DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — NASCAR turned its eyes toward the future with the release of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule Wednesday afternoon, featuring a vastly different regular season than in the past.
While the calendar still features 36 races, headlined by the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 14, the first 26 races are headlined by sweeping alterations. The 10-race playoffs remain nearly unchanged.
Five new tracks dot next year’s schedule, from permanent road courses to a temporary dirt track, marking a vast departure from a somewhat “stagnant” makeup that was much-maligned by fans.
Circuit of The Americas, Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway and Wisconsin’s Road America are new tracks appearing on the Cup Series calendar for the first time, while Indianapolis Motor Speedway shifts its annual event from the 2.5-mile oval to the track’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course layout.
After a successful demonstration run by retired three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart in October, Circuit of The Americas joins the calendar on May 23, the week before the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway — one of NASCAR’s crown jewels and the longest race of the season.
Nashville, owned by Dover Motorsports, takes over the fall date from sister track Dover (Del.) Int’l Speedway and moves up to a mid-summer slot on June 20. That comes one week before the return of a doubleheader at Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway on back-to-back days, June 26-27.
Finally, the NASCAR Cup Series will host its first race on dirt since Sept. 30, 1970 when dirt is laid down for the spring event at the .533-mile Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on March 28.
It’s the second time that Bristol has been converted to a dirt track, following back-to-back years of sprint car and late model races being held on the clay at The Last Great Coliseum in 2000-’01.
Other notable changes include the move of the annual race at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway for the second year in a row, now slotting in behind the Daytona 500 as the second race of the season on Feb. 21 and creating a two-week Florida stretch to open the year.
Both Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway receive their longstanding second dates back next season, on May 9 and July 11, respectively.
The location of the NASCAR All-Star Race shifts for the second year in a row, moving from Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway to Texas Motor Speedway in exchange for Texas losing one of its points races to COTA.
Texas will host NASCAR’s $1 million All-Star night on June 13.
Daytona Int’l Speedway will host the regular-season finale Saturday night, Aug. 28, while the 10-race playoff schedule opens with the Southern 500 at Darlington on Sunday night, Sept. 5.
The Cup Series champion will be crowned at Arizona’s Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7.
The only change in the layout of the Cup Series playoffs is a date swap between Kansas Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in the penultimate round. Kansas now becomes the third-round opener and Texas picks up the middle race in the round that determines the four drivers fighting for the title.
As confirmed Tuesday evening by NASCAR officials, Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway do not appear on the calendar.
Conversely, Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Int’l return to the NASCAR Cup Series calendar after one-year absences due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Six of the 36 races will be run on road courses. It’s a diverse schedule that will provide numerous challenges to NASCAR Cup Series competitors throughout 2021.
“We developed the 2021 schedule with one primary goal, to 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.”
Of note, the Nashville Superspeedway event will serve as the kick off to the NBC Sports portion of the calendar, while FOX Sports broadcasts the first 16 points-paying events and concludes its stretch of the year with the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas.
To view the complete 2021 NASCAR Cup Series calendar, advance to the next page.