ThatsRacin

NASCAR makes major changes to 2020 Cup Series schedule, including a new championship track

Daytona International Speedway will see its traditional 4th of July race moved to the end of the regular season in 2020.
Daytona International Speedway will see its traditional 4th of July race moved to the end of the regular season in 2020. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

After repeated cries from fans and drivers alike for a revamped schedule, NASCAR finally has made substantial changes.

NASCAR made its most significant changes in years when the sanctioning body unveiled its 2020 Cup Series lineup Tuesday. Chief among the changes is moving the championship race from Homestead-Miami Speedway to the recently renovated ISM Raceway outside Phoenix. Homestead’s lone race will move to March 22.

“We think it’s time to rotate the championship,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing officer, during a live unveiling of the new schedule. He later said during a media teleconference that NASCAR’s hope is to “stay there for a little while,” rather than rotating the championship track every year.

But that is far from the only major scheduling shakeup. Other notable changes include:

NASCAR’s West Coast swing — Las Vegas, Fontana and Phoenix — moves up a weekend. Those three races will now immediately follow the Daytona 500.

Consequentially, Atlanta Motor Speedway’s spring race, usually held the second weekend of the season, moves to the middle of March.

Daytona International Speedway’s summer race — typically 4th of July weekend — switches with the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which previously was the final regular-season race. The summer Daytona race will now serve as the regular-season finale.

Darlington Raceway’s Labor Day weekend race will now be the first race of the playoffs rather than the penultimate weekend of the regular season.

NASCAR will attempt a Cup Series doubleheader at Pocono Raceway, with Cup events on both Saturday and Sunday of the same weekend.

Two consecutive off weekends in July and August during the Summer Olympics.

The playoff cutoff races move to Bristol, the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and then Martinsville, respectively. Martinsville also sees its spring date pushed back to Mother’s Day weekend, and that Saturday race will now be under the lights for the first time.

These changes are the result of collaboration between NASCAR and the sport’s two major track operators, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and International Speedway Corporation. NASCAR signed a five-year agreement with ISC and SMI in 2015 that mandated the physical venues for the Cup schedule. That means for 2020, NASCAR could only shuffle the order of its races rather than opting to replace or depart from previous tracks.

Those changes, though, could come as early as the 2021 schedule, when NASCAR will need to renegotiate its events.

“We could continue to wait, but I think the tracks were willing to make a move. Our TV partners certainly helped push us along, as well,” O’Donnell said. “It was one of those things that the timing was right from an industry standpoint to try some things, knowing that these may not be the be-all end-all for 2021 and beyond, but we could have some good learning for 2020 and hopefully build on some of the things we thought worked for the fans.”

O’Donnell brought up several other key points during his teleconference, including ones that relate to Charlotte Motor Speedway, an SMI track. He said NASCAR has floated the preliminary idea of rotating the All-Star Race each season, but due to preexisting contracts, that event couldn’t be moved away from Charlotte until the 2021 season at the earliest.

“NASCAR’s 2020 schedule is a product of unprecedented collaboration from so many stakeholders in our sport, but the most important were our fans,” Marcus Smith, SMI president and CEO, said in a statement. “We’ve taken a tremendous amount of fan feedback to create a schedule that maintains the tradition of NASCAR’s biggest weekends in our sport, while also adding some wrinkles the fans will love, particularly as we look ahead to the playoffs.”

O’Donnell also mentioned that NASCAR didn’t condense its schedule by more than a week because it wanted to cooperate with a request from NBC that the season end on Veterans Day. With NASCAR’s strong military ties, condensing the schedule by more than just a week would have made that request impossible.

More changes may come in the 2021 season, but the new 2020 schedule already marks a stark contrast from anything NASCAR has done in recent history.

“In my 25 years in NASCAR,” O’Donnell said, “this is the biggest change we’ve had in the schedule that I can remember.”

NASCAR Cup Series 2020 Schedule

Sunday, Feb. 9

The Clash (exhibition)

Thursday, Feb. 13

Duels at Daytona

Sunday, Feb. 16

Daytona

Sunday, Feb. 23

Las Vegas

Sunday, March 1

California

Sunday, March 8

Phoenix

Sunday, March 15

Atlanta

Sunday, March 22

Homestead-Miami

Sunday, March 29

Texas

Sunday, April 5

Bristol

Sunday, April 12

OFF

Sunday, April 19

Richmond

Sunday, April 26

Talladega

Sunday, May 3

Dover

Saturday, May 9

Martinsville

Saturday, May 16

All-Star Race (Charlotte)

Sunday, May 24

Charlotte

Sunday, May 31

Kansas

Sunday, June 7

Michigan

Sunday, June 14

Sonoma

Sunday, June 21

Chicagoland

Saturday, June 27

Pocono

Sunday, June 28

Pocono

Sunday, July 5

Indianapolis

Saturday, July 11

Kentucky

Sunday, July 19

New Hampshire

Sunday, July 26

OFF

Sunday, Aug. 2

OFF

Sunday, Aug. 9

Michigan

Sunday, Aug. 16

Watkins Glen

Sunday, Aug. 23

Dover

Saturday, Aug. 29

Daytona

Sunday, Sept. 6

Darlington*

Saturday, Sept. 12

Richmond *

Saturday, Sept. 19

Bristol *

Sunday, Sept. 27

Las Vegas *

Sunday, Oct. 4

Talladega*

Sunday, Oct. 11

Charlotte*

Sunday, Oct. 18

Kansas *

Sunday, Oct. 25

Texas *

Sunday, Nov. 1

Martinsville *

Sunday, Nov. 8

Phoenix*

*Playoff race

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.


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