2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule includes Road America, COTA among 6 road course races

Nick Bromberg
·5 min read

NASCAR is adding and removing tracks from its Cup Series schedule for the first time in years.

The sanctioning body’s 2021 schedule includes races at two tracks that have never hosted Cup races and doesn’t feature races at either Chicagoland Speedway or Kentucky Speedway.

Chicago had hosted NASCAR races since 2001 while Kentucky had been on the Cup Series schedule since 2011. Both 1.5-mile tracks were axed from the schedule in favor of races at other non-intermediate track venues.

Michigan is also losing one of its two races in 2021. The track has long hosted two Cup Series races every year but will have just one August date next season.

The openings on the schedule allow NASCAR to race at Road America in Wisconsin for the first time and add second dates at Darlington and Atlanta. The Cup Series is also racing at Nashville Superspeedway for the first time in 2021. The Nashville race comes at the expense of a race at Dover. NASCAR will race at Dover just once in 2021.

Here are the other significant changes to the NASCAR schedule:

Goodbye Brickyard 400 on the oval

The 2020 Brickyard 400 was the final NASCAR Cup Series race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

The Cup Series will follow in the footsteps of the Xfinity Series and race on the track’s road course in 2021. The move away from the Indianapolis oval comes as NASCAR really never recovered from the tire debacle at the track in 2008. Attendance at the Brickyard 400 never came close to what it was after that tire reliability disaster and NASCAR’s rules and Goodyear’s tires have not been able to reliably produce decent racing.

The race is also now being run in August again. The NASCAR race dates at Indianapolis have either been in July or September since 2006.

Hello Circuit of the Americas

NASCAR is heading to the only track in the United States that hosts a Formula 1 race. All three NASCAR series will race in Austin on the weekend of May 23. The Austin road course race will take the place of a points race at Texas Motor Speedway.

While Texas will have just one race that counts, it’s also getting the All-Star Race. The exhibition moves from Charlotte to Texas in 2021. The race was in Bristol in 2020 because NASCAR could have fans at the race and also make money from the state of Tennessee via tax incentives.

The road course races at COTA and at Road America mean that NASCAR will have six road course races on the Cup schedule in 2021. That’s a 100 percent increase from the original 2020 schedule that only included Sonoma, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval. NASCAR did not race at either Sonoma or Watkins Glen this season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Bristol dirt track

The spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway will be run on the concrete half-mile track. But dirt is going to be on top of that concrete.

The March 28 race will be the first Cup Series race in the modern era held on dirt. It’s a bold move by NASCAR, especially since it’s replacing one of just six short track races on the schedule. Without the spring Bristol race on concrete, there are just five Cup Series races on paved short tracks in 2021: One at Bristol, two at Martinsville and two at Richmond.

Low downforce at Darlington

The two scheduled races at Darlington will be run with NASCAR’s lower downforce rules in 2021. NASCAR has cut horsepower and added downforce to cars at all tracks longer than a mile since the beginning of the 2019 season. But the racing at Darlington hasn’t been nearly as fun with slower cars that have more grip.

What happens to Chicago and Kentucky?

The prospects of Chicago and Kentucky ever hosting NASCAR races again are grim. Plans to build warehouses on part of the Chicagoland Speedway property have been floated in recent years and Kentucky’s proximity to nothing urban is not a point in its favor.

NASCAR owns Chicagoland Speedway and Speedway Motorsports owns Kentucky. It’s hard to see how NASCAR would take away a race from Chicago in both 2020 (due to the pandemic) and in 2021 and return to the track in future years.

Full schedule

Feb. 9: Clash at Daytona (road course)

Feb. 14: Daytona 500

Feb. 21: Homestead

Feb. 28: Auto Club

March 7: Las Vegas

March 14: Phoenix

March 21: Atlanta

March 28: Bristol (dirt)

April 10: Martinsville

April 18: Richmond

April 25: Talladega

May 2: Kansas

May 9: Darlington

May 16: Dover

May 23: Circuit of the Americas

May 30: Charlotte

June 6: Sonoma

June 13: All-Star Race (Texas)

June 20: Nashville

June 26: Pocono

June 27: Pocono

July 4: Road America

July 11: Atlanta

July 18: New Hampshire

Aug. 8: Watkins Glen

Aug. 15: Indianapolis

Aug. 22: Michigan

Aug. 28: Daytona

Sept. 5: Darlington

Sept. 11: Richmond

Sept. 18: Bristol

Sept. 26: Las Vegas

Oct. 3: Talladega

Oct. 10: Charlotte (Roval)

Oct. 17: Texas

Oct. 24: Kansas

Oct. 31: Martinsville

Nov. 7: Phoenix

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, of Finland, leads the field in the first turn at the start of the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix auto race at the Circuit of the Americas, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
COTA will host a NASCAR Cup Series race in 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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