NASCAR shakes up schedule drastically, main takeaways

This isn’t your granddads NASCAR anymore. You wanted change. You’ve got it. NASCAR has heard you. The long stagnant schedule is getting a face lift. Fewer 1.5 mile tracks. Fewer dates on tracks that have two dates but shouldn’t. More short tracks. More road courses. More races in the southeast, unfortunately also less in the Midwest. New dates.

They listened. I applaud them for spicing things up. It was a long time coming. They’re wanting to make NASCAR must see in person again.

Bristol has a dirt race. Indianapolis is shifting to the road course. COTA and Road America come onboard to give us six road courses in 2021. Four years ago we only had two.

Homestead moves up to a week behind Daytona. The west coast swing takes place after the Florida 2-step. Atlanta and Darlington get two stops again. This is what NASCAR needed for a long time.

These dates will certainly see higher attendance with better ratings. 2021 is a new era before we get a new car.

We’ve added the choose cone rule, weeknight races, doubleheaders. We’ve experimented with number placement.

They’ve listened. Only thing left?

Those start times. Beggars can’t be choosers I guess…

Action during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on July 1, 2018 in Joliet, Illinois.

Midwest’s Loss in Southeast’s Gain

NASCAR moved too far away from their roots over the years. Gone went North Willesboro, Rockingham, second dates at Atlanta and Darlington, etc. Now, they’re moving back south for some races but leaving one area behind they shouldn’t – the Midwest.

Atlanta is getting a second date again (March 21). So is Darlington (May 9). COTA gets a date on the schedule. In turn, Chicagoland and Kentucky are losing their seats at the table. Michigan also loses a date too.

Indy is moving from the traditional oval to a less traditional road course. Road America is an addition but also a road course.

The only time NASCAR will invade up north in the Midwest is on four separate occasions – half of them are road courses. They’re up here on June 26-27 at Pocono, July 4 (Road America), Aug. 15 (Indianapolis) and Michigan (Aug. 22). That’s it. 

This could in turn be INDYCARs gain. This is their fan base. This gives them a chance to gain more fans that left for the NASCAR boon back.

Kentucky and Chicago used to host INDYCAR races and there’s been some loose talks in the past years of a return. Now is better than ever. It’s an untapped market.

12 of the 14 INDYCAR races in 2020 were right here in the Midwest. This is their market. Now, the competition moves out and the stakes are there’s.

Road Courses Galore

In 2017, we only had Sonoma and Watkins Glen as the only two road courses on the NASCAR schedule. Four years later, that number jumps to six. Fans have long been asking for Road America to join the Cup Series schedule. They will on July 4. 

COTA’s future with F1 and INDYCAR still very much remains in doubt, but they have added a NASCAR race on May 23 now. The Brickyard 400 shifts from the oval to the road course on Aug. 15 to go along with the ROVAL being back again as well as Sonoma (June 6) and Watkins Glen (Aug. 8). 

This will certainly create a large shift in the regular season playoff aspirations of many. We have five road courses in the regular season now, three of which are brand new tracks, or layouts for that matter, at that. Furthermore, two of the final four races of the regular season are on road courses. 

Cole Custer wins what is now the last NASCAR race in Kentucky

Bye Bye Cookie Cutters

In the late 90’s/early 2000’s, the idea of the stereotypical “cookie cutter” race track was formed. NASCAR wanted to branch out from the southeast and take advantage of the nationwide attention. So, new tracks came way via Kansas, Kentucky, Chicagoland, Texas, Las Vegas, etc. 

Once upon a time, cookie cutters were the future and the way to go. I mean, as soon as just a few years ago, literally half of the playoff races were on 1.5-mile tracks. Now, we only have three of the 10 postseason races being on 1.5-milers. 

Also, we’ve lost two more 1.5-mile tracks from the 2020 schedule to 2021. In return, you get more road courses. For 2021, we visit 1.5-mile tracks just nine times all year. 

The fans have long said to add more road courses and short tracks and to get rid of more 1.5-mile circuits. NASCAR listened. 

Playoffs Remain Unchanged

Daytona will stay put as the final regular season race of the 2021 season. With Indy moving away from the Fourth of July after just one year in that slot, may wanted Daytona back. But, with how well the Coke Zero Sugar 400 went this past Aug. 29, I knew then that the tradition of Daytona being on that holiday weekend was likely gone forever. 

So, Daytona is back on Aug. 28 again next year with the 10 race postseason to follow as the same as it did this year. Round 1 will feature Darlington, Richmond and Bristol. Round 2 is Las Vegas, Talladega and Charlotte ROVAL. Round 3 is Texas and Kansas swapping dates with Martinsville to round out the third round. Phoenix, is the season finale once again. 

Darlington gets a Mother’s Day spot now too

Holiday Swings

It’s risky business sometimes hosting races on holiday’s. A lot of people may already have plans, so being able to host a big attended event is hit or miss. Well, NASCAR isn’t shying away from that in 2021. 

Darlington will take place on Mothers Day (May 9). Nashville will take place on Fathers Day (June 20). Road America will race on July 4. Darlington in the late summer will still take place on Labor Day weekend while the Coca-Cola 600 remains on the typical Memorial Day weekend slot. 

The only major holiday that runs during the season that NASCAR won’t be racing during is Easter. 

Regionalized Schedule

It worked in the return to action this year during a pandemic and NASCAR returns to a more regionalized schedule for parts of 2021. Daytona and Homestead will be paired together in back-to-back weeks to kick off the season on Feb. 14 and Feb. 21. Then, they head west for a three week swing from Fontana (Feb. 28) to Las Vegas (March 7) to Phoenix (March 14). After that, it’s back east for a southeast extravaganza. 

You have Atlanta (March 21), Bristol (March 28), Easter, two straight Virginia races in Martinsville (April 10) and Richmond (April 18) then followed up by Talladega (April 25). 

That’s likely by design. That takes us through the first 10 races of the season which helps just in case this pandemic lasts into the start of next year too. 

A Lot Of Risks Being Taken

Moving the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s race from an oval to a road course takes guts. It’s a big risk but NASCAR is willing to make it. Moving a perfectly good Bristol race to making it a dirt event takes balls too. 

Adding tracks like Road America and COTA and leaving out Chicagoland and Kentucky is less of a risk, but still a risk I might add. 

All of this is certainly going to spice up the schedule, but how much of this is long term lasting? That’s why this will be big to watch over the years to see how many of these events stay. It’s also a shot that says, you better perform and sell tickets or NASCAR will replace you too. 

No Weeknight Races

NASCAR experimented with them during the pandemic and the ratings were poor so that area of the schedule seems to now be shelved again.

More 1 Day Shows

Steve O’Donnell said on a conference call that so far just the Daytona 500, Bristol dirt race, Coke 600, Road America, COTA, Indy road course, Nashville and Phoenix will have practice and Quals. Almost everywhere else will be one day shows like we’ve seen during the pandemic.

Best Change

I have to say adding Road America is a big plus to the schedule.

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