As one season winds down, a new one begins.
At 11 am on Wednesday, the NASCAR Cup Series unveiled the new schedule, which includes some new pieces to the yearly puzzle.
Two of the biggest additions to the schedule next season will be the now-officially moved to Los Angeles- “Clash at the Coliseum” that will take place two weeks before the Daytona 500, and a trip to World Wide Technology Raceway for the first time in Cup Series history. Affectionally known to most fans as Gateway, WWT Raceway has hosted races for the Camping World Truck Series from 1998 to 2010, then again from 2014 to present, and the Xfinity Series raced there annually from 1998-2010.
NASCAR begins it’s 73rd season the way it has annually since 1982, with the 64th running of the Daytona 500. Unlike most sports who have some of their biggest prizes up for grabs in the postseason, NASCAR starts with theirs. There will be a lot of eyes on next year’s 500, as it will be the points paying debut of the Next Gen car. Originally scheduled to debut in 2021, the rollout was pushed back a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. NASCAR and all of their partners are hoping that this brings the “stock” back into stock car racing and there is general excitement from the fans as testing has gone on.
The following Sunday (February 27th), the series returns to Auto Club Speedway for the first time since 2019. NASCAR’s last race at Auto Club was also the second-to-last race before the Covid break, and was won by Alex Bowman. It returns next season after being replaced by the Daytona Road Course in 2021. The Daytona Road Course is off the schedule next season altogether.
To continue the yearly “West Coast Swing”, the Cup Series will visit Las Vegas (March 6th) and Phoenix (March 13th). In 2021, the Las Vegas race was a week later, as they stopped at Homestead. Those two races were won by Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr., respectively this past season. Homestead now takes a late spot in the playoffs.
To round out the month of March, the series will stop at Atlanta (March 20th) and make their second appearance at COTA (March 27th). Traditionally when Atlanta was given two races in the season, the first would take place around the same date as next season. 2021’s race was a down to the wire finish that saw Ryan Blaney take the victory. A race that was met with plenty of anticipation by fans, COTA was a rain and accident plagued race that was called early due to rain. Chase Elliott was the inaugural winner.
April will see the short track season begin, as there are stops at Richmond (April 3rd), Martinsville (April 9th) and Bristol Dirt (April 17th). Bristol dirt returns for a second season, and for the first time in Cup Series history, the they will run a race on Easter Sunday. The race will also be run at night. Heavy rains pushed the Cup and Truck Series races on dirt to Monday and the race was won by Joey Logano. The final stop in April will be at Talladega (April 24th).
May will see trips to Dover (May 1st), Darlington for the throwback race (May 8th), Kansas (May 15th), Texas for the All-Star Race (May 22nd), and the sport’s longest race at Charlotte (May 22nd). Dover and Kansas have switched weekends from 2021, Texas takes the place of what normally would be All-Star week in Charlotte, and moves the All-Star race back to it’s normal weekend.
The last 10 races of the regular season will see a mix of tracks that include stops at the aforementioned WWT Raceway (June 5th), Sonoma (June 12th), Nashville (June 26th), Road America (July 3rd), the second stop at Atlanta (July 10th), New Hampshire (July 17th), Pocono (July 24th), the Road Course at Indianapolis (July 31st), Michigan (August 7th), Richmond (August 14th), Watkins Glen (August 21st), and ends with the regular season finale at Daytona (August 28th). Important to note is that Pocono has been reduced to one date. It has normally been given two races on the calendar since 1982. Richmond moves from the second race of the playoffs to two races before the regular season cutoff.
For the third consecutive season, Darlington will begin the Round of 16 for the playoffs on Labor Day weekend (September 4th). Replacing Richmond will be an additional stop at Kansas (September 11th), followed by the Bristol Night Race (September 18th). September rounds out with the points paying playoff race for Texas (September 25th).
The last full month of racing will include a return to Talladega for the Round of 8 cutoff race (October 2), the always unpredictable Charlotte Roval (October 9th), and Las Vegas for the second time (October 16th). Homestead returns to the playoffs after a two season break (October 23rd), and the Championship 4 cutoff remains at Martinsville (October 30th).
The season finale will again take place at Phoenix (November 6th), but NASCAR has said that in the future they are open to moving it to another track.
One of the biggest takeaways from the schedule is that there is only one built in off week for teams. In the past there has been at least two dates provided. This could be seen as NASCAR’s attempt to shorten an already long season. It remains to be seen how the drivers and teams will take to this change. NASCAR finally has their much coveted race in Los Angeles, even if it is just a exhibition race. It also shows that NASCAR is in the midst of a return to normalcy after two seasons of altered schedules. As the world begins it’s climb to restore itself from the past few years, it is good to know that NASCAR will present a familiar face.
Featured photo from @NASCAR on Twitter.