In the qualifying final round of 10 cars, the fastest time will earn the Busch Pole.
There will be slight variations of the format at superspeedways, road courses, and on dirt. NASCAR also announced there will extended practice weekends that include 50-minute practice sessions at the Daytona 500, the first race at Atlanta, Bristol dirt, WWT Raceway at Gateway, Nashville, and the championship race at Phoenix.
Xfinity and Truck Series on ovals will include a 20-minute practice for the entire field with a single qualifying session.
New format tailored for television audience
While some might view the 15-minute practice sessions as too small to have any real measurable impact for the teams, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller, candidly admitted television played a large role in the final decision.
“It really comes down to sort of sitting down and making the goals. A lot of that had to do with the broadcast partners and creating compelling content,” Miller admitted on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “People tend to tune in good for a qualifying show so we wanted to capitalize on that historical tune-ins. So it was just a matter of kind of packaging it all into one show for the bulk of the weekends. The timing and the 15 minutes, and all that, there was a lot of back and forth there. Should it be 30 minutes?
“Broadcast partners really felt strongly about having the practice groups so they could have interviews and kind of really touch on some stories there with the drivers and the teams while the show was going on. All of the timing, like the 15 minutes and all that, that was really dictated by trying to fit it all into a two-hour broadcast window.”
Regardless of who the intended audience is, some practice is better than nothing. Kyle Busch will certainly agree with that.
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