ISM Raceway

Questions and answers about the 2020 Cup schedule

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NASCAR’s 2020 Cup schedule created much for fans and competitors to discuss Tuesday.

A new championship race. A doubleheader weekend. Iconic tracks changing dates and three playoff cutoff races that could be brutal.

Here are answers to some of the questions from the schedule reveal.

Why is the championship race moving from Homestead-Miami Speedway to ISM Raceway?

Homestead-Miami Speedway provides arguably the best racing at a 1.5-mile track. Leaving it as the title race could leave a void.

ISM Raceway is a tight 1-mile track where passing can be difficult — although Kyle Larson showed earlier this month that one can gain several spots on a restart if they’re willing to use the high line after a restart.

So why the move indeed?

“Going to the same tracks year in and year out could potentially favor certain drivers,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, in a conference call with the media. “We wanted to take a look if we had the opportunity to go to another venue, what would that be.”

It also didn’t hurt that Ford’s contract as the sponsor of the championship weekend in Miami ends after this season, making a move easier.

And International Speedway Corp. spent about $180 million renovating ISM Raceway. When you have something shiny and new, you want to show it off. The championship race is one of the best chances to do so.

How long will the championship race be at ISM Raceway?

O’Donnell said: “I think our hope would be to stay there for a little while. I think with any venue you want to see it have a chance and grow a little bit and see how it works. … This wasn’t a decision we said, ‘hey let’s just go there for a year and rotate it. Our intention is to stay there a few years.”

Mike Helton, NASCAR vice chairman, said at ISM Raceway that “we are only talking about 2020 right now. What the future holds, we’ll see.”

Joey Logano voiced his desire for moving the title race around, saying on the NASCAR.com show after the schedule was revealed: “I kind of like that (the title race) has moved. I think it we should move it every year like the Super Bowl.”

Who does this move favor if they make it to the championship race?

Kyle Busch. He has won the past two races there and has an average finish of 2.9 there since 2016. If NASCAR keeps the title race at ISM Raceway for a few years, Busch could be the one who benefits the most. He has made it to the championship finale each of the past four years.

Kevin Harvick has a track-record nine wins there but he will be 44 next year when the finale is there, so he will likely have few opportunities to turn that success into another title.

Of course, the key is making it to the championship race.

How much more difficult did it get to advance in the playoffs?

It could be significantly harder. The cutoff races in next year’s playoffs will be Bristol (round one), Charlotte Roval (round two) and Martinsville (round three).

NASCAR has two shorts tracks and the Roval as cutoff races. That makes it easier for drivers to beat and bang should they need to do so for the win to advance or to gain a position and score enough points to advance. When drivers make contact, anything can happen.

Why a doubleheader at Pocono?

O’Donnell said that NBC had expressed interest in such a concept. The Pocono races will be held during the portion of the season NBC and NBCSN broadcast the races.

O’Donnell said NASCAR talked to “a number” of tracks about it and Pocono was willing to do it.

What about those races?

Details are to be worked out. O’Donnell noted that the Xfinity and Truck series will also be there with a plan of a Truck/Cup doubleheader on Saturday (June 27) and Xfinity/Cup doubleheader on Sunday (June 28). Oh, ARCA also is expected to be there, so there will be a lot of racing crammed into the weekend. Let’s hope for good weather.

“I think it’s neat, to see two back-to-back races at Pocono,” Ryan Blaney said on the NASCAR.com show. “That’s going to be really exciting.”

Why did Daytona move off its traditional spot of being on or near July 4 to being the regular-season finale on Aug. 29?

O’Donnell said those in the sport wanted to make it the regular-season finale, adding drama to the last race.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway takes over Daytona’s date. But what about the heat there?

IMS officials noted the cooler temperatures for the fans when the track’s date switched from July to September last year.

As for the issue about heat, O’Donnell said: “I think it’s hot in Daytona on July 4th. A bit of a myth to say it’s hot in a certain market.”

Why is the Clash still on its own weekend a week before the Daytona 500 and why is the All-Star Race still on a weekend of its own?

