Finales in focus: Title race, regular-season clincher on the move

The championship race in the NASCAR Cup Series season is moving tracks for the first time since the 2002 season. The regular-season finale to lock into the NASCAR Playoffs field gets a brand-new venue, too.

The location changes to those two premier races are perhaps the most impactful moves on a 2020 schedule full of them – ISM Raceway in Phoenix will host the NASCAR Cup Series championship race Nov. 8, 2020, and the regular season will conclude at historic Daytona International Speedway on Aug. 29, 2020.

The move to Phoenix marks just the third time since 1986 that the season-ending race has moved tracks. The NASCAR Cup Series season has concluded at Homestead-Miami Speedway since 2002, and will do so again in 2019 before moving to ISM Raceway for 2020. Before that, the season ended at Atlanta Motor Speedway from 1987-2001; the 2001 season technically had its final race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which was postponed after 9/11.

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Unlike Miami and Atlanta, two intermediate tracks, Phoenix is a 1-mile oval. It’s known for close-quarters racing and nail-biting restarts. ISM Raceway recently completed a $178 million renovation project designed to improve the at-track fan experience, and one which included a reconfiguration for the track’s start/finish line.

ISM Raceway has hosted the Round of 8 finale since the introduction of the NASCAR Playoffs elimination format in 2014, and it has served as the penultimate race of the season every year since 2005. Now, it’ll serve as host to the NASCAR Cup Series championship race for 2020.

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Meanwhile, the World Center of Racing brings incredible intrigue to the regular-season finale. In the postseason era, the regular season previously has ended at Richmond Raceway (2003-2017) and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2018-19).

Drivers could see their postseason standings improve — or falter — at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, which historically has held its second race of the year on Independence Day weekend and has had a number of underdog victories in its fabled history.