As it stands, the NASCAR Cup Series won’t be seen in action in real life for 45 days.
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the postponement of seven NASCAR race weekends, the next scheduled Cup race is May 9 at Martinsville Speedway.
If that race is able to be held as scheduled, it would mean race teams and fans would be in for a fast and furious remainder of the season, as NASCAR intends to hold all 36 of its Cup points races and the All-Star Race.
But what would that look like and what do drivers think of the possible layout of the rest of the season?
Stewart-Haas Racing asked its four Cup drivers how they’re preparing for a potential resumption of the season and what they’d like to see in a condensed schedule with doubleheaders and mid-week races likely in the mix.
“If you’ve followed me, you know I’ve been pretty vocal about changing things up when it comes to the schedule,” Kevin Harvick said in a media release from SHR. “When it comes to the 2021 schedule, NASCAR was already looking outside the box of things we can do differently. Out of necessity, how we configure race weekends and when we race will have to be figured out for when we get back to racing this year.”
Harvick observed that “change is different, but it can be good.”
“We’ll have to think differently and be open-minded to what the rest of this year’s schedule ends up looking like,” said Harvick.
Aric Almirola believes the introduction of mid-week races for NASCAR’s premier series would “resonate really well.”
“Fans who worked all day can come home, eat dinner and then relax on the couch while we put on a show,” Almirola said in the media release.
The prospect of same-day doubleheaders between Cup and NASCAR’s other national series was a real prospect at Atlanta two weeks ago before the race weekend was postponed just hours before cars took to the track for practice. An initial plan had Cup and Xfinity both competing on Saturday.
“I think as soon as everyone got to Atlanta and saw the schedule change, it raised an eyebrow,” Clint Bowyer said in the release. “We said, ‘Hey, we can do these races in a day.’ I was fine with it. You know we need to do whatever we can do to put on a show for all these fans across the country. If all we have time for is a one-day show, then so be it. I think we can provide enough bang for their buck.”
A one-day show could also mean little or no practice for teams. But that sits well for Almirola.
“Teams have a lot of data simulation to predict how their car is going to drive and handle at a particular track, but it’s not always perfect,” Almirola said. “Practice is always helpful, even if it’s just a little bit. It would present a challenge to not practice, but it would at least be the same for everybody.”
However, a lack of practice would take away some valuable track time for a driver like Cole Custer, who had his rookie campaign paused after just four races.
“It would be a little harder just getting one or two qualifying laps in and then going racing,” Custer said in the media release. “Any time on the racetrack as a rookie is huge – the more, the better. If all we did was qualify, like we were set to do at Atlanta, it would put a lot of emphasis on our preparation going into the weekend. For me, practice is just really important so we can work on the car and get used to the track.”
In the meantime, with a little under two months to the next potential Cup race, Almirola is doing his best to prepare himself for the physical toll of what could be awaiting him and other drivers if and when the season resumes.
“During the offseason, I’m very relaxed, but this is so different,” Almirola said. “My mind is still so focused on racing. I’m continuing to work out and I go through the week with a schedule and stay in shape because, quite honestly, I think it’s going to be even more important to be in tip-top shape when we’re ready to go and the season does start back up because we’re going to be racing a lot.
“We’re talking about running races on the weekend, then midweek, then another the following weekend. If we do that, running three races in a week is going to be a lot. Recovering after the race and getting your body and mind prepped for the next race in a short period of time will be important. I’m focused on eating right, getting plenty of protein, and staying in shape to be as ready as possible for whatever this season has in store for us.”