The word ‘bold’ was used multiple times Wednesday afternoon as NASCAR officials dished on the 2021 Cup Series schedule.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said he believes the sport delivered on evolving the schedule. New venues include Nashville, COTA, and Road America, while Bristol will transform into a dirt track, and Indianapolis will use the road course.
“We’re excited for our fans,” said O’Donnell. “It’s a historic schedule; the most changes since 1969. All of that couldn’t have happened, however, without the cooperation of the entire industry… The primary goal for us was to continue to evolve the schedule, to continue to build it, to continue to listen to the fans.
“2021, we believe is a really bold step in that direction, but we’re not done. There’s 2022 and beyond, where we’ll continue to look at making changes that we believe are in the best interest of the sport in key markets and key iconic racetracks as well. We’re going to continue the journey.”
Other changes include the All-Star Race going to Texas and the loss of races at Chicagoland and Kentucky, while Atlanta and Darlington each gained a race back.
“A lot of bold changes,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR vice president of racing development. “A lot to look forward to when you look forward to 2021 (and) a lot to look forward to as we think about future evolutions of the schedule.”
Many crucial details about ’21, like start times, race length, and even format, remain unknown. However, O’Donnell did confirm that the sport will continue to utilize one-day shows at many races next season.
Bigger events such as the Daytona 500, Coke 600, and the championship race at Phoenix will have practice and qualifying, as well as all the new venues and configurations – Bristol dirt, Nashville, COTA, Road America, Indianapolis.
“We’ve certainly learned a lot this year, mostly good in terms of some efficiencies we can see,” said O’Donnell. “We want race fans back at the track. We want race fans to see qualifying and practice. We also know that as we look forward to 2021, there’s still an unknown.
“The race teams have asked us… to be efficient as we can in 2021 on our journey to the Next Gen car. What you’ll see us to is a combination in terms of what we’re going to deliver for our fans.”
One positively-received nugget from O’Donnell came via his Twitter page. O’Donnell revealed that Cup teams will run the low downforce, high horsepower package at both Darlington races and the race at Nashville. It will be a switch for Darlington, a race that had featured the high-downforce, low-horsepower aero package.
Feedback and the eye test resulted in the change for Darlington, and Nashville got the nod to use the low downforce package as NASCAR wants to come out of the gate strong in a new race. O’Donnell said officials wouldn’t be making changes to any other races.
“When we looked at Darlington specifically, it was kind of right in-between (aero packages), very similar to the move we made at Phoenix,” explained O’Donnell. “We went with high downforce. If you go back on our mindset, we wanted to have two (packages) at the time, but we ended up kind of with one throughout. Through the work with the industry, we were able to tweak that and start mixing and matching where we felt like we’d have the best racing possible.
“Darlington was an in-between. We went through with fingers crossed. You saw a couple of races there, some good, some not as good as we would have wanted to see. The feedback was low downforce we really believe will put on the best race at Darlington. That’s why we pulled that lever. Then Nashville Superspeedway kind of mirrors Darlington. We’ve been there before, and feel like that gives us the best chance to go out and really put our best foot forward in a new market.”
NASCAR doesn’t have as many versions of its ’21 schedule as it did in revising this year’s due to COVID-19, but Kennedy acknowledged they will be ready for any scenarios thrown their way again next season.
“A lot of unknowns, uncertainly about not only the rest of this year but 2021,” he said. “We’ll certainly keep tabs on everything and stay fluid with it.”