When NASCAR returns to Sonoma Raceway June 21-23, it will do so to compete on a slightly different road course than what they’ve competed on since 1998.
For the track’s 50th anniversary, it will return to its original 12-turn, 2.52-mile circuit.
That utilizes the “Carousel” portion of the track, a sweeping downhill corner from Turn 4 down through Turns 5 and 6 to the facility’s longest straightaway before reaching the Turn 7 hairpin.
With the reintroduction of the “Carousel,” Sonoma is introducing a new area for fans to enjoy that area of the track.
The track has rebranded the peninsula between Turns 1 and 6 as “The Point.” This area offers up-close views of both corners, as well as a direct perspective of the start/finish line and flag stand.
“The Point” will be upgraded with a 1,550-square-foot Humboldt Redwood shade structure, more than 700 feet of stand-up bars along the fence line and new food and beverage locations. Access to the area is free to all fans, and terrace seating is available on the hillside adjacent to Turn 1.
Under the track’s previous configuration, the race was 110 laps and 218.9 miles.
The full track layout will incorporate the road course’s sweeping downhill corner known as the Carousel. It will go from Turn 4 down through Turns 5 and 6 to the facility’s longest straightaway before reaching the Turn 7 hairpin.
NASCAR has not run on the Carousel since 1998. The course was a 1.99-mile configuration for those events.
2020 Cup schedule features new finale, doubleheader weekend and more
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 dates 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.
Which changes have us the most eager to get the season underway in 31 days?
Same Team, Different Car
How long will it take before Chad Knaus accidentally visits the wrong hauler during a race weekend?
It seems like a plausible scenario given that NASCAR’s most successful crew chief of the 21st Century is working on a car not driven by Jimmie Johnson for the first time since 2001.
And Knaus himself said it could happen.
“Look, I had 18 years working on that 48 car, so I guarantee I’m going to walk into the wrong transporter,” Knaus said Friday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “At some point, I’m probably going to key the radio and start to say ‘Jimmie,’ by accident. I may look at the 48 as it rolls down the front straightaway and get confused, but hell, I’m getting old, so I get confused anyhow. So, that’s just part of life.”
2019 sees Knaus instead shepherding the sophomore effort of fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron in the No. 24 Chevrolet.
Meanwhile, Johnson and the No. 48 team will head to Speedweeks in Daytona with Kevin Meendering as its crew chief. After three years working with Elliott Sadler in Xfinity, Meendering gets his first shot in Cup with a seven-time champion near the end of his career.
It truly is a brave new world.
Old School Sonoma
A Cup Series road course will see a major change to its circuit this year.
No, Watkins Glen is not going to run “the Boot.” But Sonoma Raceway is bringing back “the Carousel.”
In the Cup Series’ rookie class for 2019, Ryan Preece stands out in a significant area.
He’s actually won a NASCAR race.
While Matt Tifft, Daniel Hemric and Tanner Berryhill have never visited victory lane, the new driver for JTG Daugherty Racing enters this season with two Xfinity Series wins. Both came on short tracks at Iowa and Bristol Motor Speedway.
Those two oval wins are more than the number earned by the driver he replaces in the No. 47 Chevrolet. AJ Allmendinger ended 2018 with three NASCAR wins, but all came on road courses.
Preece hasn’t competed in Cup since he ran five races in the series in 2015, but it will be interesting to see what the 28-year-old can muster in a rookie campaign that coincides with the introduction of a rules package intended to create closer racing.
This is significant because it will be the first NASCAR race on a superspeedway without a restrictor plate since 1988.
While the tapered spacer is meant to serve the same, but more efficient purpose of the restrictor plate, we won’t know how it performs until the series visits Alabama. Taking into account how Stewart-Haas Racing dominated at Talladega last October, it will be interesting to see what kind of race unfolds.
Fewer Cup-backed cars in Xfinity
The Xfinity Series will have a little bit less competition in 2019.
A full field will now consist of 38 cars, down from 40. But the series will also have less of a Cup Series influence.
NASCAR has announced its race start times for the 2019 Cup Series season, with a notable change in start time for the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
After a start time of 3 p.m. ET this year, next season’s race will begin at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on NBCSN.
“Moving the start time for the September race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is fitting because it will deliver a better experience for our fans attending the race, and kick off the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in primetime,” said Steve Herbst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Broadcasting and Production in a press release. “Each race weekend, including Las Vegas, is unique, and we work collaboratively with broadcast partners, teams and tracks to ensure the ideal timing is selected for our events.”
Other notable start times:
The Daytona 500 is scheduled for Feb. 17 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
The March 31 race at Texas Motor Speedway will start one hour later, moving from a 2 p.m. ET start to 3 p.m. ET. The race also moves to FOX.
The start time for New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s July 22 starts one hour later, moving from 2 p.m. ET to 3 p.m. ET.
Martinsville Speedway’s Oct. 28 playoff shifts a half-hour later to a 3 p.m. ET start.
Here’s the full schedule with start times and TV and radio networks: