Super Bowl Sunday means more than just the end of the NFL season: it also marks the start of the new NASCAR season. Beginning next weekend with the Daytona 500 weekend, the Cup, Xfinity, and Camping World Truck Series will embark on a nine-month journey that takes them to twenty-three tracks, some of which are brand new, before culminating in the Championship Weekend at Phoenix Raceway in November.
Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway over the next week will kick off the slate for all three series.
It is a bit of a misnomer to call it Speedweeks. Although it traditionally takes place over nine days (longer if one includes the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in late January), it was condensed to six days for 2021.
For the first time in its history, the exhibition Busch Clash will take place on Tuesday night and on the Daytona road course. Twenty-one drivers are eligible to compete in what will be the first NASCAR action of the year.
Practice and single-car qualifying for the Daytona 500 takes place the following day, followed by the Bluegreen Vacations Duel on Thursday night to set the grid. The Truck and Xfinity openers are planned for Friday and Saturday night, respectively, followed by the 500 on Sunday. The ARCA Menards Series and AMA Supercross will also have events during the week, with the former beginning its season at Daytona while the latter is at Camping World Stadium in nearby Orlando.
Much of Speedweeks will be televised on FS1 and FS2 with the exception of the 500, which will be over-the-air on Fox.
|Tuesday||Cup||Busch Clash||7 PM||FS1|
|Wednesday||Cup||Daytona 500 practice||12:05 PM||FS1|
|Wednesday||Cup||Daytona 500 qualifying||7 PM||FS1|
|Thursday||Trucks||Practice 1||5:35 PM||FS1|
|Thursday||Cup||Bluegreen Vacations Duel||7 PM||FS1|
|Friday||Trucks||NextEra Energy 250||7:30 PM||FS1|
|Saturday||Cup||Practice 2||9:30 AM||FS2|
|Saturday||Cup||Final practice||12:05 PM||FS1|
|Saturday||ARCA||Lucas Oil 200||1:30 PM||FS1|
|Saturday||Xfinity||Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. 300||5 PM||FS1|
|Sunday||Cup||Daytona 500||2:30 PM||Fox|
Chase Elliott has all the momentum going into 2021. The 25-year-old caught fire in the final stretch of the 2020 season as he won three of the last five races en route to his maiden championship.
Of course, while Elliott may be a betting favourite entering the new year, one should never count out names like Kevin Harvick, who had one of the strongest seasons in modern history despite falling short of the Championship Round, Denny Hamlin, who is seeking his third consecutive Daytona 500 win, and Team Penske‘s final round qualifiers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.
Schedule changes: Road Courses and a Show on Dirt
The 2021 Cup schedule features perhaps the most extensive changes in recent memory. For fans of road course racing, this will be a season to look forward to.
A series-high seven road courses are included, with new dates coming on the Daytona road course, Indianapolis road course, Road America, and Circuit of the Americas to join Watkins Glen, Sonoma, and the Charlotte Roval. The Daytona RC, introduced as a temporary event in 2020 after Watkins Glen was removed due to COVID-19, replaces Fontana as the second race of the season and will also be the site of the Busch Clash on Tuesday. COTA has never hosted a NASCAR race in its first nine years of existence.
The Cup Series will also hit the dirt for the first time in five decades when they race at Bristol Motor Speedway on a dirt-covered course. Nashville Superspeedway returns to NASCAR after a decade-long dormancy but will host a Cup race for the first time.
Other changes include date shuffling like the loss of Chicagoland and Kentucky, the addition of second dates at Atlanta and Darlington, and Michigan reducing to one event. Texas loses its spring race to COTA, but gains the All-Star Race in July from Charlotte. The addition of Nashville meant Dover loses one of its races.
Silly Season: New Faces in New Places and New Teams
The 2021 Cup season will see the débuts of not just one, but three new full-time teams, one for each manufacturer. Perhaps the most notable of the trio is 23XI Racing, co-owned by Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan, who will field the #23 Toyota for Bubba Wallace. Chevrolet’s newest team is Justin Marks‘ Trackhouse Racing Team, which he shares ownership with award-winning musician Pitbull, and the #99 for Daniel Suárez. In the Ford camp is the #78 of owner/driver B.J. McLeod and his and Matt Tifft‘s Live Fast Motorsports.
