By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The most anticipated day in NASCAR history has been tremendously spoiled, but it doesn’t mean the excitement and disappointment levels have waned. It’s the exact opposite because the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series calendar looks drastically different.
There’s so much to digest with various announcements involving multiple tracks over the past 24 hours have left not just NASCAR, but also the NTT IndyCar Series community buzzing.
SCHEDULE: 2021 NASCAR Cup Series
Depending on who you are, you’re either thrilled with the drastic changes on next season’s calendar or discontent because of such changes where tracks are either kicked to the curb or some ideas not warranted.
With the exception of one topic, I’ll give my quick thoughts of all the tracks impacted by the realignment because while I’m fully onboard with their decisions, there are few I just can’t put my proper finger onto why they went with that idea.
Ramifications to IndyCar’s Future
First off, how does this impact IndyCar if it’s mainly NASCAR?
It’s the first topic I wanted to bring up because their rumored calendar shows that NASCAR has plenty to do with my frustrations about the future of IndyCar.
According to RACER’s Robin Miller, Richmond Raceway, Iowa Speedway and Circuit of the Americas will be kicked to the curb in most part of NASCAR being very aggressive on forcing IndyCar out of those venues.
Richmond will still have two Cup races in 2021, but Iowa has zero racing events lined up. The latter is total blasphemous because they’re endangered of being gone forever.
You can kiss open wheel racing in COTA goodbye because you’re not going to convince me that Formula 1 is viable next year. Open wheel racing in Austin, especially the United States Grand Prix is dead. The only way F1 stays in the states will require Roger Penske convincing Liberty Media to have the event move to Indianapolis, which hasn’t been on the F1 tour since 2007.
If the calendar ends up being accurate, all they’ll have is a doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. Yikes! Not a good look for Indy car racing right now with the lack of ovals.
Circuit of the Americas
I’m thrilled COTA will still have some sort of racing in 2021. Even if the future of open wheel racing in Austin is all but dead, NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI) stepping up their A-game has brought some optimism because it’s one of six road courses. Yes, SIX road tracks which is the perfect max number without losing its mystique.
Only bummer is that it clashes with the Month of May at Indianapolis, and since that’s my number-one dream event to cover, COTA will have to wait but should make for a compelling NASCAR race weekend.
For the first time since 1956, Cup will be running at the 4.048-mile track in Wisconsin on Independence Day weekend.
This one is the most exciting announcement out of the whole entire bunch because I really hated the idea of swapping Daytona for Indianapolis as the new 4th of July race weekend. While I’m still not crazy about the 400-miler at Daytona being the regular season finale, at least the first July race is at a new location where hopefully a brand new proper tradition begins.
With Chicagoland Speedway gone, this is probably the best consolation prize they can have. Let’s just hope people will respond greatly and make it a vibe in Elkhart Lake because if that can be done, I have a good feeling everything is going to be alright.
Like COTA, Nasvhille is the other brand new venue the Cup Series will visit for the first time ever. Yes, it’s not the ideal venue because there are folks wanting NASCAR to head to the Fairgrounds. I understand that, but that just how it is sometimes.
We can’t get what we wish for, but if there’s every any snowball chance in hell of someday the sport going back to the Fairgrounds, they must show up to the concrete circuit in Lebanon first. If not, then the return to Music City USA will be a bust.
Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Circuit
Out of all the tracks impacted by the 2021 announcement, this one is by far my least favorite of the whole bunch. For the first time since 1970, Cup will have a dirt track on the calendar but it’s not at a legit dirt venue like Eldora Speedway, which is rumored to be out of the NASCAR Truck Series calendar.
Instead, it’s a hybrid dirt track at Bristol which hasn’t hosted a dirt race since 2001. This will replace the Food City 500 in the spring and all I have to say is this.
Why can’t you run at a real dirt track? Why add dirt at the expense of a day Bristol race, which this year I must say was real damn good?
It’s rather simple. SMI owns Bristol and much like they did with the ROVAL at Charlotte, it’s feasible to branch out.
While it’s a massive bummer we’ll only have one pure Bristol race, maybe having a dirt race is better than hosting the All-Star Race, which I didn’t enjoy. Better than nothing because I’ve been wanting to shoot dirt racing, so it may be a neat way to get my foot in the door on shooting such event.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix Circuit
After 27 Brickyard 400s, the 2.5-mile oval layout will now be exclusive to the Indy 500 once again. Honestly, it was a matter of time NASCAR kills off a once valuable tradition that ended up being damaged goods since Tiregate in 2008.
I won’t necessarily miss NASCAR running on the oval due to how sour things have gone since that disastrous 160-lap race. Needless to say, running on the road course is for the absolute best. In fact, it’s about the only thing NASCAR and IndyCar see eye-to-eye as we’ll have a proper “Indy Double” where fans should be able to attend next August.
