The NASCAR Cup Series schedule, but make it bold.
That’s essentially what the sanctioning body wanted out of its 2021 resume. It has been a process in the making and finally came to fruition this week. Those involved are proud of the final product.
“We said back in really 2019 that we wanted to evolve the schedule,” said Steve O‘Donnell, NASCAR‘s executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “2020 was going to be the year that we could make some moves within the portfolio of races that we had, but really 2021 and beyond are where you‘re going to see some bold races from NASCAR.
“We believe we‘ve delivered on that.”
NASCAR sure did. Wednesday marked the Cup Series‘ biggest schedule unveil in more than 50 years. The 36-race reveal featured the highest number of new tracks added since the 1969 slate.
Overall, there were nine significant overhauls when comparing recent iterations to this upcoming version.
“Even when we set out to build this 2021 schedule, we wanted to make sure that whatever we‘re doing it‘s done with a very measured approach,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR‘s vice president of racing development. “I think that‘s what you‘ve seen in this schedule we‘ve put together. For 2022 and beyond, of course we want to continue to introduce more tracks to the circuit, especially short tracks and road courses.”
The first three changes have to do with venue additions. Circuit of The Americas, Nashville Superspeedway and Road America are all either brand or relatively new locations for the Cup Series. COTA is making its NASCAR debut. Nashville ran the Xfinity Series and Gander Truck Series from 2001-11 but never the Cup Series. Road America currently holds Xfinity Series races but hasn‘t seen the Cup Series since 1956.
Two other differences come at familiar tracks but different layouts. Bristol Motor Speedway, which is ran twice a year, will convert its concrete oval into a dirt track for the Cup Series‘ spring race. The Cup Series will take on Indianapolis Motor Speedway‘s road course for the first time; the Xfinity Series tested it out this year.
Darlington Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway each gained a race — count that as two updates. The All-Star Race will move to Texas Motor Speedway. And then, lastly, the opening Clash exhibition event of 2021 is set for a Tuesday night on Daytona International Speedway‘s road course.
That all should add up to the magic number: nine.
“A lot to look forward to as we think about future evolutions of the schedule, too,” Kennedy said. “This is certainly a big, important step for us. But continuing to press forward with it as well.”
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Don‘t forget, this step came during an abnormal season. There have been one-day events, midweek races and weekend doubleheaders in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Practice and qualifying sessions were completely eliminated to limit at-track time. O’Donnell indicated that practice and qualifying will be held at the five new tracks/new configurations on the schedule for 2021 as well as the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the title race at Phoenix Raceway.
Those unexpected alterations in 2020, though, showed NASCAR executives that they can successfully make major advances for the betterment of the sport.
“2021 we really believe is a bold step in that direction, but we‘re not done,” O‘Donnell said. “There‘s 2022 and beyond where we‘ll continue to look at making changes that we believe are in the best interest of the sport in key markets and at key iconic race tracks as well. We‘re going to continue the journey.”