NASCAR’s 2020 schedule changes, ranked

NASCAR unveiled its 2020 schedule on Tuesday, marking the most impactful changes in years. Here are 15 of the biggest changes, ranked in order of best to worst.

1. Martinsville will decide who goes to the final four

If you thought the fall Martinsville race was intense before, when it was the opening race of the final round, just wait until next year. The Nov. 1 race at Martinsville is going to represent the final chance to make it to the championship race at Homestead — er, Phoenix! — and you can bet the aggression levels will be off the charts. There might be a legitimate brawl on pit road after this one.

2. Martinsville gets a night race

Helllllllllll yes! This is a great move and has been long anticipated ever since the track installed lights. A Saturday night race at Martinsville (May 9) should make for quite a spectacle — and tickets might make for an easy gift for Mother’s Day (the day after the race) if you have a NASCAR-loving mama.

3. Pocono Doubleheader weekend

This is innovative and smart. Major kudos to whoever was involved in pulling this plan off, because obviously it took some give-and-take between the track, NBC and NASCAR. Two Pocono races in the span of eight weeks have seemed excessive for years now, so it’s nice to see both Pocono Cup races in a single weekend (June 27 and June 28). That’s a ton of value for fans, a unique demand on drivers and teams and a huge unknown as to how it will all unfold.

4. Atlanta moves toward warmer weather

Poor Atlanta had seemed punished with its race date for the last few years, but now NASCAR will start the West Coast Swing right after the Daytona 500. Maybe three weeks won’t make a huge difference, but the odds of a nicer weekend certainly increase by putting it on March 15 instead of Feb. 24, as it was this year.

5. Bristol Night Race as Round 1 cutoff race

Having Bristol as a playoff race (Sept. 19) is a cool concept and there’s going to be a lot on the line given it’s the end of Round 1. The big worry would be whether this detracts from the traditional Bristol Night Race date — which obviously sold out for decades but has recently taken a hit. Now kids will be back in school and it will be up against college football. Racing-wise, though, it should be a must-watch.

6. West Coast Swing after Daytona

The order of the races is changed a bit — Fontana (March 1) now goes in front of Phoenix (March 8), but everything is moved up a week starting with Las Vegas (Feb. 23). This is a good thing overall, but there are some potential weather concerns. That weird Vegas snowstorm would have happened during race weekend this year, and there could still be some rain at Fontana (weepers!) as Southern California exits winter. NASCAR has to go somewhere, though, and it’s better to try their luck with the West Coast instead of Atlanta.

7. Vegas playoff race exits the extreme heat

There’s some potential relief here. The Vegas playoff race, in mid-September for its first two years, will now be two weeks later on Sept. 27 (though the track had advertised the date on posters as October). As a tradeoff, Vegas loses the playoff opener — but is now the opening race of the second round. So there won’t be the same pre-playoff hype, but still a pretty solid deal for the track.

8. Olympic off-weeks

NBC and its networks are broadcasting the Olympics again next summer, so NASCAR chose to accommodate its TV partner by installing back-to-back off weekends (July 26 and Aug. 2). It’s sort of weird to not have any Cup racing at that time of the summer, but it’s also such a long season (that will only end one week earlier, despite the schedule shakeup) that it could provide a nice break for drivers, crews and fans alike while also rejuvenating everyone for the final push.

9. Round 2 of the playoffs

Wow, check out this lineup of races for the second round: Las Vegas (Sept. 27), Talladega (Oct. 4), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 11). Yes, two wild card races in the same round. That really has the potential to knock out a championship-caliber driver or team, which isn’t ideal in the competition sense. But it certainly makes for drama, and we’ll all be talking about that round of the playoffs all year long as drivers scramble to give themselves a buffer with playoff points. Your view of this round comes down to how you feel about the playoff concept in general, I’m guessing.

10. Daytona as the regular season cutoff race

Sooooooo many fans are going to be angry about Daytona losing its traditional July 4 Weekend date. I get it. Another tradition gone, this one dating back to when the track opened in 1959 (!!!). That’s tough to swallow. On the other hand, Daytona as the regular season cutoff race (Aug. 29) is intriguing. If a driver hasn’t made the playoffs by Race No. 26, should they really be upset if the Big One ruins their shot? It has the potential to be a cool last-chance type race. I just wish it didn’t mean another loss of tradition. (But hey, at least NASCAR backed off the possibility of not starting the season with the Daytona 500. Phew.)

11. Dover loses playoff race

This stinks for Dover and I feel bad for them, but I guess sacrifices had to be made. Dover’s second race now goes from early October to Aug. 23. There’s not really a lot to say about this one, but it was a change in the schedule, so I had to rank it.

