Show up and race format has worked well – but what about Talladega?

NASCAR’s bold move to have no practice nor qualifying for most races since its return to racing will get a little bolder next Sunday.

When NASCAR races at Talladega Superspeedway, the cars will have about 40 less horsepower and the air will move differently around the race cars thanks to new NASCAR technical rules, in hopes of preventing an accident similar to Ryan Newman’s in the Daytona 500.

Despite the potential of the cars drafting or handling differently, NASCAR has opted to not have practice at Talladega, continuing with a policy of showing up and racing that has been protocol for most races since returning to the track amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teams don’t want practice because that requires them to have a fully prepared backup car and potentially more personnel at the race track. And it seems that drivers don’t mind going into a Talladega race with some unknown.

It seems a little reckless that NASCAR won’t have practice knowing just how tight the packs are and that they could still be going more than 200 mph in the draft. Last year, when NASCAR debuted a new superspeedway package at Talladega, they added wicker bills to the spoiler after speeds were faster than what NASCAR anticipated.

Plus, drafting is a skill that has to develop with the package. There will be no time to learn for the 188-lap race.

Well, there will be time to learn before the finish – it will just come during the race.

“I’ll know in the first couple laps how big the runs are, what kind of gap I need to have to the person behind me to give me the run forward,” said Denny Hamlin, who won the Daytona 500. “I’ll know pretty quick what to do with the package.

“We have probably a pretty good idea of it anyway. … These drivers are so good, they’re going to figure it out pretty quick.”

Teams will figure out setups using their race simulators, as they normally do.

“I’m a big fan of this no practice thing,” Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman said. “I’m really enjoying it. I feel like we run about the same and it gives me less time to kind of dial us out for the race.

“With the rule changes, we’ll all be able to adapt to that really quickly. The teams will do a really good job of having the cars prepared how they need to be for that event and I’m all good with it.”

Kyle Busch said the biggest issue will be for the engine builders at Talladega.

“It would be more of an issue with the engine tuners and knowing whether or not we guessed correct on the gear,” Busch said. “Then obviously whether they can guess right on the fuel mapping of the engine, stuff like that with it just being different RPM and essentially less horsepower.

“It’s going to be something more challenging for them than for us drivers. I don’t think any of us would have any problem with it.”

Drivers have not minded the no practice weekends, although their crew chiefs probably wish they had some time to tune the car better. Chase Elliott has said for years they practice too much.

But practice days often are times where NASCAR drivers can mingle with fans during down times – Daytona, Talladega, Richmond and Phoenix all have areas where drivers can talk to fans while standing in their garage, separated by a small fence or a window.

On the track, practice means that there is likely tire rubber on the surface, allowing for more grip and a better reading of how the car should perform throughout the race.

“It’s different from the perspective that you really don’t know what you have, and you have to kind of fly by the seat of your pants feel and just react and make adjustments on the fly,” said 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr.

“There is no, ‘Well, I’m going to go in the garage and make a few adjustments.’ You kind of just have to deal with what you have and wait for a pit stop to work on it.”

At Martinsville last week, some drivers were out to lunch early as they guessed wrong on the setup. Hamlin was one of them, and what could have been a solid weekend if he just had some practice turned into one of his worst performances in recent years.

“I can tell you we all are having better days and then some off days,” said Hamlin crew chief Chris Gabehart. “I do think that’s a product of everybody trying to figure out how to do this.

“What happens at the Cup level is the world’s best racers optimizing things. No matter what comes our way at the Cup level, our job is to optimize the new scenario. This is no different. I’m telling you, if we’re doing this a year from now, the teams that are good are going to get great, and the teams that struggle a little bit are going to struggle worse.”

Maybe that’s why Kevin Harvick, who leads the 2020 standings, likes not having practice with his experienced team.

He believes at least some of the procedures – implemented because of the accelerated schedule and the coronavirus – can continue beyond this year.

“I think when we get done with all of this and we look at our schedules and we look at our on-track time and we look at the way we qualify and the things we do, you’re going to have to look at it,” Harvick said.

“You’re going to have to look at how you function and how you do everything because it’s been a success. It’s very different than anything anybody would have ever thought about, and now you’re forced to try it, and it really hasn’t affected the way the race looks, it hasn’t affected who runs up front,” Harvick said.

Xfinity: Rebounding from penalty, Part 1

Chase Briscoe didn’t have his regular crew chief, car chief, nor engineer for the Xfinity Series race Sunday. And it didn’t appear to be much of the problem as he earned his third victory of the season at Homestead.

He had 2-time championship Cup crew chief Greg Zipadelli on his pit box. The Stewart-Haas Racing Vice President of Competition filled in after the suspensions for weight falling out of the Briscoe car during the pace laps Saturday in a race won by Harrison Burton.

SHR and Joe Gibbs Racing, in Cup, both have been subject to the hefty suspensions for what is a dangerous situation of lead or tungsten falling off the car. Weight is used to get the cars to the minimum weight and are put in areas of the car to help handling.

“It is simply that we are out of our routine,” Zipadelli said. “People are working half-shifts and some people starting projects and some people finishing. … The guys remember now that they didn’t go back and secure the bolt — one guy doing a little more than what he would normally do because we are trying to work split shifts at the shop with not as many people and stuff going on.

“I am sure the same thing probably happened at Gibbs. We have great people and they know the drill. It should never happen. Quite honestly it was embarrassing for myself and SHR.”

Briscoe said it was a little different with Zipadelli on the radio but Zipadelli remained in contact with suspended crew chief Richard Boswell (which is allowed) and was able to understand what Briscoe likes.

“We are proud of everybody for being able to put that behind us and rebounding and having a solid finish [Saturday] after making up six laps and then coming back with the win today,” Zipadelli said.

“I think that speaks volumes to the character of Chase and the guys around him.”

Trucks: Rebounding from penalty, Part 2

Speaking of penalties, Kyle Busch won at Homestead after a penalty where he had to do a drive-through after taking the initial green flag. His team also lost 10 owner points for a support bar that had been ruled illegal after the 2019 season.

“The truck we ran tonight I think ran here at Homestead last year and they just put it off to the side … [and] it never made it’s way to the fab shop for some updates or for some bars that needed to be cut out due to NASCAR changing the rules,” Busch said.

“We missed it and came down here with that bar in there and I guess they wanted to prove a point. We had a big penalty, probably bigger than it would have been if there had been another driver in the truck. We’ll take it and move on. We kicked everybody’s ass anyways.”

While those are some harsh words, Busch will not be sanctioned by NASCAR, which typically allows drivers to be critical as long as they don’t allege fixing of races and don’t encourage that fans don’t come to the track.

On The Air


Xfinity: Unhinged 300 (Talladega), 5:30 p.m., FS1


Cup: Geico 500 (Talladega), 3 p.m., FOX

Stat of Note

Denny Hamlin now has 40 career Cup wins. With his third career win at Homestead, he has won at eight tracks at least three times: (Darlington, Daytona, Homestead, Martinsville, New Hampshire, Pocono, Richmond and Texas).

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They Said It

“I just have been blessed to have fast cars and be able to execute and do some good things at the right time. I never just imagined 2006, coming in the first year, now having 40.” – Denny Hamlin