O’Donnell said that NBC, which broadcasts the last 20 races of the season, wanted to end on Veteran’s Day weekend in November. With the back-to-back off weekends in August because of NBC’s airing of the Summer Olympics, it didn’t make sense to truncate the Daytona or All Star/Coca-Cola 600 schedule.

When are the 2020 Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck schedules coming out?

O’Donnell said he hoped those could be released in the next week or so.

What about the 2021 schedule?

O’Donnell said: “I think some of the moves were made (this year) thinking ahead. We still have a lot to look at for 2021.”

The five-year sanctioning agreements NASCAR has with tracks ends after the 2020 season. That means NASCAR could change what tracks are on the schedule.

What about the future of the All-Star Race?

O’Donnell was asked if that event could be put on a rotating basis at some point. He said: “If we’re going to do that, we need to make sure it works for both Charlotte and a potential new venue.  That is something we’ve had discussions on. … Still a little premature for 2021.”

 

2020 NASCAR Cup Schedule

DATE

RACE/TRACK

Sunday, Feb. 9

The Clash

Thursday, Feb. 13

Duel at Daytona

Sunday, Feb. 16

Daytona 500

Sunday, Feb. 23

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, March 1

Auto Club Speedway

Sunday, March 8

ISM Raceway

Sunday, March 15

Atlanta Motor Speedway

Sunday, March 22

Homestead-Miami Speedway

Sunday, March 29

Texas Motor Speedway

Sunday, April 5

Bristol Motor Speedway

Sunday, April 19

Richmond Raceway

Sunday, April 26

Talladega Superspeedway

Sunday, May 3

Dover International Speedway

Saturday, May 9

Martinsville Speedway

Saturday, May 16

All-Star Race, Charlotte

Sunday, May 24

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sunday, May 31

Kansas Speedway

Sunday, June 7

Michigan International Speedway

Sunday, June 14

Sonoma Raceway

Sunday, June 21

Chicagoland Speedway

Saturday, June 27

Pocono Raceway

Sunday June 28

Pocono Raceway

Sunday July 5

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Saturday July 11

Kentucky Speedway

Sunday, July 19

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Sunday, Aug. 9

Michigan International Speedway

Sunday, Aug. 16

Watkins Glen International

Sunday, Aug. 23

Dover International Speedway

Saturday, Aug. 29

Daytona International Speedway

PLAYOFFS BEGIN

Sunday, Sept. 6

Darlington Raceway

Saturday, Sept. 12

Richmond Raceway

Saturday, Sept. 19

Bristol Motor Speedway

Sunday, Sept. 27

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 4

Talladega Superspeedway

Sunday, Oct. 11

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 18

Kansas Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 25

Texas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 1

Martinsville Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 8

ISM Raceway

Jerry Bonkowski contributed to this report

2020 Cup schedule features new finale, doubleheader weekend and more

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The 2020 Cup season will end at a different site for the first time in nearly two decades, one of many changes that includes a doubleheader weekend, date swapping among iconic tracks and the season concluding earlier.

The championship race moves to ISM Raceway near Phoenix. It replaces Homestead-Miami Speedway, which has been the season finale since 2002.

Next year’s finale at ISM Raceway will be Nov. 8, marking the earliest finish to the Cup schedule since 1998, which also ended Nov. 8.

Here are among the changes to the schedule:

# Homestead-Miami Speedway moves from its season-ending spot to March 22 and will be the sixth race of the season.

# Daytona’s second race will move from its traditional July date to Aug. 29 (a Saturday) and be the regular-season finale.

# Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s date moves from September to July 5 and takes Daytona’s spot.

# Bristol’s August date moves to Sept. 19 (a Saturday) and will be in the playoffs. It will be the cutoff race for the first round.

# Martinsville’s fall race becomes the cutoff race for the third round of the playoffs on Nov. 1.

# Martinsville’s spring race moves from March to May 9 (Mother’s Day weekend) and will be held on Saturday. Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway, said in a statement: “This is a very exciting day for Martinsville Speedway. It’s a question we’ve gotten from fans literally every day since we installed the lights and we are now able to say, ‘May 9, 2020.’ So, this is a very exciting day for everyone involved.”