12. Southern 500 opens the playoffs

The Southern 500 is one of NASCAR’s most prestigious races — maybe second only to the Daytona 500 now that the Brickyard has gotten watered down by its constant date movement and lack of crowds. So having Darlington open the playoffs? That means the race winner might get out of his car in victory lane and say, “I’m so happy we’re locked into Round 2!” Shouldn’t the Southern 500 — the SOUTHERN 500! — be able to stand on its own? That said, I assume NASCAR was in a box here if it wanted to shorten the season by a week and still be able to let Darlington keep the Labor Day date. So maybe it couldn’t be avoided.

13. Homestead loses championship, moves to random date in March

I absolutely hate this. Homestead is the perfect intermediate track and has consistently produced classic championship races. There’s been no better place to end the season. “Homestead” has become synonymous with “championship” in NASCAR. Now Homestead has not only lost the championship race, but isn’t even in the playoffs. It’s March 22, between Atlanta and Texas. The weather should still be decent, judging by the recent news reports about the chaotic Spring Break crowds overrunning Miami Beach. But it’s a bummer to see such a great track lose its importance on the NASCAR calendar and become just another race.

14. Indianapolis hosts July 4 Weekend race for Brickyard 400

Last year, we were told Indianapolis needed to be the regular season finale in September to get away from the unbearable Indiana summer weather. Now the race is back in the summer — on July 5, of all dates (a Sunday afternoon race). It will have the humidity of a Daytona July race, just without the beach or attractive vacation spot for race fans.

15. Phoenix will host NASCAR championship weekend

If Homestead had to lose the championship race, for whatever reason, was anyone out there stumping for Phoenix as the finale? Vegas or Fontana…maybe. But Phoenix? Look, the track renovation was great and the infield looks cool. But the racing at Phoenix, aside from a couple exciting laps on restarts, doesn’t exactly scream “championship.” In addition, this is a series with 15 races out of 36 races contested on intermediate tracks and only three contested on flat 1-mile ovals. And now the championship will be one of the latter. The plus side would be if this started a new trend of changing the finale every year — but NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said the plan is to try it at Phoenix for awhile and see how it goes. So it might turn out Phoenix ends up as the new championship race for years to come.

49 Replies to “NASCAR’s 2020 schedule changes, ranked”

  1. Honestly it’s probably the best they could’ve done. I like everything except Indianapolis. Wish they would’ve had a Sports Car/NASCAR double header on the road course. July 4 round here is miserable!

    1. The best solution with IMS is to give it back to open wheel. Stock cars never belonged there . Tired old track with terrible sight lines that rips off the fans. Exciting night race at LORP sacrificed to try to keep this going.

  2. My thought. What angers me the most is there are 4 tracks near me, Indianapolis, Chicagoland, Kentucky, and Michagan. Now they are all within a few weeks of each other. The only 2 close enough to do in one day are Chicagoland and Brickyard. I have a handicapped daughter who doesn’t travel well. There is no way dates that close together will allow her to attend with me. Or for me to be able to attend more than 1 of those events.

    Also I’m very sad about Homestead
    2 years ago, after my dad passed away, my sister and I made Homestead our tradition. He passed away November 16th a d that was race weekend. We started taking vacations and enjoying Florida before the race. Dad loved 3 things, family, vacation and Nascar. It was a perfect combination of all three to honor his life. That loss breaks my heart.

  3. In my opinion,most of these changes are just unnecessary,and not needed.
    I can understand why they’d move the West Coast Swing,move Atlanta,give Martinsville a night race,and the olympics off weeks.

    But move Indy back to July? The whole point of it in September was so it wouldn’t be so hot. Daytona regular season finale? That just sounds silly and absurd to have a plate race decide who’s in and who’s out of the playoffs,along with having it lose its great 4th of July weekend date. ISM playoff finale? Why? It was great as the 2nd to last race,and (imo) just doesn’t need to be the finale. Homestead was the perfect track for the finale,and gave the track some importance and great meaning,and now? Its just some random race in March.

  4. Don’t mind the changes but wish that they would have left Richmond as a Saturday night race.

  5. I’m loving the changes! I know some had to lose in this, but Homestead being the championship race each year was starting to drag in my opinion and I love the idea of changing that each year. Hopefully that will be the case. Love the Martinsville changes given I’m 2 hours from the track! The fall race has always been one of the best races of the season and that is only getting better. Love a full night race there! I like the idea of the Brickyard getting a cornerstone date, but I know the weather could be brutal. Time will tell if that helps or hurts more. The double weekend at Pocono is a great idea! Not my favorite track, but the dynamics of 2 races is really cool. Hoping fans will come out to that given the awesome value.

