The NASCAR Cup Series will race on a brand–new circuit this week, as drivers tackle the road course at Indianapolis. Qualifying has not been a regular fixture at Cup races since the pandemic, so is it taking place this weekend?
NASCAR moves away from the oval
Since the Cup Series started racing at Indianapolis, back in 1994, it has always been on the 2.5-mile famed oval.
The ‘Brickyard 400’ as it was known became one of four crown jewel events in the NASCAR calendar.
But for 2021, NASCAR opted to switch away from the oval, and move to the 14 turn, 2.4-mile road course instead.
It is not a move that has been popular with Cup drivers, lamenting the history lost by not running on the oval.
“We still want to run the oval because the history,” explained Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon.
“The legacy, everybody wants a real Brickyard trophy.
“I feel like this weekend if you win there, it is not going to be like winning on the oval.”
Anyhow, 39 drivers will be attempting to win the inaugural Cup race on the road course.
Cody Ware will be the only driver attempting double-duty, as Cup alongside the IndyCar Series for the first time.
Cup practice and qualifying to take place
Upon its first steps back into competition in 2020 after the pandemic hit, practice and qualifying have been exceptions rather than the rule for NASCAR.
For big events, such as the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and the championship-deciding finale, practice and qualifying have been run as usual.
The grid for the rest of the races have been set by a formula, taking into account a driver’s finishing position and fastest race lap from the previous event.
It was planned by series bosses that every new track to the 2021 calendar would feature practice and qualifying.
As the Indy road course is new to NASCAR, ahead of Sunday’s race, the field will enjoy a single practice session before qualifying.
Qualifying will take place at 09:05am ET on Sunday morning, following the IndyCar race the previous evening.
Race start time
With just three rounds remaining in the regular season before the Playoffs begin, time is running out for drivers to secure their place.
Of the 16 slots available in the playoffs, 13 are currently filled.
It is likely current joint-points leader Denny Hamlin will make it through on points, but a second career road course win would ease the nerves of the #11 Joe Gibbs machine.
The race is slated to start at 1:13pm ET on Sunday, broadcast live on NBC.
For UK viewers, that will be 18:13pm.