All three teams are locked into the full schedule thanks to charters they acquired from organsiations that have since shut down or have other plans. 23XI’s charter comes from Germain Racing, who folded after over a decade in the sport with much success in the Truck Series; Trackhouse secured a lease on a charter from Spire Motorsports‘ #77; and Live Fast received their charter from Go Fas Racing, who will scale back to a part-time schedule. While Spire is sending the #77 charter to Trackhouse, the car is still chartered after buying one from the since-closed Leavine Family Racing.
The aforementioned demises left their drivers going elsewhere for 2021. After Germain’s closure, Ty Dillon moves to Gaunt Brothers Racing (formerly Suárez’s ride) for the Daytona 500 and a part-time Xfinity schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing; he will also run Tuesday’s Clash for 23XI as Wallace is ineligible. Corey LaJoie moves from GFR to Spire’s new #7, the charter of which comes from the JTG Daugherty Racing #37 though Ryan Preece still hopes to run the full schedule despite a lack of sufficient funding. LFR’s driver Christopher Bell did not have to wait long for a seat to open up as he moves to JGR’s #20, replacing Erik Jones who in turn succeeds Wallace in the famed #43 of Richard Petty Motorsports.
In the Chevrolet programme, Hendrick Motorsports will return three of their four drivers, but only two—Elliott and William Byron—are in their 2020 rides. Alex Bowman moves from the #88 to the #48 vacated by the retiring Jimmie Johnson, while the #88 has been renumbered to the team’s historic #5 for the recently-reinstated Kyle Larson. Larson was suspended and fired from his #42 Chip Ganassi Racing ride last spring, and Ross Chastain will take the seat in 2021 from an also-departing Matt Kenseth. Hendrick ally Spire will continue to have multiple drivers in the #77 beginning with Jamie McMurray for the 500 and part-timer Justin Haley for at least two dates.
The full-time Ford lineup remains mostly the same with the exceptions of Front Row Motorsports‘ #38 and Stewart-Haas Racing‘s #14, both which will be driven by rookies. Part-time Xfinity driver Anthony Alfredo replaces John Hunter Nemechek in the #38, while 2020 Xfinity wins leader Chase Briscoe moves up in place of the now-Fox broadcaster Clint Bowyer.
Among the multi-driver and part-time cars, Noah Gragson will become Beard Motorsports‘ newest driver for the 500 as Brendan Gaughan has retired, while Kaz Grala and A.J. Allmendinger will respectively run the Daytona oval and road course races for Kaulig Racing; Kaulig plans to run the superspeedway and RC events ahead of moving to a full-time Cup slate in 2022. Team Penske will also begin fielding the #33 for reigning Xfinity champion Austin Cindric on a part-time basis before he graduates to the Wood Brothers Racing #21 next year.
Rick Ware Racing, a team that fields an armada of cars across numerous series and disciplines for various drivers, plans to have some stability for 2021 with a pair of rookies. Cody Ware, son of the team owner, will drive the #51 full-time while Josh Bilicki is the permanent #52 driver. The #53 and #15 cars, on the other hand, will continue with their multi-driver rotation; Derrike Cope will pilot the #15 in what he expects to be his final career race in the 500, while Joey Gase returns for another year. Garrett Smithley, who is running the #13 for MBM Motorsports in the 500, will continue his part-time calendar for RWR alongside James Davison.
Besides racing part-time in the Cup Series, Cindric will return to the Xfinity Series to defend his title. Needless to say, the graduation of Briscoe, his main championship rival in 2020, leaves him as the easy pick among predictors for the 2021 title.
Nevertheless, he will still have to look out for others like the Justins Allgaier and Haley, both of whom made the Championship Round, and Allmendinger, a Cup veteran who was the lone part-timer to win multiple Xfinity races in 2020 and will race full time.
Schedule: A true support series
As the Xfinity Series is a tier below the Cup Series, it comes with little surprise that its schedule mostly aligns with the parent series with some exceptions. However, the radical changes to the 2021 Cup calendar includes what were previously Xfinity standalone dates, turning them into support rounds.
While the Xfinity schedule also includes new dates, all but one of the thirty-three dates are companion races for the Cup Series; standalones that transformed into undercards include Indianapolis and Road America. The Xfinity Series will also race at COTA and Nashville, the latter of which was on the series schedule from 2001 to 2011, while Dover and Bristol lose a date each. Along with Chicagoland, Fontana, and Kentucky, Iowa is gone as well. The track lost both of its Xfinity races in 2020 to the pandemic.
