CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Race fans should expect some changes for the upcoming NASCAR season in 2021.
NASCAR officials released the Cup Series schedule last week for the 2021 season. Changes to the schedule include an expansion to six road course races. Additionally, there will be three new tracks in the schedule. The most exciting element in the season is the placement of a dirt-track race for the first time in over half a century.
The new Cup season will have 36 races where series points will be paid out. The season will start February 14 with the season-opening Daytona 500. It will come to a conclusion at Phoenix on November 7.
Diversifying the Cup Series schedule
Some NASCAR fans have grown tired of the standard races that only involve racing with left turns. While they have made an attempt to include road courses in the past, the 2021 season will be much different.
For instance, the March 28 race at Bristol Motor Speedway will experience a conversion to a dirt-track surface for the first time in over 50 years. The last time the top division in NASCAR would race on dirt was Sept. 30, 1970. This race was held on the dusty half-time track at North Carolina’s state fairgrounds in Raleigh. The winner of that race was Richard Petty.
Road courses are not foreign to NASCAR. Usually, two or three road course races are placed on the schedule between six national courses: Sonoma, Watkins Glen, the Roval at Charlotte, Road America, Mid-Ohio, and Mosport. The road course at Riverside was a fixture in NASCAR until its closure in 1989. Heartland Park Topeka, now known as Heartland Motorsports Park, would sporadically host races for the then-Craftsman Truck Series, as well as regional series sponsored by NASCAR.
NASCAR has even utilized road courses outside of the United States. Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City was the host to four Xfinity Series road course races from 2005 to 2008. It has been an ongoing fixture of the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series since 2004.
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal would serve as host of the NAPA Auto Parts 200 in the Xfinity Series. It would also host the NAPA Autopro 100 for the Canadian Tire Series. Both events would be held at the venue by NASCAR from 2007 to 2012.
The schedule shifts
Circuit of the Americas
Austin’s Circuit of the Americas will become a May 23 fixture in the upcoming season. Since its opening in 2012, the pristine 3.426-mile road course has been a host to Formula 1, IndyCar, IMSA, and other auto racing competitions. The venue, which has a maximum capacity of 120,000, has 20 turns on the course.
The track record is 1 minute, 36.169 seconds, and was set in a Ferrari SF90 by Charles Leclerc of Monaco during a Formula 1 Grand Prix race in 2019. Despite that lap record, Leclerc did not complete the race due to a controversial accident with Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Nashville Superspeedway was an addition to the schedule in June. The 1.333-mile track outside of Nashville owned by Dover Motorsports would open in 2001. However, not seeking NASCAR sanctions for the 2012 season would result in the track’s closure in August 2011.
Dover would try to sell the track three times. In 2014, a company by the name of NeXovation, Inc. was supposed to purchase the track, all assets, and equipment from Dover for $27 million. Unfortunately, the deal never fully materialized. NeXovation did invest $2.9 million, the majority of which was non-refundable. These fees were mostly in relation to deadline extensions.
Dover would later reopen the track sale in July 2015. NeXovation would continue its track purchasing process. However, missed deadlines and no receipt of payment would result in cancellation of the deal. No deal would materialize from the attempted re-sale in 2015.
An August 2016 attempted deal would materialize with Panattoni Development in a $44.7 million deal, with the intent for conversion to a distribution and logistics park. That deal would later fall through.
The 2021 reopening of the venue replaces one of the two dates normally reserved for Dover International. A familiar face from the XFL’s DC Defenders is serving as its president: Erik Moses, who was the founding president of the XFL team leading up to its 2020 revival.
The NASCAR race will take place on Father’s Day weekend on June 20.
NASCAR’s top division will be making its return to this Elkhart Lake, Wisc.-based track for the first time since the Grand National Series’ last appearance in 1956.
Road America, a 4.048-mile track has been the host of the Henry 180 in the Xfinity Series since 2010. The track, with its 14 turns, has a 20-year-old track record of 1.39.866 set by Dario Franchitti in 2000 during a Championship Auto Racing Teams race.
