5 Cup races not to miss in 2021


A schedule that includes a dirt race, more events on road courses and other changes has plenty of options to choose from, but here are the five can’t-miss Cup races for 2021.

Bristol dirt race

The March 28 race at Bristol Motor Speedway is set to be the first time Cup has raced on dirt since 1970. No one truly knows what to expect. That makes it worth watching whether you like the idea of Cup racing on dirt or not.

It should be fun to watch those drivers with dirt experience, namely Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., among others.

“I’m super pumped,” Dillon said after the race was announced in September. “I’m hoping it becomes a staple.”

Circuit of the Americas

The road course in Austin, Texas, which has hosted Formula One and IndyCar, will host NASCAR for the first time. The Cup race is scheduled for May 23. 

The stock cars will run the same 3.41-mile, 20-turn course F1 and IndyCar used. Lewis Hamilton won the inaugural F1 race there in 2012. He has five wins at that track.

Road America

 The Xfinity Series has raced at the Wisconsin road course since 2010 and provided many memorable moments, but July 4 will mark the first time the Cup Series will have raced there since 1956.

Jeremy Clements scored his lone Xfinity win there in 2017 after contact with Matt Tifft spun both coming to the white flag while battling for the lead. Clements got his car going faster and cruised to the victory. In 2011, Justin Allgaier ran out of gas while leading under caution on the last lap. Reed Sorenson went on to win. Austin Cindric won last year’s Xfinity race.

Martinsville playoff race

 It’s the last chance to make the championship race. This season that final chance comes on Oct. 31. Chase Elliott won at Martinsville this past season to advance to the championship race and won that event to claim his first Cup title. Kevin Harvick, who won a series-high nine races last year, failed to advance to the title race. Harvick attempted to knock Kyle Busch out of the way at the finish to get the point Harvick needed to advance to the title race but both cars spun.

There’s often drama at the Virginia short track in the playoffs. 

Consider the chaos in recent years:

In 2018, Joey Logano bumped Martin Truex Jr. out of the lead on the last lap to win and earn a spot in the title race. Truex called the move a “cheap shot.” Logano went on to win the championship.

In 2017, Denny Hamlin and Elliott argued after Hamlin’s contact knocked Elliott out of the lead in the final laps of the race.

In 2015, Jeff Gordon scored an emotional win to advance to the title race. This also was the day Matt Kenseth intentionally wrecked Joey Logano as payback for an incident earlier in the playoffs at Kansas.

Phoenix championship race

 It all leads to this Nov. 7 race at Phoenix Raceway. Late restarts led to dramatic finishes in the Xfinity and Truck race and the Cup event saw Chase Elliott collect his first series crown. 

Can the track’s second year hosting the season finales prove as dramatic?

Alex Bowman confident as he returns to racing from back injury


CONCORD, N.C. — Alex Bowman watched the rain-filled skies over Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday with more than a touch of disappointment.

As weather threatened to cancel Saturday night’s scheduled NASCAR Cup Series practice at the speedway, Bowman saw his chances to testing his car — and his body — dissolving in the raindrops. NASCAR ultimately cancelled practice and qualifying because of rain.

MORE: Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup practice, qualifying

Bowman suffered a fractured vertebra in a sprint car accident last month and has missed three Cup races while he recovers. Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the season’s longest race, is scheduled to mark his return to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet.

“It would have been really nice to kickstart that with practice today,” Bowman said. “I haven’t raced or competitively driven a race car in a month. I’m trying to understand where my rusty areas are going to be and where I’m still good.”

Bowman ran 200 laps in a test season at North Wilkesboro Speedway this week, but, of course, that doesn’t compare with the faster speeds and tougher G-forces he’ll experience over 400 laps Sunday at CMS.

Bowman admitted that he is still experiencing pain from the back injury — his car flipped several times — and that he expects some pain during the race. But he said he is confident he’ll be OK and that the longer race distance won’t be an issue.

“I broke my back a month ago, and there’s definitely things that come along with that for a long time,” he said. “I have some discomfort here and there and there are things I do that don’t feel good. That’s just part of it. It’s stuff I’ll have to deal with. But, for the most part, I’m back to normal.

“I’m easing back into being in the gym. I’m trying to be smart with things. If I twist the wrong way, sometimes it hurts. In the race car at the end of a six-hour race, I’m probably not going to be the best.”

The sprint car crash interrupted what had been a fine seasonal start for Bowman. Although winless, he had three top fives and six top 10s in the first 10 races.

“I’m excited to be back,” Bowman said. “Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off and be strong right out of the gate.”

He said he hopes to return to short-track racing but not in the near future.

“Someday I want to get back in a sprint car or midget,” he said. “I felt like we were just getting rolling in a sprint car. That night we were pretty fast. Definitely a bummer there. That’s something I really want to conquer and be competitive at in the World of Outlaws or High Limits races. Somebody I’ll get back to that. It’s probably smart if I give my day job a little alone time for a bit.”




Charlotte NASCAR Cup Series starting lineup: Rain cancels qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — William Byron and Kevin Harvick will start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the front row after wet weather cancelled Saturday night qualifying.

Rain pelted the CMS area much of the day Saturday, and NASCAR announced at 3:45 p.m. that Cup practice and qualifying, scheduled for Saturday night, had been cancelled.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

The starting field was set by the NASCAR rulebook.

Following Byron and Harvick in the starting top 10 will be Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The elimination of the practice session was particularly problematic for Alex Bowman, scheduled to return to racing Sunday after missing three weeks with a back injury, and Jimmie Johnson, who will be starting only his third race this year. Johnson will start 37th — last in the field.

Charlotte Cup starting lineup

Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup Series practice, qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR Cup Series drivers will start the longest race of the season with no practice or qualifying.

Wet weather and predictions of more to come led NASCAR to cancel Saturday night’s Cup Series practice and qualifying in mid-afternoon. The field for Sunday’s 600-mile race was set by the NASCAR rulebook, placing William Byron and Kevin Harvick on the front row for the  scheduled 6 p.m. start.

MORE: Charlotte Cup starting lineup

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

Weather also could be an issue Sunday as more rain is predicted for the speedway area.

Drivers were scheduled to practice at 7 p.m. Saturday. That session was to be followed by qualifying at 7:45 p.m. The cancellations were announced at 3:45 p.m.

The time-trial cancellation marked the first time in 64 years that qualifying has been canceled for the 600.

Charlotte Xfinity race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — Persistent rain forced the postponement of Saturday’s scheduled 300-mile NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to Monday.

The race is scheduled to start at noon ET. It will be televised by FS1 and broadcast by the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Driver introductions and other pre-race activities were held at the track Saturday, but rain that had dampened the track in the morning hours returned. After several attempts at drying the track, the race was postponed after heavier rain returned in mid-afternoon.

Justin Allgaier will start the race from the pole position.