On the gaining side, Darlington and Talladega both receive permanent, second dates after hosting replacement races. Atlanta and Martinsville will also host two dates, the former for the first time and the latter not having done so since 1994.
Still, there are differences in the Cup and Xfinity schedules. The latter will not follow the Cup Series to Sonoma, but will still go road racing at Mid-Ohio.
Silly Season: Front runners mostly return, new guys join
Briscoe and Chastain are the only full-time Xfinity drivers to move up to the Cup Series in 2021. In their place, SHR (#98) and Kaulig (#10) hired Riley Herbst and Jeb Burton, respectively. Chastain will likely continue racing in the series anyway for Kaulig.
Herbst lost his ride at JGR after just one season to Daniel Hemric, who spent 2020 racing part-time for JR Motorsports. While Hemric is the new full-timer at JGR to join the returning Brandon Jones and Harrison Burton, the team’s #54 “all-star” car will be filled by a litany of names. While the team pulls Kyle Busch, Hamlin, and Martin Truex Jr. from their Cup side for some starts along with Dillon, new ARCA full-timer Ty Gibbs will also make his series début on the Daytona RC.
JGR’s fellow Toyota team Sam Hunt Racing has had an even bigger offseason as they gear up for their first full-time campaign. A triumvirate of names will pilot the #26 Supra, all of whom boast road racing experience like IndyCar driver Santino Ferrucci, sports car champion and Truck rookie Kris Wright, and another sports car titlist in Brandon Gdovic. Gdovic will begin the season on the Daytona oval, followed by Wright on the RC and Ferrucci making his NASCAR début at Homestead the week after.
For Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske, they will no longer be the only two Ford teams in the Xfinity Series. RSS Racing, a longtime Chevrolet organisation, makes the switch to the Blue Oval and owner/driver Ryan Sieg will now drive the #39 Ford Mustang. RSS will also continue their partnership with Truck team Reaume Brothers Racing with the #23 (#93 in 2020); Jason White and Natalie Decker will open the season in their first NASCAR start since 2014 and Xfinity début, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Chevrolets will receive some more firepower with new and expanded teams joining the party. Kaulig, which fields the #11 for Haley in addition to the #10, will elevate their part-time #16 to a full schedule for Allmendinger. Our Motorsports grows to two full-time cars in the pre-existing #02 for Brett Moffitt and the #03 for two-time series champion Tyler Reddick, ringer Andy Lally, Modified regular Patrick Emerling, and series newcomer Blaine Perkins. Truck owner/driver Jordan Anderson will move his team to a full-time Xfinity slate in the #31. Another new team is Big Machine Racing, owned by music label mogul Scott Borchetta, for Jade Buford (Danny Bohn will run the Daytona oval in his first Xfinity start as Buford was not approved for the superspeedway). Brothers Ronnie Jr. and Dillon Bassett will share the #77 for their family team’s inaugural year.
Rick Ware Racing, who revived their Xfinity programme late last season and had plans to field two cars, will join forces with SS-Green Light Racing to field the #17, placing particular emphasis on bringing in their Cup drivers. SSGLR is also running the #07 for Joe Graf Jr., who moves over from the #08 that has become the #17.
Other full-time driver changes include Myatt Snider taking over the #2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet full-time. B.J. McLeod Motorsports adds Jesse Little to the #78 from JD Motorsports to accompany Matt Mills (#5) and a variety of drivers in the #99 (Stefan Parsons, Josh Bilicki, Mason Massey, Ryan Ellis, Vinnie Miller). At JD, the team will field four permanent drivers for the first time as Jeffrey Earnhardt (#0), Ryan Vargas (#6), and Colby Howard (#15) are promoted to full schedules after racing part-time in 2020 for them, while Landon Cassill returns to the #4. Mike Harmon Racing also removed the limited label from their drivers as Kyle Weatherman (#47) and Bayley Currey (#74) take over full time. Gray Gaulding is also expected to assume responsibilities of Jimmy Means Racing‘s #52 vacated by Kody Vanderwal, though the team has not made a formal announcement.