# Pocono will host a doubleheader weekend with Cup races on June 27 and June 28. Race lengths have yet to be announced for those events. Nick Igdalsky, president and CEO of Pocono Raceway, said in a statement: “Pocono Raceway will be a marquee, bucket-list event next year. We will be the first track to host two, points-paying Cup races in consecutive dates in NASCAR’s modern era (1972-present).”

# The West Coast swing — Las Vegas, ISM Raceway and Auto Club Speedway — will follow the Daytona 500.

# Atlanta Motor Speedway moves off its February date as the second race of the season to March 15 and will be the fifth race of the year.

# The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway will begin the playoffs on Sept. 6.

Here is the 2020 Cup schedule:

DATE

RACE/TRACK

Sunday, Feb. 9

The Clash

Thursday, Feb. 13

Duel at Daytona

Sunday, Feb. 16

Daytona 500

Sunday, Feb. 23

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, March 1

Auto Club Speedway

Sunday, March 8

ISM Raceway

Sunday, March 15

Atlanta Motor Speedway

Sunday, March 22

Homestead-Miami Speedway

Sunday, March 29

Texas Motor Speedway

Sunday, April 5

Bristol Motor Speedway

Sunday, April 19

Richmond Raceway

Sunday, April 26

Talladega Superspeedway

Sunday, May 3

Dover International Speedway

Saturday, May 9

Martinsville Speedway

Saturday, May 16

All-Star Race, Charlotte

Sunday, May 24

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sunday, May 31

Kansas Speedway

Sunday, June 7

Michigan International Speedway

Sunday, June 14

Sonoma Raceway

Sunday, June 21

Chicagoland Speedway

Saturday, June 27

Pocono Raceway

Sunday June 28

Pocono Raceway

Sunday July 5

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Saturday July 11

Kentucky Speedway

Sunday, July 19

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Sunday, Aug. 9

Michigan International Speedway

Sunday, Aug. 16

Watkins Glen International

Sunday, Aug. 23

Dover International Speedway

Saturday, Aug. 29

Daytona International Speedway

PLAYOFFS BEGIN

Sunday, Sept. 6

Darlington Raceway

Saturday, Sept. 12

Richmond Raceway

Saturday, Sept. 19

Bristol Motor Speedway

Sunday, Sept. 27

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 4

Talladega Superspeedway

Sunday, Oct. 11

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 18

Kansas Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 25

Texas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 1

Martinsville Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 8

ISM Raceway

 

NASCAR America: Turning Point in Phoenix Cup race

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On Monday’s NASCAR America, analysts Jeff Burton, Steve Letarte and Kyle Petty discussed what was the turning point in Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway.

To all three, restarts – particularly two of the last three – were the turning point that allowed Kyle Busch to win and Ryan Blaney to still finish third despite running low on both fuel and tire tread in the closing laps.

This is it, the third to last restart,” Burton said, looking at the video. “Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch line up and in front of them is Kevin Harvick, on two tires. On this restart, Kevin Harvick gets put in the middle and now he’s in no-man’s land and is just going backwards.”

Letarte, meanwhile, pointed to the second-to-last restart following a single-car incident where Ryan Preece hit the wall, where Harvick fell back even further. On the surface, it was just two spots, but in reality, it likely cost Harvick any remaining chance to win.

“It’s just two spots, how bad can two spots be?” Letarte asked. “They come out on the backstretch, an accident comes out with Preece, the caution comes out and that’s an entire row. (Losing) two spots on a restart makes a huge difference because that sets them up for the next restart and now he’s (Harvick) behind Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch.”

Added Kyle Petty, “Yes, (Harvick is) behind them, and on that restart, watch where that row goes, watch where Blaney and where Kyle Busch goes, and then watch the 4 car of Kevin Harvick. He’s not so much in no-man’s land, they just split him on both sides, which just totally takes him out.”

