There is a great deal to look forward to as the start of the 2021 NASCAR season fast approaches.
A number of driver changes, schedule modifications and team moves are about to give way to the real thing when cars hit the track at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 9 for the Busch Clash.
The sport did a remarkable job navigating its way through the COVID-19 pandemic that impacted the 2020 season. Despite a two-month forced hiatus from mid-March through mid-May, NASCAR officials were able to run every scheduled race on the calendar albeit in a few different venues than had been originally planned.
Unfortunately, the virus will continue to be a story in the first months of the new season and already the ’21 schedule has been modified. Auto Club Speedway was taken off the schedule due to the spike in cases and regulations in the state of California and replaced by a weekend on the Daytona Road Course. The switch basically sets up two weeks of competition at “The World Center of Racing” with the traditional “Speedweek” running from the Clash to the Daytona 500 on Feb. 14 and all three of NASCAR’s top three series coming back the following weekend (Feb. 19-21) on the track’s road course. Homestead-Miami Speedway shifted back one week with the schedule change.
See Also: MRN schedule for February
The hope is other races will go off when and where originally planned. But the Cup schedule underwent a dramatic overhaul for 2021 with a heavy influx of road racing in the mix a key component. In addition to the added Daytona Road Course event, new dates at Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Texas and Road America join the slate. Sonoma Raceway, Watkins Glen International and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval also return with the annual trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway also moving to the track’s road course. It brings the total number of scheduled Cup road races to seven.
NASCAR.com: Five to watch at road courses
There are also two new venues ahead this year. Nashville Superspeedway will host a NASCAR tripleheader on Father’s Day weekend, capped off by the first-ever Cup race there on June 20. The track, which had hosted Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series events for years, has been dormant for more than a decade. It was brought back to life by Dover Motorsports, which shifted a date from Dover International Speedway to bring racing back to the Music City.
The Cup Series will compete for the first time on dirt since September of 1970 when Bristol Motor Speedway changes its racing surface in March. Dirt will be applied to the half-mile Tennessee concrete track, a process that has already begun, with the Trucks and Cup Series competing on March 27 and 28.
The schedule isn’t the only thing that has ramped up expectations for the new season. A number of high-profile drivers and race teams will embark on the 2021 campaign.
There are new teams coming into the sport, including Trackhouse Racing, owned by Justin Marks and Pitbull, LiveFast Motorsports, the joint venture of Matt Tifft and BJ McLeod. But the 23XI Racing team, co-owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin with Bubba Wallace behind the wheel has already put NASCAR squarely in the spotlight.
NASCAR.com: Changes to know for 2021
Other changes include Kyle Larson making his return to NASCAR after being suspended last season. Larson joins Hendrick Motorsports, where he’ll pilot the No. 5 Chevrolet.
Christopher Bell comes in house at Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the No. 20 Toyota displacing Erik Jones, who has migrated to Richard Petty Motorsports and the famed No. 43.
Ross Chastain gets his shot a full-time Cup ride in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet.
A pair of rookie drivers are set as Chase Briscoe steps from his nine-win Xfinity Series effort a year ago to Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 14 Ford, replacing Clint Bowyer, who takes his talents to the FOX broadcast booth. Anthony Alfredo is the other full-time freshman as he pairs with Michael McDowell at Front Row Motorsports.
See Also: Alfredo Ready for Rookie Challenge
Also, Corey LaJoie will take one of the seats at the now two-car Spire Motorsports organization.
It’s been a busy offseason to say the least and one that has rightfully so, created a great deal of excitement, enthusiasm and intrigue for what lies ahead when the green flag flies on 2021 in less than a month.