Fewer Ovals, Big Changes Highlight IndyCar Calendar

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The NTT IndyCar Series has held several doubleheaders this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Al Steinberg photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – Next year’s NTT IndyCar Series schedule will be heavier on street and road courses, and a bit light on ovals.

It will also feature some big changes with some venerable venues.

With more street and road courses on the schedule, that could mean seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson could be close to a full-time competitor, should he land sponsorship to an already committed partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing.

It will also include an expanded relationship with NBC as the television partner.

Those are some of the big takeaways to the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series schedule that was announced at 10:30 a.m. E.T. in Indianapolis.

Noticeably absent is Iowa Speedway, which hosted a doubleheader weekend this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Richmond Raceway, which was supposed to return to the schedule this year before the event was nixed by COVID-19, is also missing from the schedule.

Circuit of the Americas, which debuted on the NTT IndyCar Series calendar in 2019, also falls off the schedule. The track was also set to host the series again this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to that event being canceled.

One of the biggest changes is Texas Motor Speedway will become a doubleheader and move to early May, before the 105th Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend.

“The changes in Texas are important and exciting,” said Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles. “To have not just one oval race, but two, before racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May is strategically very important to the growth of the event, as well.”

The 2021 campaign begins on Sunday, March 7 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It will be one of nine races televised on NBC. The remainder of the 17-race schedule with be on NBCSN.

“We’re really pleased that the current plans provide for one additional race on NBC’s network than we had this year,” Miles said. “In particular, the season will start with NBC coverage of the St. Petersburg event, a spectacular start for those in attendance and for those watching from home.”

The extra NBC opportunity could help create more awareness for IndyCar, it’s teams and sponsors.

“The IndyCar and NBC Sports partnership continues to be mutually beneficial, growing in viewership and providing adrenaline-packed entertainment to a national sports audience,” said Michael Perman, vice president, programming, NBC Sports. “We’re looking forward to providing increased exposure to the series in 2021, including network coverage of the season opener in St. Pete and the finale in Laguna Seca. Additionally, as a marquee event of our Championship Season, we’ll also provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Indy 500 on NBC, an international sporting spectacle filled with speed and exceptional drama.”

For the first time, IndyCar will race at the Texas Motor Speedway in the month of May during a doubleheader weekend May 1-2. The move places a crucial oval on the schedule before the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, scheduled for May 30.

The summer months kick off with the Detroit doubleheader moving to the second weekend in June, on June 12-13. Racing in Detroit will actually begin one week earlier, when the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship visits Belle Isle Park on June 4-5.

The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will host IndyCar during the July 4 holiday weekend.

In August, the NTT IndyCar Series enters an important stretch, with consecutive races on a street course, road course and an oval highlighting the audacious athleticism required to win a championship.

That important run begins with IndyCar’s debut on the on the streets of Nashville, Tenn., for the first Music City Grand Prix on Aug. 8. The three-day international festival of speed and sound will be staged on a temporary grand prix circuit in downtown Nashville and around the Nissan Stadium campus – home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

“We couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to race on the streets of Nashville, which we think will be a blockbuster event in its first year,” Miles said. “It’ll help raise the bar – not just for great racing – but for a great festival around INDYCAR.”

Six days later, the NTT IndyCar Series once again will join NASCAR’s famous Brickyard weekend, returning to the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 14.

“After the proof of concept this year,” said Miles, “we look forward to having an IndyCar Grand Prix during the Brickyard weekend – and inviting fans be a part of it. We know the strong Midwest affinity for IndyCar racing and the love for IndyCar drivers will help that weekend reach new levels.”

The three-weekend stretch culminates with a return to the oval at World Wide Technology Raceway on Aug. 21.

Several traditional races return in 2021. More than half of the events on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule have been on the calendar for 16 or more years, with Long Beach and Mid-Ohio (36 years) leading legendary visits to Detroit, Road America, Toronto and Portland Int’l Raceway.

The NTT IndyCar Series season champion will be crowned Sept. 19 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, wrapping up the season on NBC. Event start times will be announced at a later date.

2021 NTT IndyCar Series Schedule

March 7 – Streets of St. Petersburg – St. Petersburg, Fla.
April 11 – Barber Motorsports Park – Leeds, Ala.
April 18 – Streets of Long Beach – Long Beach, Calif.
May 1-2 – Texas Motor Speedway – Fort Worth, Texas
May 15 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course – Indianapolis, Ind.
May 30 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Indianapolis, Ind.
June 12-13 – Raceway at Belle Isle Park – Detroit, Mich.
June 20 – Road America – Elkhart Lake, Wis.
July 4 – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – Lexington, Ohio
July 11 – Exhibition Place – Toronto, Ontario
Aug. 8 – Streets of Nashville – Nashville, Tenn.
Aug. 14 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course – Indianapolis, Ind.
Aug. 21 – World Wide Technology Raceway – Madison, Ill.
Sept. 12 – Portland Int’l Raceway – Portland, Ore.
Sept. 19 – WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – Monterey, Calif.