A year ago, NASCAR went into its COVID-19 hiatus, and things have not been the same since. While cars got the green light to return to the tracks last May, that was as close to ‘normal’ as it got. There were no practice sessions for any races, no qualifying, save for the Coca-Cola 600, and everything happened in front of empty grandstands.
Fast forward to 2021, and spectators are back, albeit in limited numbers. NASCAR has even added practice and qualifying for select events like the Bristol dirt races. However, the word 'select' keeps stock car racing from emerging from the pandemic with any sense of normalcy.
And it is high time to change that.
NASCAR proved that, regardless of the circumstances, it will go over and beyond to give its fans a true championship season. Doubleheaders, mid-week races, it didn’t matter. Each race became a made-for-TV event with announcers and analysts calling the action from a Charlotte studio. They pulled it off better than anyone could have expected. But that was then; this is now.
NASCAR on TV: More Please
Television plays a big part in keeping fans engaged to the sport. The more they can see, the more likely they are to tune in for the main events. Before the pandemic, live coverage from tracks could start as early as Thursday. Last year, the race was all there was to watch, then wait until the next one. NASCAR has the chance to reintroduce the word 'normal' into the fan experience, and towards that end, they've identified eight Cup events where practice and qualifying will take place. Daytona and Bristol already in the books while three of the remaining six - Road America, Circuit of the Americas, and Nashville Superspeedway – are new to the Cup Series schedule.
The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course event, and the Phoenix Raceway season finale will round out what could be called the NASCAR Select Eight.
NASCAR will keep COVID-19 protocols in place for the rest of the season, with masks mandatory. But with a vaccine available to most people around the country, bringing back practice and qualifying to Talladega, Darlington, Michigan, and other tracks left on the schedule should be a no-brainer.
By now, race fans want to see drivers earn their spot on the grid. Most probably never figured out the convoluted formula for qualifying anyway, so why is NASCAR so hesitant to bring back that part of the competition? Waiting for a mid-week release has all the excitement of watching paint dry or water boil, and it's high time NASCAR to treat their fans to full race weekends instead of teasing them with just a few.