Auto Club Speedway
The location of Auto Club Speedway will still be there, but it’s highly likely the final Auto Club 400 on the two-mile circuit before it becomes a short track.
I’m still very mixed about killing off one of the few unique tracks on the calendar because all they’ll have in 2022 and beyond is Michigan International Speedway, which will only have one Cup race in 2021.
Fontana is still the third race of the season, but now the first leg of the West Coast Swing as Las Vegas Motor Speedway has gone from the second race to now the fourth race of 2021.
Severely impacted by COVID-19 was the 1.5-mile track in Joliet, Illinois because it’ll be one of two tracks no longer a part of the Cup trail.
Like Fontana, Chicagoland was a popular IndyCar venue due to its excellent finishes but NASCAR wouldn’t really have some of that “instant classic” moments until the final two races ever held there.
You have the unforgettable duel between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson in 2018 and of course, Larson again trying to hunt down Alex Bowman for the win in 2019. Chicagoland slowly became one of the more favorable “cookie cutter” tracks on the tour and it’ll be sad if that track goes under because there’s really no future down there.
The consensus say they’re glad it’s off the calendar. I can’t blame them but like Chicagoland, its last two Cup races are remembered fondly for the finish which were won by Kurt Busch and Cole Custer respectively.
I remember it as the only venue Jeff Gordon failed to win in his entire legendary Hall of Fame Cup career. Anyways, from the very first Cup race in 2011, Kentucky has been an absolute dumpster fire that people only remember the heinous traffic control in the inaugural race (2011) and a truck blowing up in the parking lot five years later.
At least IndyCar fans have some good memories for the Sparta track and should honestly be considered as one of the possible racing series going there after 2020. That sport sorely needs more variety to keep the 1.5-mile track alive.
Atlanta Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway
Two tracks that one time faced major unknowns now have a second date once again.
Atlanta’s second date will be an absolute scorcher in July, which should make for a slick race and boost the changes of the track being surrounded with a casino resort. As a result, more revenue and perhaps fans can find more entertainment when the racing madness isn’t unfolding.
For Darlington, it caps off quite the redemption story that goes back to the Ferko Lawsuit from 2002-04. I thought the day of having two permanent Darlington races would never come and it’s the most deserving because the fans have responded extremely well since the Southern 500 was moved back to Labor Day in 2015.
This year alone, it had three excellent Cup races at the track “Too Tough to Tame,” and I feel like it’s a sweet reward. Speaking of excellent, Darlington and Nashville will run the low downforce package so expect much of the same what we saw this year.
Dover and Michigan International Speedway
Like New Hampshire Motor Speedway a few years ago, these two venues will now have a single Cup race and it had to be the unique venues once again.
The racing has been hot potato which explains a lot of the slow demise for those tracks, but all I’m hoping with this change is fans show up. If they don’t, then it’s real bad news for their future and we just can’t have more tracks fall on the weight side.
For the third straight year, Homestead is being moved around as it went from the championship race to originally mid-season before the pandemic to now the second race of the year. That has to be hell for the fans seeing the track being swapped around at different times of the year.
Even making it as the race after the Daytona 500, how many have the finances to go to all the races in a span of three weeks? Let’s not forget, there are folks who go to the events at New Smyrna and Volusia Speedway Park. That’s where the other week comes from because Speedweeks have been condensed into a single week.
It’s gotten to the point where the pockets of everyone will be impacted and it’s going to put people in a box where it’s one or the other. On paper, it’s a great idea but we’ll have to see how it either becomes a detriment or a blessing in disguise for Homestead because so many changes isn’t a good look for them.
Texas Motor Speedway
Finally, the site of the All-Star Race. Yep, I don’t necessarily like it even though it’s one of the easier tracks to travel.
With Kentucky gone, the 1.5-mile circuit has become one of the fans least favorite venues (Pocono being the other, which is the only Cup doubleheader in 2021). It would’ve been neat if it was held at the dirt track next to the speedway, but if they were going to lose one points race, then this is the next big thing for them.
What about having a rotation of tracks hosting the All-Star Race? I’m open to the idea, but if Texas is hosting it, you really think they’ll want that? I don’t think so. That being said, get used to it because I do think it’ll stay in Fort Worth for many years to come.
Wednesday, September 30, 2020 will go down as a memorable day for the sport’s history where hopefully can reflect fondly. Now we just have to see how it’ll all unfold with new venues, new ideas and sadly tracks facing trouble being the takeaways.
In the meantime, it’s time to cap off 2020 with plenty of playoff madness yet to unravel.