After a full season and a half of lining cars up and racing them fresh off the hauler, practice and qualifying will make their full-time return in all three of NASCAR's national touring series in 2022. The return comes through an all-new format consolidating practice and qualifying into a dramatic race weekend event.
On Friday, NASCAR officially announced the return of practice and qualifying with the introduction of a knockout-style format in 2022. For most races on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, the field will be split into two groups to participate in a practice and qualifying event that lasts approximately two hours. The specific format varies by track type.
Here's a breakdown of the new system:
- For most oval tracks, cars will be separated into two groups set by the odd/even finishing order of the previous race. 15-minute practice sessions will be followed by single-car qualifying with one lap (Two laps at Bristol, Martinsville, Dover, and Richmond). The fastest five cars from Group A and Group B will advance to the final round of qualifying, where the fastest driver will earn the pole.
- The superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega will feature one round of qualifying featuring all cars, with the fastest 10 advancing to the final round. As with the other ovals, all time trials will be in a single-car format.
- Road courses will see a 20-minute practice before a 15-minute timed qualifying session for Groups A and B. The fastest five will advance to the final round, which will featured a 10-minute timed session to determine the pole.
- At the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Race, there will be two 50-minute practice sessions before four qualifying races are run to determine the starting lineup. The lineup for the four qualifying races will be set by a random draw.
In addition, a select number of race weekends will feature one stand-alone, 50-minute practice session. The "extended practice weekends" in the Cup Series include the Daytona 500, the first Atlanta race, Bristol Dirt, Gateway, Nashville and the season finale at Phoenix.
Once a standard part of race weekends in NASCAR, practice and qualifying sessions were largely absent for most of the 2020 and 2021 seasons as NASCAR sought to reduce travel days and on-site personnel during the COVID pandemic. Practice and qualifying were brought back for select races in 2021, namely major ones like the Daytona 500.
"NASCAR is excited to return practice and qualifying to its race weekends," read a statement by Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition. "We missed seeing cars and trucks on track all weekend long, and so did our fans. We worked closely with our broadcast partners, teams and racetracks to create an exciting, unique qualifying format, while keeping several of the efficiencies that helped our entire industry successfully navigate the pandemic."
Pole winners at races that featured qualifying during the 2021 season included Alex Bowman (Daytona 500), Tyler Reddick (COTA), Kyle Larson (Coca-Cola 600, Phoenix finale), Aric Almirola (Nashville) and William Byron (Road America, Indianapolis Road Course).