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.

News Analysis: 2019 NASCAR Cup Series schedule released

What happened: NASCAR dropped the 2019 Cup Series schedule out of the blue on Tuesday. It has no changes from this year’s schedule — all tracks are the same, and in the exact same order. Last year, the 2018 schedule was announced May 23, so this is even earlier.

What it means: There was no fanfare for this announcement (in the past, it was even unveiled on a TV show) because there’s nothing notable about next year’s schedule other than it remains the same. The 2018 version had some significant changes (moving Indianapolis to the cutoff race, putting Richmond in the playoffs, giving Las Vegas a second race instead of New Hampshire), and it’s clear NASCAR believes its current order is a good one. Officials have also been putting a priority on getting the schedule out earlier as part of the five-year sanctioning agreements with tracks to help fans plan their future trips. Of course, the downside is there’s no freshness or exciting new venues, like another short track.

News value (scale of 1-10): Two. As reflected in the way NASCAR made its announcement, there’s nothing really special about the news because there are no changes. It’s the same as this year.

Three questions: Will this exact order of the schedule also remain for future years? Is there any chance of NASCAR adding new venues (MORE SHORT TRACKS) once the five-year agreements with tracks end, or are we kidding ourselves? What’s the holdup behind not trying a midweek race during the summer?

2019 NASCAR Schedule

News Analysis: Breaking down 2018 NASCAR Cup schedule

NASCAR unveiled the 2018 schedule on Wednesday, and it comes with bigger changes than fans may be used to with such announcements.

Here are the highlights, a grade for each move and some analysis. (Note: I haven’t seen the “spin” or the explanation for any of these moves yet, so maybe I’m missing a key point or argument on some of them).

MOVE: Richmond will be second race of playoffs after serving as the regular season cutoff race for the entire Chase/Playoff Era.


COMMENT: This one is a mixed bag. Richmond is one of my favorite tracks, but I’m worried it won’t be the typical short track race because drivers will be in points-racing mode and will not want to risk anything by pushing too hard. However, I like that it’s a Saturday night race because it avoids a conflict with the NFL after the season has started.

MOVE: The Brickyard 400 moves to the last race before the playoffs instead of its traditional July date.


COMMENT: Even though the racing at Indianapolis stinks for the most part, there’s still enough prestige associated with the Brickyard 400 to have that race stand on its own. Now there will be a mix of storylines: Both the Brickyard champion and the playoff field getting finalized. The race winner will be kissing the bricks while the other 15 playoff drivers stand around waiting for their group photo. And really, who is going to care who wins the Brickyard when the moment is all about the last driver getting a spot in the field? However, the major upside to this move is September in Indianapolis shouldn’t be nearly as hot as July. The local fans are definitely going to benefit from that.

MOVE: Second Las Vegas race starts the playoffs.


COMMENT: If NASCAR was going to lose Chicago as a big-market opener for the playoffs, at least Las Vegas is a suitable replacement. That will be a great place for everyone to get pumped about the playoffs starting. The only downside is it’s still pretty hot in Vegas at that time of year. And it’s going to be a Sunday day race, so…yeah. Bring a seat cushion, because your butt (along with the rest of you) is going to be quite warm. But overall, that should make for a fun weekend.

MOVE(S): Charlotte playoff race switches to the roval; Charlotte becomes Round 1 elimination race.


COMMENT 1: There are two parts to this, so they have to be graded separately. First of all, everyone finally gets the road course in the playoffs they’ve been asking for! But is it the right one? I’m going with “beggars can’t be choosers” on this and giving it a thumbs up. I have no idea how Cup cars are going to look on a roval (a “roval” means it uses part of the infield road course and part of the oval like in the Rolex 24 at Daytona), but I imagine they’ll get strung out much more than at a true road course. That’s OK, though — progress! Plus, the roval is practically guaranteed to be more interesting than a 500-mile intermediate track race anyway.

COMMENT 2: As for the elimination race element of it…whoa. That’s kind of crazy! It’s going to be quite a big wild card (you know how road courses can be) — although with the new playoff points system in place, the heavy hitters should be able to survive one bad race if something fluky happens. Still, chaos on a late restart at this race might take someone out — not unlike how Talladega used to be at the end of Round 2.

MOVE: Chicagoland gets bumped out of playoffs, moved to July.

GRADE: D for Chicago fans, B for everyone else.

COMMENT: I hate this for Chicago-area race fans and for the nice people at the track, because they just went from a pleasant-weather fall playoff race to a hot July 1 Sunday day race that means nothing. It’s now just another intermediate track race in the middle of the season. I guess since it opens NBC’s portion of the schedule, there will still be some hype associated with it (and NBC can go for bigger ratings on a Sunday afternoon than opening their season on a Saturday night). And putting Chicago in this spot allowed NASCAR to take a swing at some other big moves. But overall, it seems like a blow to the track.

MOVE: Dover opens Round 2 of playoffs instead of being Round 1 elimination; Dover moves from June to May.


COMMENT: That’s fine. The Dover playoff race has typically been blah (remember last year?), so if this shakes up the racing a bit by changing what is on the line, I’m down. And the track has seemed to move from May to June whenever the calendar dictates an extra off week (there must be a certain number of races to fit with Memorial Day and Labor Day, etc.), so no problems here.

MOVE: Final six playoff races remain the same.


COMMENT: I’m glad Homestead is still the championship race, because that’s such a great track to end the season. And I’m glad Talladega still isn’t an elimination race (it was already moved from that spot starting this year), because that was too wacky. Overall, everyone seems pretty comfortable with the last six races at that time of year, because there’s only so much NASCAR can do with the weather. So no issues here, except Texas should shave off 100 miles (hi, Eddie!).

MOVE: June off-week returns, Easter and August off-weeks stay.


COMMENT: Fans freaking HATE when people who work in NASCAR complain about how long the schedule is, and that’s fair. Drivers and crew members and media chose this profession and knew what to expect, right? But breaks are really nice when they are available — they keep people fresh — and I’m glad NASCAR kept them instead of trying to squeeze in a race on every weekend to somehow shorten the season.



COMMENT: I feel mostly positive about NASCAR’s schedule changes. Would it be better to have new venues, move the All-Star Race, add more short-track races and road courses? Yes, of course. But in terms of reasonable requests, working with the current lineup of tracks, there’s a lot to like here — particularly with the playoff changes (different tracks, road course, new races in first two rounds).