The 2021 NASCAR schedule: Quick look at notable changes

NASCAR officials and tracks will unveil the Cup Series schedule for 2021 all day Wednesday in a series of announcements, culminating in a full release later in the afternoon. The 36-race slate features new venues and new dates among some of the traditional returning races for NASCAR’s top division.

Tracks that will host Cup Series races next season will be revealing their dates and, in some cases, their debuts with their own degree of fanfare throughout the day. We’ll post the updates, details and social-media sizzle here as the momentum builds toward a new-look 2021 schedule.

BUY TICKETS: 2021 events available

Full 2021 Cup Series schedule ready for its close-up

With Wednesday’s major announcements complete, it’s time for a look at the full 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule, which starts with the traditional season-opening Daytona 500 on the calendar for Feb. 14.

The full 36-race schedule includes four new venues — Circuit of The Americas, Nashville Superspeedway, Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course — plus the return of NASCAR’s top series to dirt-track racing for the first time since 1970.

MORE: Full 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule 

Lone Star? All-Star. Texas to host invitational event for the first time

The NASCAR All-Star Race will be on the move again for 2021, joining the Texas Motor Speedway calendar for a June 13 running.

TEXAS: All-time track winners | Memorable moments

The annual non-points exhibition was held at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this season after being held for 33 consecutive years at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Atlanta Motor Speedway also hosted the All-Star Race in 1986, one year after its Charlotte inaugural.

“If everything is bigger in Texas, 2021 will be the biggest year ever for NASCAR in the Lone Star State with the addition of the NASCAR All-Star Race,” said Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith. “Speedway Motorsports is proud to bring this legendary event to Texas Motor Speedway and add to the legacy of the Great American Speedway.

“It’s hard to believe we are about to celebrate our 25th year. When my dad, Bruton Smith, built Texas Motor Speedway, he wanted everything to be bigger and better than anything that had been built before. He wanted a SHOW-PLACE, and nearly 25 years later, it’s still one of the finest racing facilities in the world. It’s the perfect place to host an event as big as the NASCAR All-Star Race.”

Season finale set for a Phoenix return

Phoenix Raceway is already gearing up for its role as the first-time host to NASCAR’s season finales for all three national series this year. But before those circuit’s champions are crowned in the desert, the 1-mile track has announced that it will return as the curtain closer for the Cup Series on Nov. 7, 2021.

PHOENIX: All-time track winners | Memorable moments

The Arizona facility received a massive renovation that debuted in late 2018 with fan-friendly amenities and a move of the start-finish line. Phoenix first joined the schedule in 1988 and has held two annual Cup Series events since 2005.

The Cup Series’ first stop at Phoenix in 2021 is set for March 14.

“It’s an honor to once again be the host track for the most important weekend in our sport and it’s an opportunity all of us at Phoenix Raceway are extremely excited about,” said Phoenix Raceway President Julie Giese. “With the return of the NASCAR Championship Weekend, coupled with an action-packed spring event weekend, the 2021 schedule at Phoenix Raceway is set to be another memorable year for our fans, our local communities and the entire state of Arizona.”

Bristol’s 2021 plans include a date on dirt

Bristol Motor Speedway returns with two Cup Series events next season — March 28 and Sept. 18 — but with a wild twist for its springtime event: a temporary conversion to dirt.

The March race will mark the Cup Series’ first race on a dirt track since Richard Petty prevailed at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on Sept. 30, 1970. Dirt-track racing returned to the national series ranks in 2013, when the Gander Trucks tour established an annual event at Eldora Speedway in Ohio.

BRISTOL: All-time Night Race winners | Memorable moments

Bristol has been paved since it joined the Cup Series schedule in 1961, but it converted to a dirt-track venue in 2000 and 2001 for Late Model and World of Outlaws sprint car events.

The track’s September event will be contested on the concrete oval.

“As everyone knows, Bristol Motor Speedway is the home to big events and we feel like this will be one of the most anticipated races in the NASCAR Cup Series in quite some time,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway. “We have proven in the past that we know how to transform Bristol Motor Speedway into one of the most pristine dirt facilities anywhere around, so we can’t wait to see how the stars of the NASCAR Cup Series will perform on the high banks at the World’s Fastest dirt Half-Mile.”

Historic return set for Road America

The NASCAR Cup Series plans only its second-ever trip to Wisconsin for Independence Day weekend with a visit to Road America.

The sprawling Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, circuit has hosted the NASCAR Xfinity Series every season since 2010. The only Cup Series race in Road America’s history came in a long-ago era, with NASCAR Hall of Famer Tim Flock prevailing there in 1956.

ROAD AMERICA: 2020 race weekend

With its July 4 date set, Road America becomes the longest track currently on the Cup Series schedule at 4.048 miles.

