NASCAR’s longest year of 32 races in 71 days

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A NASCAR Christmas celebrated in South Florida?

In the direst of several dozen contingency schedules mapped out for the 2020 Cup Series season during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, NASCAR’s premier series would have raced Dec. 24-25 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

And the season wouldn’t have ended there.

The series immediately would have traveled four hours north on I-95 to Daytona Beach for a Dec. 26-27 doubleheader and then west to Phoenix Raceway for a trio of races Jan. 1-3, 2021.

BEHIND THE SCENES: How NASCAR restarted its season

The worst-case scenario presumed a 31-week layoff for NASCAR because of COVID-19 and plotted how to run the remaining 32 Cup races in a 71-day window that would have included four doubleheaders (Miami, Pocono, Dover, Daytona), five tripleheaders (Darlington, Richmond, Martinsville, Atlanta, Phoenix) and two quardupleheaders (Bristol, Charlotte).

It was among at least a dozen schedules that would have ended the 2020 season Jan. 3 during the first (partial) week of 2021.

Fortunately for NASCAR, none of those versions of the longest year was needed as the Cup season began May 17 after a nine-week layoff. With a handful of doubleheaders and midweek races, NASCAR caught up to its original schedule when its 10-week playoffs began Sept. 6 with the Southern 500.

Vice president of racing development Ben Kennedy, who slaved over NASCAR’s doomsday game-planning for nearly 12 hours daily for six weeks, didn’t mind putting in a lot of work for scenarios that went unrealized. Kennedy has been an integral part of plotting NASCAR’s schedules the past few seasons with executive vice president Steve O’Donnell.

“I enjoy it, and it’s cool because it touches so many different areas of our company,” Kennedy told NBC Sports. “It’s been a really good process to just be part of from working with the broadcast partners and making sure we lock in the right TV windows.”

O’Donnell held daily calls with Kennedy, NASCAR managing director of broadcaster Ben Baker and director of competition Scott Miller about schedule contingencies and said they made the best of it.

“We’d sit there with a shared drive and ask, ‘What do you think? What do you do?’ ” O’Donnell told NBC Sports. “It actually was some of the most fun I’ve had in a few years because it meant something. Even though you knew we were in a difficult situation, you’re like, ‘This matters, man. Getting back to racing is the most important thing.’”

Here’s what the plan was for the longest year in NASCAR: If the Cup Series season had restarted after a 31-week delay:

Oct. 25 – Indianapolis

Oct. 31 – Pocono

Nov. 1 – Pocono

Nov. 6 – Darlington

Nov. 7 – Darlington

Nov. 8 – Darlington

Nov. 12 – Bristol

Nov. 13 – Bristol

Nov. 14 – Bristol

Nov. 15 – Bristol

Nov. 21 – Dover

Nov. 22 – Dover

Nov. 27 – Richmond

Nov. 28 – Richmond

Nov. 29 – Richmond

Dec. 4 – Martinsville

Dec. 5 – Martinsville

Dec. 6 – Martinsville

Dec. 11 – Atlanta

Dec. 12 – Atlanta

Dec. 13 – Atlanta

Dec. 17 – Charlotte Roval

Dec. 18 – Charlotte Roval

Dec. 19 – Charlotte Oval

Dec. 20 – Charlotte Oval

Dec. 24 – Miami

Dec. 25 – Miami

Dec. 26 – Daytona

Dec. 27 – Daytona

Jan. 1 – Phoenix

Jan. 2 – Phoenix

Jan. 3 – Phoenix