The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule was announced recently, and like 2020, the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s biggest and most prestigious event, will kick off the season while the Coke Zero Sugar 400 will again be the final race of the regular season.
NASCAR officials released the 2021 Cup Series schedule Wednesday, introducing three new tracks, expanding to six road courses and placing a dirt-track race on the calendar for the first time in more than 50 years.
Next year’s Cup Series remains at 36 point-paying races, starting with the Daytona 500 (Feb. 14) and ending with the championship finale at Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 7). In between those bookends, there are new venues and schedule shuffles as part of the dramatic changes long hinted at by NASCAR officials.
Among the shifts for 2021 are these highlights:
— May 23: Circuit of The Americas, a pristine 3.426-mile road course in Austin, Texas, that has been host to Formula 1, IndyCar and IMSA competition.
— June 20: Nashville Superspeedway, a 1.33-mile oval in Lebanon, Tennessee, that was confirmed for the 2021 schedule last spring.
— July 4: Road America, a historic 4.048-mile road circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, that last hosted the Cup Series in 1956.
— Aug. 15: Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile road course, a shift from the 2.5-mile oval layout.
The Cup Series will also diversify its calendar with a temporary conversion of Bristol Motor Speedway to a dirt-track surface for its March 28 event. The last time NASCAR’s top division raced on dirt, Richard Petty won at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds’ dusty half-mile in Raleigh on Sept. 30, 1970.
“We developed the 2021 schedule with one primary goal: 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.”
NASCAR president Steve Phelps had indicated in a Sept. 1 roundtable with reporters that the 2021 schedule could be released in segments as coronavirus safeguards continue to alter normal race-weekend operations. In a manner of speaking, it was, with tracks and other officials staggering their announcements throughout the day before the full 36-race release later Wednesday afternoon.
Phelps said Sept. 1 that he was “cautiously optimistic that many of the objectives that we would have had in a pre-COVID world, we will have during our 2021 season.” The 2021 slate was scheduled for a springtime release this year, but the more immediate efforts by competition and racing operations officials to salvage the 36-race schedule for 2020 have taken priority.
Among the other highlights in the 2021 schedule release:
— The NASCAR All-Star Race will move to Texas Motor Speedway for the first time, with the annual invitational set for a June 13 date. The non-points exhibition has been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway for 33 of 35 runnings, with only single All-Star events taking place at Atlanta Motor Speedway (1986) and Bristol Motor Speedway (2020).
— Darlington Raceway will play host to two Cup Series races in 2021, slotting in at May 9 and Sept. 5 on the schedule. The 1.366-mile South Carolina track held three Cup races this year as competition officials gave priority to events within driving distance in its return after the COVID-19 outbreak. It had held one event annually from 2005-19. Darlington’s annual Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend will again serve as the opener of the 10-race playoffs.
— Atlanta Motor Speedway also expands to two annual stops on the Cup Series schedule, set for March 21 and July 11. The 1.54-mile track has been a part of the NASCAR calendar since 1960 and has held one race each year from 2011-20.
— The 10-race postseason schedule remains largely intact, with Bristol Motor Speedway (Round of 16), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Round of 12) and Martinsville Speedway (Round of 8) returning as the elimination races. Only Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway trade places in the postseason lineup, with Texas (Oct. 17) aligned as the Round of 8 opener with Kansas (Oct. 24) to follow.
— Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway have been removed from the Cup Series schedule. Chicagoland had been on the Cup calendar from 2001-19 and served as the playoff opener from 2011-16. Kentucky Speedway hosted 10 Cup Series races from 2011-20.
The full 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule:
Feb. 14 — Daytona International Speedway
Feb. 21 — Homestead-Miami Speedway
Feb. 28 — Auto Club Speedway
March 7 — Las Vegas Motor Speedway
March 14 — Phoenix Raceway
March 21 — Atlanta Motor Speedway
March 28 — Bristol Motor Speedway
April 4 — Easter holiday
April 10 — Martinsville Speedway
April 18 — Richmond Raceway
April 25 — Talladega Superspeedway
May 2 — Kansas Speedway
May 9 — Darlington Raceway
May 16 — Dover International Speedway
May 23 — Circuit of The Americas
May 30 — Charlotte Motor Speedway
June 6 — Sonoma Raceway
June 13 — Texas Motor Speedway, All-Star Race
June 20 — Nashville Superspeedway
June 26 — Pocono Raceway
June 27 — Pocono Raceway
July 4 — Road America
July 11 — Atlanta Motor Speedway
July 18 — New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Aug. 8 — Watkins Glen International
Aug. 15 — Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course
Aug. 22 — Michigan International Speedway
Aug. 28 — Daytona International Speedway
Sept. 5 — Darlington Raceway
Sept. 11 — Richmond Raceway
Sept. 18 — Bristol Motor Speedway
Sept. 26 — Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Oct. 3 — Talladega Superspeedway
Oct. 10 — Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval
Oct. 17 — Texas Motor Speedway
Oct. 24 — Kansas Speedway
Oct. 31 — Martinsville Speedway
Nov. 7 — Phoenix Raceway