“Since we welcomed the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2010, our fans have been asking for the NASCAR Cup Series, and we are very proud to make it happen on the Fourth of July,” said Road America’s President and General Manager, Mike Kertscher. “The weekend is going to be memorable and exciting for everyone as we celebrate Independence Day at America’s National Park of Speed. We encourage new and returning fans to get their tickets and campsites early because we intend to host four full days of on-track action. Our entire staff is excited to welcome the teams, drivers, and new visitors to show them that Road America is the ideal facility to come for the experience and stay for the race.”

Circuit of The Americas ready for Cup Series debut

In the spirit of adding new road courses, one of the nation’s newest joins the Cup Series schedule in 2021 — Circuit of The Americas. The gleaming 3.426-mile layout in Austin, Texas, has hosted Formula 1, IndyCar and IMSA sports car events since opening in 2012.

MORE: All-time winners on road courses

COTA will take a May 23 spot on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar, placing it as the tour’s first road-course race of the season.

“Our company is proud to have a 60-year history of fabulous firsts in motorsports entertainment, and we are honored to bring America’s premier racing series to one of the world’s most renowned entertainment venues and cities for the very first time,” said Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith. “I’d like to thank COTA CEO Bobby Epstein as well as NASCAR’s executive leadership for supporting us in an endeavor to do something that we believe will be spectacular for race fans, not only in Texas but around the world. We work and challenge ourselves every day at Speedway Motorsports to create amazing experiences that will last a lifetime, and we know NASCAR at COTA will deliver in 2021.”

A new road test looms for Cup Series at Indy

The NASCAR Cup Series’ 28th visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have a new look, shifting from the 2.5-mile oval to the road-course circuit for an Aug. 15 stop on the schedule.

The Xfinity Series debuted earlier this season on a 2.439-mile layout that produced a home-state winner in Chase Briscoe after a captivating dash to the finish. The planned Cup Series road race is the latest bold move for track owner Roger Penske, whose deal to purchase the historic speedway was announced last November.

INDIANAPOLIS: 2020 race weekend | All-time Brickyard 400 winners

The Indianapolis race will move six weeks later on the 2021 schedule after playing host to NASCAR’s top series during Independence Day weekend earlier this year.  The revamped Brickyard weekend also will feature a brand-new NTT IndyCar Series race Saturday, Aug. 14 on the road course, setting the stage for another history-making NASCAR-IndyCar weekend after this year’s successful collaboration at IMS.

“Our first NASCAR-IndyCar weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants involved,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and IndyCar together during this exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

Doubling up at Darlington on tap for 2021

NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway will return with two annual dates on the Cup Series schedule as Darlington Raceway announced that a May 9 event will join its Sept. 5 Labor Day Weekend classic on the 2021 slate. The May 9 date is Mother’s Day 2021.

DARLINGTON: 2020 Labor Day race weekend | All-time Southern 500 winners

Darlington played host to three Cup Series races this season as NASCAR adjusted to the COVID-19 outbreak with an initial focus on tracks within driving distance to the Charlotte-area hub. Before that, the South Carolina venue had been host to one annual event — the crown-jewel Southern 500 — from 2005-2019. It was home to two Cup Series races each year from 1960-2004 and has been a staple on the NASCAR schedule since opening for business in 1950.

“A NASCAR tradition returns as Darlington Raceway will host two NASCAR Cup Series race weekends as part of the 2021 NASCAR schedule,” said Darlington President Kerry Tharp. “We are grateful for NASCAR’s trust in the track ‘Too Tough To Tame’ to continue to deliver one of the most competitive race experiences and loyal fan bases in the sport. Thanks to Governor Henry McMaster and the state of South Carolina for their continued support as NASCAR was the first to bring live team sports back at Darlington in 2020. We look forward to hearing the roar of the engines twice as part of our traditional Mother’s Day and Labor Day weekends.”

Atlanta expands to two races in 2021

Atlanta Motor Speedway’s schedule will grow next season with a pair of Cup Series dates — March 21 and July 11. The 1.54-mile Georgia track last hosted two annual races in 2010.

The track’s second event will mark the first time since 1974 that the Cup Series has raced at Atlanta in July.

ATLANTA: 2020 race weekend | All-time track winners

Atlanta’s race weekend this season was the first postponed by the COVID-19 outbreak. Instead of running its 500-miler on March 15, the Cup Series shifted the Atlanta event to June 7.

“We’re beyond excited to deliver what our fans have been yearning for: A second weekend of NASCAR action in Atlanta once again,” said AMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Brandon Hutchison. “Folds of Honor and QuikTrip continue to be phenomenal partners for our spring weekend of racing and we’re thrilled to have Quaker State and Walmart on board this summer as we put together two weekends of entertainment and excitement for race fans.”