We’re 32 days out from the biggest NASCAR event of the season in the Daytona 500, a race of such importance that needs no explanation.
But what else is there to look forward to?
There are 35 other Cup points races this season and they’re not all created equal.
Here are five races to pay closer attention to this season.
– Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on Feb. 24 on Fox)
The second Cup race of the season will probably have its biggest spotlight in recent memory when the 1.5-mile track is the first to host the 2019 rules package.
Derived from the 2018 All-Star Race package, it includes a tapered spacer and is intended to provide closer racing. Cars will run 550 horsepower at all tracks 1.33 miles and larger, which includes Atlanta. At tracks less than 1.33 miles, cars will have 750 horsepower.
Combine the hopeful intent behind the package and a rough track surface that’s being kept in place by the “most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C.,” and you have no excuse to not tune in and see what happens.
Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET on June 30 on NBCSN)
The race that marks the start of NBC’s portion of the NASCAR schedule set an incredible precedent in 2018. The 1.5-mile track debuted in its new spot on the schedule with Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch’s dramatic last-lap battle and Busch’s win.
Was it a result of the drivers involved? The hot Chicagoland surface? Lapped traffic?
Can it be topped?
We can only hope.
Go Bowling at the Glen at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on Aug. 4 on NBCSN)
From the green flag last year, the Cup race on the New York road course was a barn burner, ending with a duel between Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. that resulted in Elliott’s first Cup win as Truex ran out of gas.
Races on the road course have had increasingly memorable finishes over the last seven years (beginning in 2012 with Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose). WGI shows no sign of providing a snoozer in the near future, especially as long as pit strategy is involved.
Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 29 on NBC)
The final lap of last season’s inaugural Cup race on the Charlotte Roval had enough drama for three races on the new road course.
From Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson‘s contact in the final turn giving Ryan Blaney the win; Kyle Larson hitting the wall twice and passing a stalled car at the checkered flag to advance in the playoffs; and Aric Almirola passing enough cars to advance himself.
Do teams have the oval-road course hybrid figured out after one year? It’ll be fun to watch that question answered.
First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Oct. 27 on NBCSN)
We’re starting to run out of fingers to use to list memorable events in Martinsville’s recent history of hosting a playoff race.
We’ve seen Matt Kenseth’s retaliation against Joey Logano in 2015, which resulted in Jeff Gordon’s final Cup win.
Two years later, Denny Hamlin wrecked Elliott from the lead near the end of regulation. Kyle Busch then won in overtime as Martinsville’s version of “The Big One” unfolded. Afterward, an angry Elliott confronted Hamlin on the track as fans filled the air with cheers and boos.
Last year Truex and Logano provided a thrilling battle over the last six laps. Logano performed the bump-and-run on Truex in the final turn to win the battle in the “damn war” (which Logano also won in Miami).