Burton chimed back in, adding:

(Harvick) said his car just didn’t go on two tires,” Burton said. “Blaney on the outside makes the move, then Harvick on the bottom gets into (Jimmie) Johnson and that slows his momentum. Then watch both sides of him, inside and outside, they split him and now his momentum is dead and you’re now in the middle driving into Turn 3 at Phoenix and that’s trouble. In those two restarts … Kevin Harvick, because of his two tires, his car not driving well, didn’t like the way it drove, got put in a bad spot. Boom, right there, his chance to win the race is gone.”

Letarte wrapped up the analysis by putting everything in perspective and why Harvick fell short and finished ninth: “Every driver said track position (was key during the race). Two restarts, eight positions (lost), game over. You’re not going to make that back.”

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Phoenix winners and losers

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WINNERS

Kyle Busch: Sweeps the weekend at ISM Raceway to climb to 199 career NASCAR victories.

Joe Gibbs Racing & Team Penske: They are the only organizations to win the last six Cup races, dating back to November’s playoff race at ISM Raceway.

Cup qualifying: It has been must-see viewing the past two weeks. The drafting and gamesmanship on pit road made qualifying fascinating at Las Vegas. The Daniel Suarez-Michael McDowell fight highlighted the session at ISM Raceway.

Ryan TruexFinished second to Kyle Busch in the Xfinity race. Truex is running a limited schedule with JR Motorsports.

 

LOSERS

Austin Dillon: Had to give up fifth place late to pit for fuel. He finished 21st and has finished no better than 16th this season.

Ryan Newman: Yes, he finished a season-best 12th despite two pit road penalties (speeding and a crew member behind the wall touching pit road) but imagine what he could have done without those issues?

Ryan Preece: Since his eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500, he has placed 35th, 25th and 34th.

Almirola: Season-best fourth place finish ‘just not quite good enough’

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Aric Almirola continues to be off to one of the best season starts of his NASCAR Cup career.

The Tampa, Florida, native has been giving teammate Kevin Harvick a run for his money as the top driver at Stewart Haas Racing thus far in 2019.

After being involved in a crash that relegated him to a 32nd-place finish in the Daytona 500, Almirola has steadily climbed the ladder of success since then, finishing eighth at Atlanta, seventh last week at Las Vegas and a season-best showing of fourth Sunday at Phoenix.

Harvick, meanwhile, racked up a 26th place showing at Daytona (crash), fourth-place finishes at Atlanta and Las Vegas and a ninth-place outing Sunday at Phoenix, meaning Almirola was the highest-finishing SHR driver in the TicketGuardian 500.

You’d think Almirola would be happy to have the spotlight on himself for what he did at ISM Raceway as SHR’s top-finishing driver.

On the contrary, Almirola wanted more – a lot more. You might even say he borrowed a page from Kyle Busch’s playbook when the younger Busch brother broods after he has a strong race but doesn’t win.

“We had a good car, but we’re just not quite as good as we need to be,” Almirola said. “We still have work to do, but I’m really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. We keep chipping away.

“That’s three top 10s in a row, our first top five of the year, so we’re getting there. Our cars are getting a little better, but we just have to keep working and keep finding more speed.

“We have a great race team and we’ll continue to improve on what we’ve got, so we’ll just keep working. Our Smithfield Ford Mustang was decent, but just not quite good enough.”

If he hadn’t been passed late in the race by Busch, runner-up Martin Truex Jr. and third-place finisher Ryan Blaney, Almirola potentially may have wound up in the top-three.

But lapped cars and the new aero package limited his forward progress late in the 312-lap race.

It’s always really tough to pass at Phoenix,” Almirola said. “But then when you put more downforce in the cars, we’re going across the middle of the corner faster and cars are punching a bigger hole in the air with a bigger spoiler, it just inherently makes the cars a lot harder to drive when you’re behind and in traffic.

“That’s nothing new. I think we all kind of knew that going in and expected it and it’s really just a product of what we have going on right now.”

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