  6. No real Impact to me on the races I attend…..AMS is better.
    If ISM still can’t sell out…..then what?

  7. Overall, nice changes to the schedule. I don’t get all the excitement for the a night race at Martinsville. It’s been argued time and again by drivers that day races with a hot, slick track, produce better racing. Everyone clamored for the Clash to return to the day time; Chicago had a great race in the heat; heck, even the Charlotte oval races were better on Sunday then the originally scheduled Saturday night.
    Just because the cars look cool at night doesn’t mean the race will be better.

    1. 80 percent chance of rain. Dumb move. No way they get good weather. BTW when is qualifying for the Sunday race or Saturday for that matter?

  8. I know they say we’ll get over change, but some of these are more boneheaded than others…

    1. Homestead during Spring Break season? Hard pass.
    2. Martinsville in November? Good luck with the weather for *that* one…
    3. Switching the Firecracker 400 and the Brickyard 400 is asinine. Indy has no lights, so you’re stuck with a day race. And wasn’t Indy *just* moved to avoid that?

    I’ve been to all four of these races. I might go back to one (Daytona fall) at this point. And this comes from someone who lived less than 20 miles from IMS for many years. As a friend of mine just said, this is just reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  9. NASCAR really is determined to kill the Brickyard, aren’t they? Daytona in July was brutal, but at least they raced under somewhat cooler night temps.

    Harvick may have lucked himself into a championship or two with ISM hosting the finale. And since the playoffs era started, everyone has always said Larson can win a championship if he can just stay alive during the chase and make it to Homestead. Guess that’s a thing of the past now.

  10. I’m gonna miss the Kansas Speedway night race in May since I go every year. Replacing the Firecracker 400 with the Brickyard 400 on July 4th weekend is absurd. Also, Daytona shouldn’t be the last regular season race.

  11. Pocono has to have discount packages for both races. Very interested how they try to advertise ticket sales. Also the weather in Pocono is always unpredictable. Curious what happens when it rains all weekend

  12. Really disappointed that they haven’t added Iowa, this was a great opportunity to do it. Indy is terrible and I’ll miss the Daytona 4th of July race as we had an annual BBQ and beer fest. No idea how ISM will work as a championship race, but it sure helps Harvick and Busch

    1. Nascar can’t add tracks until 2021 due to the current agreements. But I agree if Iowa isnt on the schedule in ’21 I’ll be pretty disappointed

      1. As a Phoenix resident and attendee of both races annually for 10+ years, I was disappointed in the news that we will now host the final race. This track has not produced exciting racing since the repave and was iffy at best before that even. It should have gone to another track if the location had to be moved.

  13. Shouldn’t Indy just be taken off the schedule? It seems midwestern folk don’t embrace it anymore and it’s not a NASCAR tradition anyways? Plus the racing is horrid no matter package. Move Atlanta to July 4th weekend night race. I thought you were spot on about Phoenix/Homestead.

  14. Shouldn’t Indy just be taken off the schedule? It seems midwestern folk don’t embrace it anymore and it’s not a NASCAR tradition anyways? Plus the racing is horrid no matter package. Move Atlanta to July 4th weekend night race. I thought you were spot on about Phoenix/Homestead.

  15. I like most of the changes. When NASCAR sent out survey they did a couple of the things I suggested like Bristol and Darlington into playoffs.

    Indy in July is stupid.

    Martinsville on Nov 1st is questionable. Average temps that date are 66 for high and 44 for low. But big range in actual temps.

  16. I’m actually not as upset with this schedule as I thought I would be. However, moving Daytona and moving the championship from Homestead are going to be moves that I think Nascar will regret. Moving Daytona has the same feel as when they moved the Southern 500 a few years ago, and we all know how that worked out. Look for Daytona to be back on July 4th in 2-3 years. As for Homestead, I agree with you Jeff that its the perfect intermediate. I have really enjoyed the racing there, even before the “playoffs” started. Hopefullly this is reconsidered for future years

  17. Jeff, I’m gonna need your help getting some traction behind this idea. I’ve tweeted it a few times, commented on NASCAR’s Instagram, but now I’m coming to you for help.