Among multi-driver cars, JR Motorsports’ #8 will be driven by Josh Berry (his first Xfinity action since 2018), Miguel Paludo (first NASCAR racing since 2013), team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., and newcomer Sam Mayer. MBM Motorsports will still field Timmy Hill, but their #61 (which has a partnership with Truck team Hattori Racing Enterprises) will be driven by both HRE driver Austin Hill and Robby Lyons. Chad Finchum and Stephen Leicht will split the #13.
In 2018, it was the Camping World Truck Series. In 2019, it was the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. In 2020, it was the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. In 2021, it is once again the Camping World Truck Series. With the title sponsorship reverting to Camping World as it was from 2009 to 2018, fans who were exasperated with the constant name changes will be relieved to have a familiar name again.
The series name is not the only thing changing for the pickup truck league either. As the third rung of the NASCAR ladder, various drivers moved up or are coming in for the first time. Reigning champion Sheldon Creed will look to make it a repeat but will certainly face stiff opposition.
Schedule: Getting Dirty Multiple Times
Even with the major changes, the Cup and Xfinity schedules still remained at their stable thirty-six and thirty-three race counts, respectively. The Trucks, on the other hand, lose a round as the calendar features twenty-two races instead of twenty-three.
The Truck schedule features more deviation from the top two series, including the addition of a second dirt race at Knoxville Raceway to go with the Bristol event. Both races fill the void left by Eldora Speedway’s exclusion, though the Tony Stewart-owned Ohio track will instead welcome Stewart’s own Superstar Racing Experience in the summer.
Another standalone date comes at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the 2020 event of which was cancelled due to the pandemic, as a playoff date. The Truck schedule features a series-high four road courses: besides Mosport, the three regular season events are at Daytona, COTA, and Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen, which returns to the Truck schedule for the first time since 2000, will serve as the final race before the playoffs.
Texas loses one of its dates, while Eldora, Chicagoland, Dover, Iowa, Kentucky, and Michigan are gone entirely.
Silly Season: Newcomers Galore
It is perhaps a good thing that NASCAR expanded Truck grids from thirty-two to forty drivers for races without qualifying (thirty-six for races with the session) as numerous teams and drivers prepare for their first Truck season.
Rackley WAR is among the new teams, set to field the #25 Silverado for series veteran Timothy Peters. Others are owner/drivers going full time for the first time, such as 19-year-old Dawson Cram‘s Cram Racing Enterprises (#41), Cory Roper‘s Roper Racing (#04), and Spencer Davis‘ Spencer Davis Motorsports (#11). On Point Motorsports has entered a truck for Bohn at Daytona and hopes to run the full schedule, though the plan is contingent on sponsorship.
New part-time teams include Bret Holmes Racing, owned by the reigning ARCA champion who will share the #32 with Mayer, the #94 Cram Racing Enterprises truck for Chris Hacker, and the returning Lira Motorsports. Other existing teams will expand to include part-time operations like McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, doing so for the winner of their driver academy. DGR-Crosley, which has become David Gilliland Racing, will field the #1 for rookie Hailie Deegan and the returning Tanner Gray (#15), while Gray’s brother Taylor and Gilliland will race part-time in a #17. Toni Breidinger will become the first female Arabic-American driver in NASCAR national series history when she pilots a limited-race #82 for Young’s Motorsports.
Among driver changes, Raphaël Lessard joins a very crowded stable at GMS Racing in the #24, moving over from Kyle Busch Motorsports‘ #4 which will be filled by Nemechek. Chase Purdy is also a fresh race in full-time Truck racing as he becomes the GMS #23’s newest driver. KBM’s #18 truck was driven by Christian Eckes in 2020 but Chandler Smith will take over in 2021; Eckes moves to ThorSport Racing‘s #98, which he will share with Championship Round contender Grant Enfinger. Perhaps more noteworthy for ThorSport is their manufacturer as they return to Toyota after three years with Ford. KBM, a fellow Toyota team, will also field the #51 for Busch and other drivers like series débutant Drew Dollar.
Among Chevrolet Silverado teams, Moffitt will race for the Truck title with Niece Motorsports, where he is joined by Ryan Truex and Carson Hocevar, both of whom have been promoted to full-time seats. Young’s will have a trio of regular drivers in Wright (#02), Tate Fogleman (#12), and Spencer Boyd (#20).