Five things to watch in tonight’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It was here at Daytona International Speedway where fans were introduced to a young driver from California by way of Indiana.

Jeff Gordon, then a rookie, scored his first career victory at this track in a 1993 qualifying race. He admitted he needed help finding victory lane that day. That was the first of 14 such visits at this track during his career, which will end after this season.

Tonight’s race – which marks NBC’s return to broadcasting Sprint Cup races – marks Gordon’s final Cup start at this famed 2.5-mile speedway. He enters the event searching for his first victory of the season.

“It’s hard for me to really put all those thoughts and feelings into perspective, knowing that I have half the season still to go,’’ Gordon said of his last Daytona start. “I don’t think it’s really going to hit me until we get further down into the final part of the season, but this place has meant a lot. It’s going to be tough not coming back here and being behind the wheel.’’

His final trip could end in victory lane based on what he’s done earlier this year in restrictor-plate races. He led a race-high 87 laps in the Daytona 500 but got stuck deep in the pack and was collected in a last-lap crash. At Talladega, he led 47 laps but a speeding penalty dropped him back in the pack and he again was involved in a late crash.

“I come into restrictor-plate races feeling like we have very fast race cars and that we have a chance to come out of here with a great finish, if not a win, as much or more so as the field,’’ said Gordon, who starts 23rd. “And at the same time, that thought and confidence is followed right up with, when was the last time I finished one of these races?

“So, all you can do is just come up with the best plan that you can possibly put in place, knowing that it’s going to change at any moment.’’

Gordon’s quest for a win is just one of the storylines tonight.

Kyle Busch competes in his first race at Daytona since being injured here in February. It was not a good start to the weekend for Busch, who was involved in a crash about 10 minutes into Friday’s first practice. He was uninjured but had to go to a backup car – along with nine other drivers, including Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.

Busch suffered a broken right leg and left foot in a crash during the season-opening Xfinity race in February when he hit an unprotected concrete wall. SAFER barriers have been added to where Busch hit and other locations and some areas of grass were paved, but Busch called for more to be done Saturday.

Busch’s biggest quest, though, is to stay out of trouble on the track. With his victory last weekend at Sonoma Raceway, he needs to gain enough points in the next 10 races to be in the top 30 in the standings before the Chase begins to be eligible for it. If he gets collected in a crash tonight and has a poor finish, it could doom those hopes.

Could there be another surprise winner? Aric Almirola might not have been a name most would have picked to have won this race last year but he did. With horsepower-choking restrictor plates keeping the field bunched, the number of drivers who can win here multiplies.

Austin Dillon, who won Saturday night’s Xfinity race, said he’s focused on winning a race in Cup because he believes he’s likely too far back to make the Chase via points. He’s not alone. For many, this could be one of their last true chances to slip into the Chase. Tony Stewart could be among those in that group. He and his team have not shown the speed to compete for wins at most tracks, but the four-time winner at this track knows where to place himself in the field to be in contention and could be one to watch.

Richard Childress Racing could use a good night. The organization enters tonight with a 53-race winless streak. If Paul Menard, Ryan Newman or Austin Dillon do not win tonight, RCR’s winless streak will match it’s longest in a decade.

Richard Childress Racing’s last victory came at Phoenix in Nov. 2013 with Kevin Harvick. Dillon starts second tonight with Menard fourth and Newman 17th.

Crew chiefs will matter tonight. Daytona’s hot conditions – even at night – will make handling a key. Make the wrong adjustment and a driver won’t be able to challenge for a win. Watch how the cars perform the longer into a fuel run they go, noticing who falls back and who moves up. It’s all about positioning for that final restart.

 

2021 NASCAR Cup schedule features new tracks, bold changes

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The 2021 Cup schedule features the first race on a dirt track for the series in more than 50 years, three new venues and six road course points races.

Responding to fan interest, the series adds three road course events to the 2021 schedule. Those new races are May 23 at Circuit of the Americas, July 4 at Road America and Aug. 15 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The other points races on road courses in 2021 will be at Sonoma, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval. The Daytona road course will host the Busch Clash exhibition race.

The race that might gain the most attention, though, could be the March 28 Cup race at Bristol. The track will be converted to dirt.

There are no midweek races. Pocono Raceway continues to have the only doubleheader weekend. There is a two-week break in late July/early August during the Olympics. NBC’s portion of the schedule will begin with the June 20 race at Nashville Superspeedway.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president & chief racing development officer, says the plan is to have practice and qualifying for new venues (Circuit of the Americas, Road America, Nashville) and new configurations (Indy road course) along with key events (Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Phoenix championship weekend). The plan is for the other races to be one-day shows.

