Playoff makeover, Daytona’s return to history highlight 2018 NASCAR schedule

RELATED: Key changes to 2018 schedule | Download 2018 schedule | Reactions

The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule features a can’t-miss new look with variations in dates and longtime venues — particularly in an exciting new playoff portion of the lineup.

Changes to the iconic Daytona 500 date — back on President’s Day weekend, Feb. 18 in 2018 — start a slate of substantial change and high intrigue.

The three-quarter mile Richmond International Raceway short track will host one of the playoff races in the opening round of the postseason, and its spring date — April 21 — returns to a Saturday night feature.

The traditional regular-season finale will now shift from the Richmond short track to the famed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 9.

Chicagoland Speedway now is the site of NBC Sports’ season debut on July 1 — just prior to the traditional Daytona International Speedway Coke Zero 400 stop a week later, a powerful one-two punch.

In another major playoff shakeup, Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s brand new “second date” of the season will officially kick off NASCAR’s playoffs on Sept. 16. Also significant: Charlotte Motor Speedway’s playoff race will now be run on the venue’s road course instead of its 1.5-mile oval.

MORE: Charlotte’s 2018 playoff race to include road course | Date changes for ’18

That adds not only a road course to the postseason, but one that serves as the elimination event in the opening round on Sept. 30.

“I think a lot of it had to do with what we’ve heard from the fans over a period of time,” Jim Cassidy, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, told “As the playoffs have continued to evolve and we’ve incorporated elimination into the playoffs, we’ve heard from our fans that they like to see some different variety in the places that we go during the playoffs.

“Most notably, the road course at Charlotte and the addition of the short track at Richmond are a couple of opportunities that presented themselves during the course of a lot of conversations with a lot of folks in the industry, and we were able to land in a good place.”
TRACKS RESPOND: Chicagoland | Richmond | Indy | Las Vegas

In addition to the 60th anniversary of the Daytona 500 returning to its longtime President’s Day weekend, Daytona Speedweeks has a refreshed look with both Daytona 500 pole qualifying and the always exciting Clash at Daytona preseason race held on the same day (Sunday, Feb. 11).

With the schedule changes, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series opening three-race playoff round is Las Vegas-Richmond-Charlotte. The next round starts at Dover, then heads to Talladega and concludes in Kansas. The Round of 8 again is Martinsville-Texas-Phoenix, with the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 18.

Cassidy indicated that the release of the 2018 schedules was the result of a spirit of collaboration through many points in the NASCAR industry, an extension of the same sort of cooperation that delivered the stages format and other enhancements to the sport.

“That was refreshing, but it wasn’t new to us because we’d just come off a really successful round of conversations in working together to get good results on stage racing,” Cassidy said. “The key common goal moving into the schedule conversation was, ‘How can we approach 2018 from the same standpoint as we approached the formats,’ and that’s satisfying what we’re hearing from the fans.

“Once you start focusing on that, you go in from day one and it’s fan-centric. It becomes a very natural conversation for a lot of different parties to play a role in.”

The NASCAR XFINITY Series also will conclude at the Miami 1.5-miler after opening playoff rounds in Richmond, Charlotte and Dover. Subsequent races at Kansas, Texas and Phoenix will set up the South Florida finale.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will settle its title with a playoff opener on the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park road course, followed by races at Las Vegas and Talladega to set the Round of 8. Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix will decide the championship four vying for the big trophy at Homestead-Miami.

“There’s a ton of variety,” Cassidy said of the other national series’ playoffs. “I mean, can you imagine setting the field for the playoffs for the trucks at Bristol? And the last couple of years that we’ve raced north of the border, the bottom line is that the trucks put on just a heck of a show just about any place they go, so the lineup is great. … It’ll keep us on the edge of our seats for that entire seven-race stretch of the playoffs, for sure. Same with the XFINITY Series. It’s a great lineup as well.”

The Truck Series also joins the NASCAR Goes West initiative, heading to Las Vegas Motor Speedway (March 2) for a tripleheader weekend.

Contributing: Zack Albert