The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series will now kick off their 2021 seasons with a slate of Florida races that includes a Daytona International Speedway doubleheader. On Tuesday, NASCAR announced that Daytona will host the first two races of both series’ seasons with the traditional Daytona 500 opener on 14 February followed by the return of the Daytona road course (21 February), with Homestead-Miami Speedway closing out the Florida tripleheader on 28 February. This comes at the expense of the Auto Club Speedway weekend.
As COVID-19 continues to take its toll, California has started to enforce more stringent policies to curb rising cases. In December, with the situation worsening, the state has reinstated stay-at-home orders similar to what was implemented in the spring and resulted in Sonoma Raceway being removed from the 2020 schedule. With its Cup race not until June, Sonoma is still on for 2021 at the time of the announcement. Auto Club Speedway had been set for its final race on the two-mile intermediate course before being reconfigured to a short track; with the development, the larger layout’s swan song will instead take place in 2022.
“Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we will not be able to host fans at Auto Club Speedway in February 2021,” read a statement from the track. “The Auto Club 400 race weekend will be moved to the Daytona International Speedway Road Course.
“While we are disappointed that guests will not be able to attend a NASCAR race at Auto Club Speedway in February, we must keep our primary focus on safety for all race guests and industry personnel.
“Additionally, in conjunction with the realignment of Auto Club Speedway’s 2021 race weekend, the efforts will continue with the proposed redevelopment project to transform the track into a high-banked short track. Timing for approval will occur at a later date based on the impacts from COVID. This will allow fans and the industry the opportunity to properly close the history books on the storied 2-mile, D-shaped oval for what could be the final race on its original surface in 2022.”
The Daytona road course, primarily used for sports cars and motorcycles, was introduced during the 2020 season as a replacement for the other lost road course date at Watkins Glen International. NASCAR’s layout, which features a chicane in the tri-oval, had been planned for use at the exhibition Busch Clash beginning in 2021. In addition to the Cup and Xfinity Series, the Camping World Truck Series will run the road course. Unlike its parent series, the Trucks will not race at Homestead the following week as previously scheduled.
In a way, the Daytona RC served as an omen of good things to come in 2020. When the national series raced there in August, the three winners—Chase Elliott (Cup), Austin Cindric (Xfinity), and Sheldon Creed (Truck)—all went on to win their respective series’ championships.
“Daytona International Speedway is known for iconic moments, and last year’s historical, first NASCAR road course races were incredibly exciting and added to the legacy of the World Center of Racing,” Daytona president Chip Wile said. “It was also great to see our trio of winners go on and hoist Championship trophies at Phoenix. We’re thrilled to have all three series back.”
Although NASCAR is already familiar with the Daytona RC, the announcement continues a trend of the sanctioning body heading to more road courses. The 2021 Cup schedule had already been expected to feature six such races, a significant increase from the usual Sonoma, Watkins Glen, and Charlotte Roval; new additions include a switch to the Indianapolis road course and the arrivals of Road America and Circuit of the Americas. The Xfinity calendar’s lone standalone race is at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, while the Trucks will now run four road races (including a standalone at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park as usual), the most in series history.
Similar changes have also taken place outside of the national series. The Whelen Euro Series, which predominantly features road courses anyway, will exclusively race such layouts in 2021 after losing the lone oval Raceway Venray due to pandemic concerns. Even the ARCA Menards Series is not exempt as they will race at Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen for the first time since 1965 and 2001, respectively.