The schedule is flush with change. Here’s a look at those changes:

NEW EVENTS

March 28 – Bristol Dirt race: It is the first Cup race on dirt since 1970 at Raleigh, a race won by Richard Petty.

May 9 – Darlington: The track that NASCAR returned to after the season was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic this year will host two races in 2021. The track adds a spring date and it will be run on Mother’s Day. It will be only the third time in the last 40 years Cup has run on Mother’s Day. The added race comes from Michigan International Speedway, which will have one race in 2021.

May 23 – Circuit of the Americas: Inaugural race for the series on the road course in Austin, Texas that has hosted Formula One and IndyCar, among other series.

June 13 – All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway: First time the All-Star race has been held at this track. Marks third different year for the event after being in Charlotte in 2019 and Bristol this year.

June 20 – Nashville: The 1.333-mile track will hold its first race for Cup. The track hosted Xfinity and Truck races from 2001-11. The date comes from a Dover, leaving that race with one NASCAR race weekend in 2021. This weekend begins NBC Sports’ coverage of NASCAR races.

July 4- Road America: Will host the Cup Series for the first time. Gets holiday weekend with July 4 date. The date comes from Chicagoland Speedway, which will not have a NASCAR race in 2021.

July 11 – Atlanta: Kentucky race date moves to Atlanta to give track a second race. The first race at the track in 2021 will be March 21.

Aug. 15 – Indianapolis road course: After comping on the oval since 1994, Cup moves to the road course. Will be a part of a race weekend with the IndyCar Series. 

OTHER DATES OF NOTE

Feb. 21 – Miami: Moves to second race of the season and comes a week after Daytona 500.

Feb. 28 – Auto Club: Moves up a week earlier and this will be its last race as a 2-mile track. Track will be converted into a short track after this event for 2022.

April 10 – Martinsville: Track hosted its first night race in June but did not have fans because of the coronavirus. This April race will be at night. Provided fans will be allowed at that point, it will be their first time to witness a night Cup race there.

July 25 & Aug. 1: No Cup races because of the Olympics. 

Sept. 5 – Nov. 7: Cup playoffs. Same 10 tracks as 2020. Only difference is Texas and Kansas flip-flop weekends in the Round of 8. Texas will open that round on Oct. 17. Kansas will follow on Oct. 24. Round of 8 ends at Martinsville on Oct. 31. Phoenix again will host the title race, doing so Nov. 7.

 

2021 NASCAR CUP SERIES SCHEDULE

(Times, weekend schedule and TV info to be announced later)

 

Date Race / Track
Tuesday, February 9 Clash (Daytona Road Course)
Thursday, February 11 Duel at Daytona
Sunday, February 14 Daytona 500
Sunday, February 21 Homestead-Miami
Sunday, February 28 Auto Club
Sunday, March 7 Las Vegas
Sunday, March 14 Phoenix
Sunday, March 21 Atlanta
Sunday, March 28 Bristol Dirt
Saturday, April 10 Martinsville
Sunday, April 18 Richmond
Sunday, April 25 Talladega
Sunday, May 2 Kansas
Sunday, May 9 Darlington
Sunday, May 16 Dover
Sunday, May 23 COTA
Sunday, May 30 Charlotte
Sunday, June 6 Sonoma
Sunday, June 13 All-Star (Texas)
Sunday, June 20 Nashville Superspeedway
Saturday & Sunday, June 26-27 Pocono Doubleheader
Sunday, July 4 Road America
Sunday, July 11 Atlanta
Sunday, July 18 New Hampshire
Sunday, August 8 Watkins Glen
Sunday, August 15 Indianapolis Road Course
Sunday, August 22 Michigan
Saturday, August 28 Daytona
Sunday, September 5 Darlington
Saturday, September 11 Richmond
Saturday, September 18 Bristol
Sunday, September 26 Las Vegas
Sunday, October 3 Talladega
Sunday, October 10 Charlotte Roval
Sunday, October 17 Texas
Sunday, October 24 Kansas
Sunday, October 31 Martinsville
Sunday, November 7 Phoenix
  • Races in bold are playoff races

 

 

All-Star Race moves to Texas in 2021

All-Star Race
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The All-Star Race moves to Texas Motor Speedway in 2021, marking the third different track the event will held in a three-year period.

