The NASCAR Cup Series’ 2021 schedule is here, and if you’ve been a vocal advocate for change in the series the last few years, you should check this one out.
Is it a wholesale upending of the status quo? No. Are there still some problems folks are probably debating on social media as we speak? Definitely.
But by NASCAR’s standards, the 2021 schedule is a damn sea change. Two tracks are gone completely, three are added and new configurations await some existing circuits.
You’ll still get your usuals, such as two Daytona International Speedway events, stops at Kansas Speedway, a date with Watkins Glen International, etc.
But the schedule will also include a whopping six road courses, a trip to Nashville and the Cup Series’ return to dirt after 50 years away.
To pull a true comparison, we’ll run down the changes this year against what the 2020 schedule was supposed to look like, back before the recent unpleasantness. In doing so, we’ll get a good read on not just the location changes but also the dates themselves.
For starters, the Busch Clash is back at Daytona International Speedway but not all is as it was before. As previously reported, the track’s road course gets the nod for the Clash in 2021, meaning it’ll still have a presence on the schedule after its trial run on the non-exhibition circuit earlier this year as a 2020 replacement due to COVID-19.
From there, the usual schedule at Daytona’s oval prevails, culminating with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 14. It’s directly after that weekend that the first major shift occurs, as Homestead-Miami Speedway continues to creep all the way from the rear of the schedule to the front, moving to the second race of the year (Feb. 21) after being scheduled for March 22 in 2020. Auto Club Speedway follows as the third race yet again, but then Las Vegas Motor Speedway, previously the second race, falls to fourth, replacing Phoenix Raceway, which is instead fifth. Basically, the West Coast swing remains intact, it’s just a week later and in a slightly different order.
Atlanta Motor Speedway was meant to be fifth in 2020, and in 2021 it’s sixth, moving into the slot vacated by Homestead. Then… *checks notes*, oh lord, here it come.
Bristol Motor Speedway is going dirt racing.
Yes. After 50 years away from dirt, the Cup Series will make a triumphant return due to Bristol’s track owners ordering a whole mess of dirt and cosplaying as a dirt track for the weekend (March 28). As a result, Bristol’s usual concrete surface will only get used once this year in its usual late-summer night race spot. To briefly editorialize, I would have been just jazzed if NASCAR had taken a mile-and-a-half track’s date and gave it to a dirt track instead of removing a short-track race in favor of dirt. But if this was the only path to dirt for the series for the time being, it’s better than nothing.
Bristol’s March 28 date is one week ahead of its originally scheduled April 5 race for 2020 and replaces Texas Motor Speedway, which is down to one race in 2021. Sort of. More on that shortly.
After a week off, the series returns at Martinsville Speedway on April 10, four races sooner than the track was scheduled in 2020. Richmond Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway follow in their usual early-spring dates, and then it’s Kansas (May 2), popping up four weeks ahead of its 2020 spot. Kansas takes over the position previously held by Dover International Speedway, which is instead two weeks later (May 16), the two tracks sandwiching Darlington Raceway.
Yeah, Darlington! After many years spent underrepresented on the Cup schedule (and following a season where Cup raced there three times due to the pandemic), the Lady in Black gets a second date on May 9, filling the spot vacated by Martinsville as it moved earlier.
Normally mid-May would mean All-Star Race time, but instead, Dover’s followed by three more points-paying events, starting with a true newcomer to the schedule: Texas’ Circuit of the Americas on May 23. The road course will be followed by Charlotte Motor Speedway for its usual 600-mile event, with Sonoma Raceway putting the series on another road course the week after (June 6), one week earlier than it would have been in 2020.
Then it’s the All-Star Race, but with yet another venue change. While Texas lost one points race earlier in the year, it instead gains the All-Star Race on June 13.
The following weekend would have been Chicagoland Speedway’s lone race of the season, but the Illinois track is one of the two circuits nixed from the schedule for 2021. Instead, Nashville Superspeedway, as already reported, leaps onto the Cup schedule on June 20.
If you enjoyed Pocono Raceway’s Saturday-Sunday doubleheader, good news; it’s back on June 26-27. Then, rather than a July 4-area date with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the series travels to Road America in its return to the schedule after many years of Xfinity Series races.
Atlanta snagged itself two dates in 2021, and the second will follow Road America on July 11, a weekend that would have otherwise belonged to Kentucky Speedway, the other track no longer on the Cup schedule. Pour one out.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway follows in its usual spot, and then, after a two-week Olympics break, comes Watkins Glen, a week earlier than it would’ve been in 2020 (Aug. 9). The Glen replaces Michigan, which falls to Aug. 22 for its lone date of the season. In between those, Indianapolis makes its lone appearance of the year, albeit on a different configuration. This time, the Cup Series will follow Xfinity’s lead and run the road course on Aug. 15.
From there, things chill out. In fact, starting with Daytona on Aug. 28, the schedule is virtually identical to 2020, with one exception: Texas and Kansas swap dates, with Texas now Oct. 17 and Kansas Oct. 24. They both remain in the Round of 8 and neither are the cutoff race, so it’s of little consequence unless you, I dunno, live in Texas and your birthday weekend was Oct. 24 and you’ve got a long-standing private box party or something, I don’t know your life.
All told, much of the 2021 schedule amounts to date shuffling, much like it did between 2019 and 2020 – more the illusion of change rather than diving in headfirst. But with multiple new tracks on the schedule, plus configurations at others the series hasn’t seen often (if ever), 2021 is shaping up to look very different from what came before it.
OK, NASCAR. Now put Lucas Oil Raceway back on the Xfinity or Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series schedules, you cowards.