The rumors of 2021 raged for years. It would be the year NASCAR radically overhauled the long-stagnant schedule. After the massive realignment (pre-pandemic) for the 2020 season, NASCAR couldn’t afford to drop the ball.
And by god, NASCAR delivered.
NASCAR released the 2021 Cup Series schedule, Wednesday. It gave us the radical facelift that fans and media wanted for years.
Schedule breakdown by track type:
Road Course: 6
Other (Darlington + Nashville): 3
— Avery Hage (@AveryHage) September 30, 2020
New tracks join the fray.
Nashville Superspeedway gets the Cup Series date it sought for 20 years. After 65 years, the Cup Series returns to Road America. Circuit of the Americas now hosts three of the biggest racing series in the world (Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR).
Some tracks gained dates. Atlanta Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway return to two races a year.
The Cup Series visits Dover International Speedway, Michigan International Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway* just once.
*This doesn’t include the All-Star Race, which will run at Texas in 2021.
Two tracks — Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway — fell off the schedule, completely.
The Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway goes from the oval to the road course.
Finally, the Cup Series returns to dirt for the first time in over 50 years (more on this later).
Overall, it’s a collection of great and really dumb changes.
GREAT: More road courses, some tracks cut to once a year, others gained two a year and fewer night races.
DUMB: Turning Bristol’s spring date into a dirt race.
Yes, I wanted a dirt race on the Cup Series schedule. Yes, Bristol’s spring date has had indefensibly bad attendance for years. But Bristol Motor Speedway is arguably the best short track in NASCAR and puts on some of the best short track races each year.
Why not run a dirt race at already existing dirt tracks, like Knoxville Raceway or nearby Smoky Mountain Speedway?
Also, it’s dumb that there’s no midweek races in 2021. I get it. The ratings for them were abysmal. But NASCAR should’ve given it another try and see how a properly marketed midweek race would fare.
Furthermore, there’s still only three off-weeks for the Cup Series. Two of which come back-to-back, because of the rescheduled Summer Olympics. More midweek races would’ve allowed for more off-weeks in a 36-race season that’s always a grind.
But I won’t complain too hard. The fact that changes happened at all is mesmerizing. This was unthinkable just five years ago, when NASCAR signed its short-sighted sanctioning agreements.
No longer is the Cup Series schedule stagnant as molasses, like it was for nearly 20 years. No longer is the schedule stacked with mile and a half races. No longer is there only two road course races. Now, there’s balance.
We wanted major changes to the schedule for 2021, and NASCAR delivered.
That’s my view, for what it’s worth.