The 2021 race will be held June 13, the track announced Wednesday. Eddie Gossage, track president, said the race will be at night. He said he will talk to NASCAR about a format and wants to have fans play a role in the event.

The complete 2021 Cup schedule will be announced Wednesday afternoon by NASCAR.

MORE: COTA to host Cup road course race in 2021

MORE: 2021 Cup schedule features new tracks, bold changes 

The All-Star Race was held from 1985-2019 at Charlotte Motor Speedway except for 1986 when Atlanta Motor Speedway held the race. The event moved to Bristol Motor Speedway in July because of COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings in North Carolina.

Chase Elliott won Bristol All-Star Race.

Texas also announced it will host a NASCAR Camping World Truck race June 11 on All-Star weekend. The Xfinity Series will race June 12.

Texas will remain in the playoffs in 2021. It will host a Cup playoff race Oct. 17. The Xfinity Series will race at Texas on Oct. 16.

NASCAR Cup Series to go dirt trackin’ at Bristol in 2021

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Cup teams will compete on a dirt track for the first time in more than 50 years when the series races March 28 at Bristol Motor Speedway, the track announced. 

The full Cup schedule is set to be released at 3:30 p.m. ET today.

“Bristol Motor Speedway has hosted many historic events over the years and we will be adding to that resume,” Jerry Caldwell, general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, said on Wednesday. “We can’t wait to see how the stars of NASCAR take to the dirt.”

MORE: 2021 Cup schedule features new tracks, bold changes 

Said Austin Dillon of the race on dirt: “I’m super pumped. … I’m hoping it becomes a staple.”

Caldwell said the track will work with NASCAR on the race format for the dirt event.

“This is returning to our roots in racing,” Caldwell said. He noted that this concept has been talked about for “awhile.” He also said the track will “explore other options” on any other series that could race on dirt beyond NASCAR.

Caldwell said the change comes from feedback from fans. Marcus Smith, Speedway Motorsports President and CEO, said Wednesday that he pitched the idea of a dirt race at Bristol for the 2020 schedule.

Bristol hosted dirt races in 2000-01 with the World of Outlaws (see video below of 2001 race) and dirt late models. The track used 14,000 truckloads of dirt for the project.

The last Cup race on dirt was Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. Richard Petty won a 200-lap race on the half-mile track. He earned $1,000. Petty was among one of five Hall of Famers in the 23-car field that day. Bobby Isaac finished third, Bobby Allison placed sixth, Benny Parsons was 14th, Wendell Scott placed 20th.

The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series raced on dirt at Eldora Speedway from 2013-19. It was not held this year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Bristol also will host a second race. That event again will be in the playoffs. The Sept. 18 race again will be an elimination race in the first round. The playoff race will be on the concrete track surface.

Road America to host 2021 Cup race on July 4

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Food, fireworks and road course racing will fill the July 4 calendar for NASCAR fans with Road America hosting the Cup series on that holiday weekend in 2021.

The track announced the race date Wednesday. The full Cup schedule is set to be released at 3:30 p.m. ET today.

The 4.048-mile course has hosted Xfinity races since 2010. Among the current Cup drivers who won there in the Xfinity Series are Michael McDowell in 2016 and Christopher Bell in 2019.

MORE: Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

MORE: Circuit of the Americas to host Cup for first time in 2021

MORE: 2021 Cup schedule features new tracks, bold changes 

The track takes the holiday date that had been held by Daytona International Speedway from 1959-2018 before Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the Cup Series that weekend last year.

“We certainly have been working very close with (Road America) not only how we bring this to life but, ultimately, where it was going to be located on the schedule,” Ben Kennedy, NASCAR vice president of racing operations, told NBC Sports, said of adding the Wisconsin track to the schedule. “We started to really toss around the idea of hey, what about July 4th weekend and what would that look like for the track?

“Just even the name, Road America, it feels like Americana and the July 4th weekend and everything. Fireworks, camping and cookout, everything that goes along with it. That track is almost synonymous with it. I think that’s where we really ended up kind of tying Road America to July 4th weekend. Working with NBC on that as well, they are certainly very bullish on it and excited about having Road America on that weekend.”

Tim Flock won the lone Cup race at Road America in 1956. Flock was among nine NASCAR Hall of Famers among the 26 drivers in that race. Others included Fireball Roberts (third), Herb Thomas (sixth), Buck Baker (eighth), Rex White (11th), Lee Petty (13th), Joe Weatherly (20th), Curtis Turner (24th) and Junior Johnson (26th).