COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — NASCAR on Wednesday released the full 2021 schedule for its top-level Cup Series, and although a massive reshaping of the schedule brings exciting new additions that fans have wanted for years, it also means fans from Ohio will lose three of their nearest race weekends.
Gone from the 2021 schedule will be NASCAR races at three of the five closest tracks to Columbus. Kentucky Speedway outside Cincinnati and Chicagoland Speedway in Illinois will lose their lone NASCAR weekends, while Michigan International Speedway northwest of Toledo will lose one of its two.
“We’re disappointed the Bluegrass State will not be hosting you next year,” Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger wrote to fans. “Your support has meant the world to us. But this is not goodbye, it’s just ‘we hope to see ya later’ in a different capacity.”
Simendinger left open the possibility of other racing leagues coming to the track next year — like IndyCar, which raced there from 2000 to 2011 — but he said the track’s future is as “a multi-use facility.”
Kentucky and Chicagoland’s absence means the closest Cup track to Columbus next year is Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and three of the top five are more than 300 miles away in Tennessee and Virginia.
Closest NASCAR Cup Series tracks to Columbus, by shortest driving distance
|148 miles: Kentucky Speedway|
179 miles: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
194 miles: Michigan International Speedway*
328 miles: Bristol Motor Speedway*
339 miles: Chicagoland Speedway
|179 miles: Indianapolis Motor Speedway|
194 miles: Michigan International Speedway
328 miles: Bristol Motor Speedway*
381 miles: Martinsville Speedway*
388 miles: Nashville Superspeedway
Michigan’s lone Cup race next year will be Sunday, Aug. 22, the second-to-last race before the playoffs.
Shift toward road courses
Chicagoland President Scott Paddock and Michigan President Rick Brenner said the dropping of NASCAR weekends in 2021 is not a reflection of fan support. Paddock said it’s instead “an important step for the industry to incorporate new markets and new courses into the schedule.”
And he’s right. The deletion of the three race weekends at Kentucky, Chicagoland and Michigan is part of a major shift, long-desired by fans craving more exciting racing, for the Cup Series to move away from mid-size ovals and instead focus on road courses and the organization’s core tracks in the Southeast.
The Cup races at Kentucky and Chicagoland (1.5-mile ovals) and Michigan (2-mile oval) make room for second dates at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. They also help make room for two premier road courses: Road America in Wisconsin and Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Road America has found success hosting the second-tier NASCAR Xfinity Series the past 10 years, while the state-of-the-art Circuit of the Americas has hosted Formula 1’s United States Grand Prix since 2012.
Additionally, Columbus-area NASCAR fans who make the 3-hour drive west to Indianapolis next August for the track’s crown-jewel Cup race, the Brickyard 400, will be surprised to see it run on the road course layout.
IMS President J. Douglas Boles said they made the decision because of positive feedback from fans after this July’s Xfinity Series debut at the road course “provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated.”
And it’s hard to argue with him:
NASCAR’s weekend at the IMS road course will also be a doubleheader with IndyCar.
The Cup Series’ three new road course races join California’s Sonoma Raceway, New York’s Watkins Glen International and the road course version of Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Also, the Busch Clash, a non-points race that opens the season a week before February’s Daytona 500, will be on the track’s road course layout.
Dirt race and other changes
The 2021 Cup schedule will feature the series’ first dirt race since 1970 when Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee is transformed into a half-mile, high-banked dirt track for its March weekend.
The only current NASCAR dirt race is the Truck Series’ popular “Dirt Derby” at Eldora Speedway in New Weston, Ohio, about two hours west of Columbus.
Other changes to the Cup calendar:
- Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth gave up one of its two races to Circuit of the Americas. To compensate, Texas will take the All-Star Race from Charlotte, which will be June 13 instead of in May.
- Nashville Superspeedway returns for its first NASCAR race since 2011. It replaces one of two races at Dover International Speedway in Delaware, which is owned by the same company.
- Homestead-Miami Speedway moves to the second race of the year to attract fans in the area for the Daytona 500.
The 2021 Cup playoff schedule largely stays the same, including starting at Darlington and ending at Phoenix Raceway in Arizona. Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania will also keep its unique Saturday-Sunday doubleheader in late June.
Xfinity and Truck series
NASCAR says the full 2021 schedules for the Xfinity Series and Truck Series will be released soon. Those series’ closest tracks to Columbus are Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington and Eldora Speedway.
Both the Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio and the Truck Series race at Eldora are expected to be held in 2021. Neither race was held in this year because of the pandemic.