    If the Pocono races are each shortened to say 250 or 300 miles, I think that would greatly help a normal race weekend. But NASCAR took a step in the right direction and gave us a Saturday/Sunday doubleheader. Pocono may not be the most ideal track for this but there is something NASCAR can do to make it 10x entertaining for fans and drivers. We gotta invert the results from Saturday to set the grid for Sunday. What are we gonna do, qualify twice? That’s weak. No one wants to watch the mess that is qualifying TWICE in the same weekend. Think about it, Pocono is constantly hated on for being a track where people can’t pass. Let’s say the top 5 finishers on Saturday are Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, and Ryan Blaney. The lowest 5 finishers are Corey Lajoie, Ross Chastain, Ryan Preece, Ty Dillion and Matt DiBennedetto. The top 5 from Saturday starts the race on Sunday with 100 laps to make it to the front while the hard-working, easy to pull for drivers are graced with legitimate clean air with a (garbage – especially if no changes for 2020) 2019 package that desperately needs clean air in order to work right.

    You want Pocono to be a GREAT weekend? There’s your solution. Want it to be 2 back-to-back typical Pocono snoozefests? Qualify twice and give the best teams clean air. The only downside I see to my idea is that maybe if a Kyle Busch gets mired back in 20th he’ll sandbag and drop back purposefully to get a better starting spot for Sunday but the reality is that legit racers like him and other guys that run at the front have no incentive to hang back if they’re in the top 15 throughout the race. The playoff/stage points help with that.

    Good drivers get a challenge, small teams get a moment at the front and fans get show watching the best carve through the field at a difficult track. Somebody put me in touch with Steve O’Donnell, Scott Miller, and the track President. This plan is perfect.

  18. Atlanta fans can maybe actually attend a race without coats and rain gear for the first time in 5 years. That is a win. Like Round 2 craziness ! Like the Daytona race move as well. Pocono will now be a destination race weekend. Overall, good moves imo!!

  19. I’m one of those that don’t like change but that’s not the case on this one. I’m excited!! 🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼

  20. The changes don’t bother me, the one they will regret is moving the Firecracker date from Daytona to Indy. Some dates belong at certain tracks. Remembering when they took the Darlington race from Labor Day weekend and just about killed it. Double Pocono should be fun, and it does not need any gimmicky methods of qualifying, just set it like normal, or maybe on Q for both races.

  21. The changes don’t bother me one way or another, except maybe for keeping Indy on the schedule. My only observation is that, with the tracks they have added to the ‘playoff’, it’s going to be even more of a crapshoot for who wins the champeenship.

  22. No Daytona in July !!!!
    Everything else on the schedule I can live with I suppose but the Daytona Indy deal makes no sense at all.

  23. Having attended Homestead since 2005, I am truly disapointed. The blah date that they got is a real bummer. The one good thing is that I was able to book hotel for March race at cheap rate before they jacked the rate.

  24. NASCAR was based on traditions, that were passed down from generation to generation. Families based their vacations and trips around the schedule. These traditions have been eroding for years (aka Darlington), now they are gone. This will work fine for the TV fans but not for butts in the seats.

    Love the “reshuffling the chairs on the Titantic”.

  25. On November 19, 2018 I wrote this comment, here at

    “NASCAR is just a sad ordeal. It is no longer “fun”, or entertaining. Instead it became everything is used to NOT be. NASCAR 2018 is a homogenized, generic, restrictive, protectionist, manipulative, boring parade of politically correct drivers and teams functioning as corporate spokesmen for business to business sponsors in an micro-economy completely dependent on television rights fees.

    NASCAR 2018 is a business that has lost its soul, alienated its core fan base, is in a death spiral, like its former sponsor Sears. Only NBC and Fox TV rights fees are supporting the house of cards that is NASCAR. Enjoy it now, as once TV armageddon hits, NASCAR will cease to exist in its current capacity.”

    After Tuesday’s news conference, the sad truth remains….NASCAR is still in the same death spiral, is still unwilling to admit to their mistakes (Chase and current aero rules), and they are grasping at straws to fix a problem of their own making in order to placate the TV Networks that are the lifeblood of the organization

    What was demonstrated by O’Donnell, and by proxy Ben Kennedy, is that NASCAR is admitting it needs to evolve. However, in true NASCAR style did not admit, nor correct their mistakes, but rather once again chose to double down on “entertainment” and the failed game-show gimmick that is the Chase.

    We can all look at Matt Kenseth’s 2003 Championship as the turning point in NASCAR. That championship performance gave Brian France the window to launch “The Chase”. After 7 revisions in 16 years, the current game show elimination format, that decides who will be crowned “Champion”, is changed again. This now 8th revision is even more “entertainment” focused with an increased focus on manufactured/ manipulatied drama with the announcement of Firecracker 400, Bristol, Roval, and Martinsville as cut-off races.