Reportedly, The venue will host both NASCAR series over Independence Day weekend.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Fans are usually accustomed to the 2.5-mile oval layout race. However, for 2021, NASCAR will utilize the 2.439-mile road course track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The track, owned by Penske Entertainment Group, has been a fixture in NASCAR since its inception. However, the speedway has been a fixture in the racing world since its opening in 1909.
Indianapolis is host to the Brickyard 400 for the Cup Series and the Pennzoil 150 for the Xfinity Series and that will be no different on Aug. 13-15, 2021. Racers in both series will have to tackle the road course.
O’Donnell: “Take steps to create the most dynamic schedule possible”
“We developed the 2021 schedule with one primary goal: Continue to take steps to create the most dynamic schedule possible for our fans,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “Extensive collaboration between NASCAR, the race tracks, race teams, and our broadcast partners allowed NASCAR to create what promises to be an exciting 2021 schedule of races.”
NASCAR President Steve Phelps had indicated in a Sept. 1 roundtable with reporters that the 2021 schedule could be released in segments as coronavirus safeguards continue to alter normal race-weekend operations. In a manner of speaking, it was, with tracks and other officials staggering their announcements throughout the day before the full 36-race schedule was released to the public.
Phelps said that he was “cautiously optimistic that many of the objectives that we would have had in a pre-COVID world, we will have during our 2021 season.” The 2021 slate was scheduled for a springtime release this year, but the more immediate efforts by competition and racing operations officials to salvage the 36-race schedule for 2020 have taken priority.
Other changes to the 2021 NASCAR schedule
With the exceptions of 1986 at Atlanta and 2020 at Bristol, Charlotte Motor Speedway has usually been the host of the NASCAR All-Star Race for all but two times in the race’s 35-year existence. On June 13, 2021, the All-Star Race will take place at Texas Motor Speedway for the first time ever.
Darlington Raceway will serve as host to two Cup Series races, on Mother’s Day weekend on May 9 and returning on September 5. The 1.366-mile track was host to three Cup races in 2020 and normally was the host of only one race from 2005 to 2019. The Labor Day weekend race will begin the 10-race NASCAR Playoffs with the annual Southern 500.
Also getting the nod for two races in 2021 is Atlanta Motor Speedway. The 1.54-mile track has been a fixture on NASCAR schedules since 1960. It has normally been the host of one annual race from 2011 through 2020. The 2021 dates are March 21 and July 11.
NASCAR Playoffs schedule mostly intact
Bristol will kick off the 10-race playoff schedule in the Round of 16, Charlotte Roval (Round of 12) and Martinsville (Round of 8) are returning as elimination races. Texas and Kansas are swapping places in the lineup, with Texas opening the Round of 8 on October 17 with Kansas to follow.
Chicagoland, Kentucky not on the schedule
Two mainstays of the Cup Series schedule will not be making an appearance in 2021.
Chicagoland Speedway, the 1.5-mile (or 1.52 mile, depending on who you’re asking) track would experience cancellations of all three NASCAR series races, as well as all NHRA races in 2020. This was unfortunate, being a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The future of the track and sister track Route 66 Raceway is uncertain, with rumors that surrounding plots of land near the track could be sub-developed to an industrial park. Chicagoland has been host to Cup Series races from 2001 to 2019 and was the playoff opener from 2011 to 2016.
Kentucky Speedway might not end up in the same situation. The 1.5-mile track has been the host of ten Cup Series races from 2011 to 2020, but isn’t on the schedule for 2021. While NASCAR is not hosting any events, ARCA has yet to announce whether they will host the Crosley 150 in their Menards Series in 2021.
2021 NASCAR Schedule
The 2021 NASCAR schedule including all playoff races, minus the championship are included below:
|Circuit of the Americas**
Finally, the NASCAR Championship 4 will take place November 7 at Phoenix to conclude the season.
Tickets for the 2021 NASCAR season are now available.
Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.