Dramatic Shakeups, New Championship Venue Highlight 2020 NASCAR Cup Schedule

Joey Logano celebrates winning the 2018 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series championship after winning the season ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November. In 2020 the series championship will be decided at ISM Raceway in Phoenix (Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The release of NASCAR’s radically different 2020 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule offers a feast of competition that should please race fans itching for something new.

Most notably, the season finale, which has been contested at Homestead-Miami Speedway since 2002, moves from ocean sands to desert sands at ISM Raceway outside of Phoenix, Arizona.

“We look forward to an exciting finish to our season here at ISM Raceway in 2020,” said NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton, who was in Phoenix on Tuesday to make the announcement.

After the Feb. 16 season-opening Daytona 500, the West Coast Swing moves up a week, with Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosting the series on Feb. 23, Auto Club Speedway becoming the Cup venue on Mar. 1 and ISM Raceway concluding the swing a week later.

That moves Atlanta Motor Speedway to the fifth position on the schedule and into a more favorable weather window than was characteristic of its recent late February dates.

“Atlanta has played a great role for us, but, obviously, the weather has been a challenge,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer.

“So being able to go to Las Vegas for that second event I think will be terrific for our West Coast Swing, terrific for our fans out West to go to a marquee destination, and that allows for Atlanta to move back down the schedule a little bit in better weather.”

Those changes are just the beginning. The schedule that follows the first five races features some dramatic departures from the past few years. The Martinsville Speedway date moves to May 9, the week before the All-Star Race at Charlotte. 

Yes, that’s a Saturday race on Mother’s Day weekend—and it will be run under the lights.

“Ultimately, in the long run, I’d love to see a night race there,” five-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin said 10 days before the schedule was announced, “but I’d love to see it in the summer.”

May 9 isn’t quite summer, but the new date should produce the warmer conditions Hamlin said were necessary for the track to take rubber and produce exciting racing.

“I think it’s going to be awesome,” said O’Donnell, who also acknowledged Ben Kennedy, NASCAR managing director of operations and international development, as instrumental in effecting the schedule changes. “You look at Martinsville—we just had a terrific race there. It’s a short track, which fans love… There’s been more and more clamoring from the fans, ‘Hey, can we race Cup there under the lights?’

“We were able to deliver, so Saturday night is going to be terrific.”

The summer race at Daytona International Speedway and the regular-season cutoff race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway are switching places on the schedule, with Indianapolis moving to July 5 and Daytona to Aug. 29. Hence, for the first time, a superspeedway will host the last-chance race for Playoff hopefuls.

“When we looked at Daytona moving to that last regular-season race, we also knew that July 4th is a really important weekend for us as an industry. We looked at what other tracks could fill that void, and Indianapolis popped up immediately.

“It’s a great venue for us to host July 4th. It’s an iconic venue and an iconic weekend.”

Pocono Raceway will still host two Cup events, but they’ll take place on the same weekend. In a jam-packed month of June, the Pocono doubleheader is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 27-28.

“When you go to Pocono, it’s always packed,” O’Donnell said. “There’s always a great camping atmosphere. You’re going to have potentially five races going on during the weekend with back-to-back Cup events. It’s going to be fun. We love Pocono, the industry’s really going to embrace it, and I think it will be terrific for the fans.”

The 2020 calendar also features a substantial shakeup in Playoff races, and not just the Championship 4 event.

Moving into the Playoffs for the first time, Darlington Raceway will kick off the final 10 races on Sept. 6. After a trip to Richmond Raceway on Sept. 12, the series moves to Bristol Motor Speedway, another Playoff newcomer, for the second of back-to-back night races.

Las Vegas (which moves to a cooler late-September date), Talladega and the Charlotte Roval make up the second elimination round of the Playoffs. Kansas and Texas start the Round of 8, which concludes at Martinsville.

With three short tracks now in the Playoffs, and with Bristol and Martinsville serving as the cut-off races for the first and third rounds, respectively, short-tracks clearly are taking on a more significant role in the new schedule.

In another departure from the norm that fans have seen, the Cup series will take a two-week break after the July 19 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and resume competition Aug. 9 at Michigan International Speedway – coinciding with the 2020 Summer Olympics.

And to cap it off, the season will conclude a week earlier than in recent years with the Championship 4 race in Phoenix, Arizona, taking place on Sunday, Nov. 8, over Veteran’s Day weekend.

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  1. I like the changes. I wasn’t a big fan of homestead for the final race. Adding some more short tracks into their “playoffs” should prove exciting. So what happens if its a not so good weather weekend when they run the double header at Pocono. That could make for a long Monday. Moving the Daytona summer race to later in the season when the weather is a little cooler is probably a good idea. The only downside I see is the discarding of traditional events but they have trounced tradition over the years with their discarding venues and their new fangled points systems.

  2. I like the changes too. I could easily see a Friday night modified show at Martinsville now. Moving Atlanta to after west coast swing was a no brainier. Daytona in late summer is cool. I don’t see Kansas, Michigan, and Texas holding on to two races in 2021. Iowa, Nashville and maybe Rockingham are waiting in the wings. Nascar can drop tracks beginning in 2021. The sport is slowly moving back to a southeast heavy sport. Now they have to fix the cars, eliminate downforce and find some personalities.

  3. Thompson should get an event. Think of it as a northern Martinsville.

  4. Liz Cherokee says

    A Thompson event would be great! If that happens, I’ll have to find Melissa some sponsorship money and get her a ride!!!!

