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What You Need To Know About The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Schedule

Illustration for article titled What You Need To Know About The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Schedule
Photo: Matt Sullivan (Getty Images)

When it comes to its schedule, NASCAR doesn’t take many risks. At least, not until 2021. Next year’s Cup Series schedule includes quite a few shakeups, including additions, removals, and reconfigurations. Here’s everything you need to know about what to expect for 2021.

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Note that this is just the Cup Series schedule. The Xfinity and Truck Series schedules are yet to come.

Bristol’s Dirt Race

We’ve already written about the fact that NASCAR will be going dirt racing for the first time in 50 years, but there is a little bit I’d like to add. Instead of just contesting an event at a dirt track, Bristol will be hauling in 15,000 truckloads of dirt to cover the concrete track. It seems a little bit excessive, and it’s a little frustrating that the Cup schedule has to sacrifice one of its most exciting short tracks. But, hey—that’s NASCAR.

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Interestingly, part of the push for a dirt race came from FOX Sports, one of NASCAR’s two broadcasting partners. It was, in part, the commentators discussing trucking in dirt to cover Bristol that encouraged the track to make it happen.

Bristol makes sense for a dirt race. Back in 2000 and 2001, the track did something similar by covering its concrete surface in clay to host the World of Outlaws.

Circuit Of The Americas Makes Its Debut

I’ve been hearing this rumor make the rounds for a while, but now it’s official: the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas will be hosting its first-ever NASCAR Cup Series race. If you’re getting ready to protest and say that the track is way too long, never fear: the track will be reconfigured to be 2.2 miles long with 15 turns.

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COTA’s financial situation has been fairly shaky for quite a while. The hope is that a NASCAR Cup Series race at the track will be something of an economic boost.

Road Courses All The Rage

Fans have been asking for more road courses, and NASCAR has delivered. Along with COTA, Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course join the schedule. Watkins Glen, Sonoma, and the Charlotte ROVAL make for a grand total of six road events.

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Road America has recently hosted Xfinity Series races, but 2021 will be the first time that the Cup Series returns to the track since 1956. That’s 65 years. It will take place during the Fourth of July, a weekend that’s usually reserved for the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

And while the Cup Series will still be heading to IMS, it’ll be doing so at the road course, not the oval, for the first time ever. That’s to revitalize the NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader that took place at the track out of necessity earlier this year. IndyCar will race on Saturday, August 14. NASCAR will be racing the next day.

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A New All-Star Race Venue

NASCAR has been a little more playful with the venue for the All-Star race, which is essentially an annual exhibition race between race winners from the previous and current season, along with previous Cup Series champions. Most of the events have taken place at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but 2020 saw the event take place at Bristol.

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For 2021, it’s moving to a new track: Texas Motor Speedway.

It’s certainly an interesting decision, considering the fact that TMS is highly criticized for being a boring NASCAR track. But with the All-Star event taking the place of a points-scoring, 500-mile event, the hope is that things will be a little spicier.

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The series will return to TMS in October for a points event.

Double the Darlington

For the first time since 2004, Darlington Raceway is scheduled to host more than one Cup Series date. The track was only scheduled to host one event in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic saw the series heading there three times. It was a reminder that the track puts on some damn good racing.

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The first event will take place on Mother’s Day, May 9. The second is the traditional Southern 500 on Labor Day.

Say Goodbye To Chicagoland And Kentucky

Two tracks are notably absent from the 2021 Cup Series schedule: Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway.

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Recently, 1.5-mile tracks have been falling out of favor. Fans find them boring. They want more diversity in the schedule. They’re not interested in yet another event at a cookie-cutter track. Neither Chicagoland nor Kentucky made the cut.

The Lexington Herald Leader has argued that, unfortunately, some disastrous first years resulted in the decline of the event. Weather, traffic, and more culminated in a frustrating experience for fans, many of whom never returned.

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Whatever the case, it looks like NASCAR is slowly shifting its goals, which include more short tracks, more road courses, and more excitement.

Full Schedule

February 9: Clash (Daytona road course)
February 11: Duel at Daytona
February 14: Daytona International Speedway
February 21: Homestead-Miami Speedway
February 28: Auto Club Speedway
March 7: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
March 14: Phoenix Raceway
March 21: Atlanta Motor Speedway
March 28: Bristol Motor Speedway (dirt)
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
August 8: Watkins Glen International
August 15: Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course
August 22: Michigan International Speedway
August 28: Daytona International Speedway
September 5: Darlington Raceway
September 11: Richmond Raceway
September 18: Bristol Motor Speedway
September 26: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
October 3: Talladega Superspeedway
October 10: Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL
October 17: Texas Motor Speedway
October 24: Kansas Speedway
October 31: Martinsville Speedway
November 7: Phoenix Raceway

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

Not happy with TMS hosing the All-Star race, but I’m ok with it as a necessary evil to avoid Eddie Gossage throwing a shitfit over NASCAR hosting a race at another Texas track that *isn’t* his.

Only real negative is the removal of the IMS/Brickyard oval race... yes, not the most terribly exciting race year-after-year, but it’s still iconic. The IMS road course is decent compensation, but wish they could have done both.

All that effort to temporarily turn Bristol in a dirt track, when Tony Stewart’s Eldora is just *sitting* there, begging to be used? I guess, similar to the TMS situation, they have a packed schedule, and this is a compromise, so that they hit Bristol twice in the schedule.