The 2021 schedule was originally set to be released sometime in April but the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent two-month shutdown of the sport shelved those plans as NASCAR’s focus turned to getting the 2020 season completed.
NASCAR appears to have successfully achieved that goal as its three national series – Cup, Xfinity and Trucks – are all scheduled to complete their respective seasons with championship races the first weekend of November.
The pandemic, however, still remains, although its effects vary from state to state, which creates even more challenges.
The 2021 Cup schedule is expected to feature significant changes both in the types of races on the schedule and the tracks on which they will take place.
During a Zoom call with media Tuesday, NASCAR President Steve Phelps could not give a timetable on when the 2021 schedule would be completed and said it may end up being released in “pieces.”
“There are a lot of different variables and factors that need to go into what our 2021 schedule is going to look like,” he said. “Do we want to continue to look at potential new venues? The answer is yes. Do we want to look at potential format changes? Yes. Do we want to consider continuing one-day shows in some form or fashion? Probably.
“That’s something that we have to weigh with all the stakeholders in the industry – the tracks themselves, our broadcast partners and the content they would lose as part of this, the teams and what it looks like to try to help them out. These are difficult times, and so all of those things are things that we are taking into consideration.”
Some changes have already been announced.
The 43rd running of the preseason Busch Clash non-points race will be held on the Daytona International Speedway road course for the first time on Tuesday night, Feb. 9, with the traditional Daytona 500 Cup Series season-opener following on Sunday, Feb. 14.
In June, NASCAR and Dover Motorsports Inc. – which owns Dover (Del.) International Speedway – announced it would move one of its current Cup races at Dover to Nashville Superspeedway in 2021, likely to run next June.
The 1.33-mile concrete track was built in 2001 by DMI and hosted NASCAR and IndyCar Series-sanctioned events from 2001 to 2011.
Phelps said NASCAR is moving forward with creation of its 2021 schedule having to incorporate contingency planning assuming the pandemic could still affect race sites and attendance into 2021.
“I am cautiously optimistic that many of the objectives that we would have had in a pre-COVID world we will have during our 2021 season,” Phelps said.
“But, again, there are just a lot of moving parts, and we need to wrestle those to the ground before we’re able to discuss what (the schedule) looks like.”
Some issues have become clearer:
¨ While mid-week races remain “viable” in the future, Phelps said, the prospect of them appearing in the 2021 schedule is “on the lower end of probability.”
¨ After a successful debut as a replacement for Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International this season, Phelps says a permanent spot on the schedule for the Daytona Road Course was possible but would have to be an additional race at Daytona, not replacing its two oval track events.
¨ Phelps said access to pit road and garage areas would continue to be prohibited for fans, certain team members, sponsor guests and media until a proven COVID-19 vaccine, or other similarly effective treatment, was widely available.