  5. Hillary 2020 says

    A Thompson cup race? Keep dreaming.

  6. Hey, I think all you guys have stumbled onto something! Think of this for a Nascar promotion tour event! Get a savvy marketing guy to come up with some kind of fan promotion, where fans vote, or buy to vote ( more Nascar style) for 1 track to get a cup race! And, it has to be a “back to your roots” type of track. A home track. Like N wilksboro, Rockingham, or, dare I say, Thompson, Stafford, So Boston! You get the idea! Sure, it would never happen, and the logistics are impossible, but at least it would look good on tv! As most of these places have limited seating, the stands would be full! Yup, never happen, but watching these guys back in their “roots” with all the technology would be an intriging concept. Would love to see where that would shake out! Anyway, reality calls…….

  7. Bob, fan attendance is so low, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for Thompson. Throw in some temp stands on the backstretch and all is good.

    Way back when, I saw the Grand National cars, the early cup series, run at itty bitty teenie weenie Islip Speedway. Islip was like a 0.2 mile track. And the cars back then were HUGE… Chargers, Torinos, etc. The line of cars went bumper to bumper around ¾ of the track.

    Given the history of Thompson, it is a perfect track for something like this.

  8. Should end the season at Vegas or Charlotte; Phoenix is downright stupid. Harvick wins there a large majority of the time.

    But, season will only end on an ISC-owned track, so…..

  9. getserious says

    They did run at Thompson, in 69 and 70. I was there but too young to remember much about the quality of the racing. They also ran the Fonda dirt. Now, that I remember as fantastic. I would pay huge money right now to see even the Xfinity bunch of no-name youngsters run there again.

  10. Speaking of stands it’s been pretty quiet on the Speedbowl front hasn’t it? Serlucca did a great video after the stands were demolished. Reflecting on how weird to was to be driving into the facility with the stands he grew up seeing gone. All gone……poof.
    The Bemer trial jury is picked and the new stands need to be started at some point if they haven’t already.
    A lot going on and not much floating around in terms of news as far as I can see. Which is also strange seeing as how there was a lot of stuff floating around when the stands weren’t being renovated.

  11. Fast Eddie says

    They ran GN races at Thompson in the 60’s, and the K&N series goes there now… Why not? If NASCAR wants to revive/rebuild their fan base, what better way than to race at “old school” racetracks? Maybe a truck or Xfinity race at Thompson or Stafford? If I’m gonna dream, I’m dreamin’ BIG!! 🙂

  12. Hillary 2020 says

    You can already see a bunch of no names, actually maybe 10 or so k&n cars race at Thompson for a big ticket price. Why do you want another one?

  13. Fast Eddie says

    I’m not going for a handful of K&N teams, most of whom I don’t know anything about. However, if it was 32 trucks or 36 Xfinity cars running, at least half of which I would recognize, I ‘d be going. How cool would it be to see Preece in Dale Jr.’s #8, or Stu Freisen in the 52 truck, running at Thompson or Stafford?

  14. Thompson could easily host a Cup Race. They are one of the few tracks with garages. Only need to park 36 haulers. Long pit row. Already have TV quality lights. Put up grandstands out back as suggested. One day midweek show on Wednesday/Thur before Loudon weekend. 250 laps. Old school.

    End the season at Charlotte or Vegas? Have you watched a race there recently? I’ll take Phoenix over either of those two. Martinsville would be better off course.

  15. That would mean Thompson would have to put up safer walls , they can’t bother to do it now
    to protect their drivers

  16. wmass01013 says

    Guys cmon, NO top 3 series races will be held in CT, while I love the changes and look forward to more in 2021, maybe some new tracks will be added in MAJOR markets not quiet CT towns!

  17. It’s a “what if” not a “it could happen”. If NASCAR was going to do such a thing and in my view it’s a spectacular idea it’s wouldn’t be in the Northeast. Mostly it shows the interest Preece’s involvement has had for the greater racedayct nation whereas in the past the Cup series has largely been dying on the vine.

  18. Major markets?? You ever been to Martinsville? How about Bristol? Maybe Darlington? What about Pocono? Tracks don’t need to be in major markets. How are those major markets working out for Nascar? What Nascar needs is a short track race American race fans are willing to watch. The TV money would more than make up for the costs. It’s not as far fetched as you think. I think New Smyrna is another possibility in February. If the trucks can race Eldora then Cup can run a half mile track.

  19. No track in CT will ever get a Truck race, let alone a Cup race.

    And yeah, I’ve watched races recently at Vegas and Charlotte; Phoenix is the Harvick invitational. Charlotte would put the teams at home near the shops as the final race, “off the road” a week earlierband would be a huge draw crowdwise.

  20. It started mentioning Thompson. No one would put money on that ever happening but the idea of a one race deal at a different track every year closer to the grass roots is outstanding. Kind of like the NHL having an outdoor game every year. Rotate regions with Thompson a possibility down the road. Make the cookie cutter drivers and engineered teams uncomfortable for a race. Really uncomfortable. Maybe give a provisional automatically to a local driver. No wall padding, no problem. If the track is a little scruffy around the edges so much the better. Seating not up to Cup standards, so what. It would be a TV rating hit.

  21. Liz Cherokee says

    I was there a few years ago when Kyle Larson won, but I don’t recollect Eldora having the softie walls… I do remember the cocktail bar, the dirt cheap beer, and the nice bag coolers full of free ice!!!

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