The coronavirus forced NASCAR to eliminate qualifying and practices. Some people think that should become a permanent change.
Indianapolis showed why it shouldn’t.
I mean, who expected The Big One to happen on Pit Road? Or that a tire changer (The #12’s Zach Price) would end up being sent to the hospital?
Who thought Denny Hamlin, seven laps from finally winning Indy, would lose a tire and thus the race? Or even that a marquee team would have a BIOS problem with their ECU?
In addition to Hamlin, Erik Jones, Alex Bowman, Ryan Newman and William Byron all suffered tire failures. There were a lot more hard hits into outer walls than usual
This was the same tire package teams ran at Pocono last weekend. But Indianapolis has high loads on the tires and the temperature was much higher. Goodyear warned the teams about respecting minimum pressure recommendation.
One of the things teams do during practice is get a feel for tire wear. They can test setups and see how aggressive they want to be. Without practice, teams have no way to predict tire wear.
NASCAR uses Competition Cautions to allow teams to check tire wear. If the goal is 30 miles of data, you’re looking at a caution on Lap 15 — when most of the field is still on the lead lap.
That produces a rush on pit road that practically invites accidents. And it could have been much worse if the conditions had been a little different.
No practice leads to no tire wear data. The only way to get tire wear data is through a competition caution, but that leads to chaos on Pit Road.
Practice might not have solved all the teams’ issues, but it would have solved some of them.
Leveling the Playing Field vs. Luck
I’ve written about this before, as has Bozi Tatarevic. Eliminating practices and qualifying is necessary because of the coronavirus issues. Commentators talk about how ‘running what you brung’ is great. It gives less-funded teams a chance to compete on a level field with bigger teams.
That holds only if your idea of ‘level’ is a competing against Martin Truex, Jr. with an improperly functioning engine.
Or a freak Pit Road crash eliminates Justin Allgaier, getting his first competitive Cup ride in forever, after 15 laps.
That’s not leveling the playing field: that’s just introducing randomness.
You can argue that the #19 team should’ve caught the ECU problem during setup, but it’s not the same as someone forgetting to secure ballast. As the cars become more complex, the ability to shake them out becomes commensurately important.
I’m not saying that we need three practices over three days. But an hour on the track before the race would a long way toward eliminating preventable problems.