    NASCAR has stacked the deck to have the most unpredictable, and fan interested events to close each elimination stage. Why? Simple. NASCAR desperately is looking for moments of drama and unpredictability, in the hopes of keeping/maintaining fan interest, and most importantly keep NBC/Comcast happy.

    NASCAR’s problem is of their own making. They just are unwilling to admit their failure. Like the splitter, “The Chase” is a failed decision. Rather than put “The Chase” et. al. into the dustbin of history, NASCAR keeps choosing to try to polish the turd to make it a diamond.

  26. I like the double header for Pocono. I wish they would have done the same with Michigan. Of course, I’d love to see them move a Michigan date to Belle Isle so we’d have another road course on the schedule.

  27. Playing with the schedule won’t change the way the races are. Pay more attention to get rid of all the aero problems so can have some decent races. Get rid of splitter and 8” spoiler.

  28. This is a step in the right direction, and I hope the next year when the track contracts are done we see some more swinging changes. I’m on the fence about Pocono but I’ll reserve my opinion until it happens.

    Personally, I’d love to see a summer swing where every June-August we see a different set of tracks each year, so that fans that are screaming for their favorites like Iowa, Road America, Nashville, Rockingham, etc. can have an opportunity every few years to see the race they’ve wanted. Plus it could create a bit more excitement around those races as they wouldn’t be an annual thing.

  29. The fact is that certain drivers have certain tracks that favor them. This is true of Homestead too! Therefore it is unfair to the competitors to always have the finale at the same track every year. That goes for Homestead. That goes for Phoenix as well. The site must be rotated so there is an element of chance equaling out the field. The championship finale must be at Homestead! But it also must be at Phoenix! And Vegas, and Fontana, and Texas. Rotate them, every year, a different track. If there is going to be an advantage for a certain driver, let it be by chance, not design.

  30. As a long-suffering race fan in New Jersey, I’m equally excited about the Pocono doubleheader and bummed about the Dover switch. And as a Richmond native, I’m really disappointed that RIR’s spring race goes back to Sunday afternoon (again). It’s just not the same during the day.

    Cheers to NASCAR for making some bold changes. My only gripe is the lack of new Cup tracks, but hopefully that’s something we get to look forward to in the next decade, along with the Gen-7 car.

    But I agree with some earlier comments — race fans complain too much. I’m just glad this sport is still around and I have at least a couple of good opportunities to see it in person every year.

  31. For a long time, the Daytona 500 wasnt the first race of the season, so that isn’t a huge tradition. Move Atlanta to the simmer, combination of heat and the old track might make a good race. Other the that, I think these are good changes, especially the second Daytona race, the last race of the “regular season” has been anticlimactic for years.

  32. You might know that NASCAR is not happy unless it changes everything. Never mind if the fans hate it! Never mind if they don’t sell tickets and have empty seats! Always messing things up.

  33. There is an interesting angle with Indianapolis, and it goes back to American Motorsport of the 1950’s. Marshall Teague with the Fabulous Hudson Hornet had won seven races. But he left NASCAR to race on the AAA Contest Board, and NASCAR didn’t want drivers from the AAA to race on their series. After the 1955 24 Heures du Mans disaster, a truce developed after AAA ceased motorsport sanctioning. USAC, the new sanctioning body formed at IMS to replace the AAA, joined NASCAR and the SCCA to form ACCUS, the new national governing body for motorsport in the US. (NHRA and INDYCAR have since joined.)

    Marshall Teague won numerous AAA and USAC races, and was at Daytona to test the Sumar Special in high speed runs. He sadly died when thrown from his car. Two months later, USAC star George Amick died on the last lap of the Daytona USAC Twin 100 championship races. With only 14,000 attending and the fiasco of two fatalities involving USAC stars in just two months at Daytona, the 250-mile Independence Day race for the Indy cars was cancelled. That’s why the NASCAR race began.

    Running Indianapolis on Independence Day Weekend has an interesting angle considering Daytona was to have hosted Indy cars on Independence Day 60 years ago.

  34. Seems it’s 50/50 with some upset and some happy. Phoenix has the potential to see a bump and run or a dump for a championship especially given drivers mindsets after Martinsville. Pocono should be kind of cool as well. Will they have to use a different car for each race. What if someone shows up and kills the field by 10 seconds in race 1?

  35. It sucks that Homestead is losing the championship races. I been going for 6 years. Snowbirds and spring break will make it tough in March for accommodations. They should take a race away from the boring Pocono and pickup The Circuit of the Americas for an additional road course race. It will be tough filling Pocono 2 days straight for both races I believe.

  36. Thanks for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research on this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I’m very glad to see such fantastic info being shared freely out there.

Comments are closed.