NASCAR promised a major overhaul of the 2021 Cup Series schedule and delivered.
After years of a tweak here and an occasional change there, next year’s slate represents the calendar’s biggest overhaul maybe since the "Modern Era" began in 1972.
New road courses, familiar tracks dropped, second dates returning to traditional speedways and yes a dirt race all dot the ’21 schedule.
NASCAR aggressively expanded its road racing footprint for the coming campaign. Joining the established trio of Watkins Glen, Sonoma and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval on the slate are new events at Wisconsin’s Road America and COTA, the Circuit of Americas track located in Austin, Texas.
See Also: 2021 Cup Series Schedule Released
Road America has hosted NASCAR racing for more than a decade since the Xfinity Series migrated to the four-mile facility from its days at the Dairy State’s Milwaukee Mile. The event has been a success both on and off the track and after several years of speculation NASCAR’s top tour will make its debut 4th of July weekend no less.
The COTA date came as a bigger surprise. Texas Motor Speedway had adamantly fought any talk of NASCAR coming to the Lone Star State at a track other than the 1.5-mile in Ft. Worth. But times change and the two entities worked together to bring the sport to the world-class facility.
This year’s successful Xfinity Series race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course spurred the idea to put the Cup Series on the circuit as part of a new Brickyard weekend in August. I’m not sure if the same tradition and prestige of racing on the Indy oval that has hosted racing since 1911 will translate immediately to the road circuit, which was born in 2000. But clearly the goal was to provide the opportunity for a more competitive and entertaining race something the Xfinity Series delivered.
By far the even bigger roll of the dice will come in April at Bristol, when the iconic Tennessee bullring is transformed into a dirt track. It won’t be the first time as the World of Outlaws competed there in a similar transition 20 years ago. But it will mark the Cup Series’ first dirt race in decades while taking away only one of six pavement short track races that had been on recent schedules. There will no doubt be a curiosity and novelty factor. It remains to be seen whether it’s a competitive if not artistic success.
Throw in the previously announced Nashville Superspeedway weekend as well as a second date added at Darlington Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway and 2021 has a completely different look. Unfortunately, the downside of adding events and venues came at the expense of both Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway being dropped from the calendar with Michigan and Dover reduced to single race weekends on the schedule.
To many the NASCAR schedule had become as stale as last week’s bread. Officials have talked about the willingness to change when conditions were right for the last several years. That time finally arrived with the announcement of the 2021 slate.
The ingredients are there for at the very least will be a very different journey from Daytona to the championship.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.