NASCAR unveiled a retooled 2020 NASCAR Cup Series schedule on Tuesday, releasing a 36-race slate that includes a reimagined Playoffs and new locations for both the Championship Race and the regular-season finale among several other changes.
For the first time since 2002, the premier series finale will have a new host track - the 1-mile ISM Raceway at Phoenix, which recently completed a $178 million renovation project designed to improve the fan experience, and one which included a reconfiguration for the track's start/finish line.
ISM Raceway has hosted the Round of 8 finale since the introduction of the NASCAR Playoffs elimination format in 2014, and it has served as the penultimate race of the season every year since 2005.
To get to the title race in Phoenix, though, NASCAR Cup Series drivers must navigate a 10-race postseason that will see short tracks and a road course host the elimination races.
The Playoffs will open Sept. 6 at historic Darlington Raceway, whose throwback weekend has become a staple of late summer. The opening round ends at Bristol Motor Speedway under the lights, with one of the most anticipated races of the year moving from its traditional August date to Sept. 19.
The Charlotte road course remains an elimination race after its thrilling debut last year, but in the Round of 12 instead of the Round of 16. With ISM Raceway moving to the championship race, the vacancy for the Round of 8 finale slides to Martinsville Speedway. The shortest and oldest track on the NASCAR circuit has a history of producing plenty of drama in its previous high-stakes Playoffs races, something sure to amp up even more with drivers having just one final chance to clinch a spot in the Championship 4.
"The fans and the industry as a whole have been vocal about the desire for sweeping changes to the schedule, and the 2020 slate is a reflection of our efforts to execute against that feedback," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. "These changes are the result of unprecedented consensus-building with our race tracks and broadcast partners; something we look to continue into 2021 and beyond."
Before the postseason, the Playoffs field will be fully set and finalized in the new-look regular-season finale at historic Daytona International Speedway, a race sure to throw a dash of unpredictability into the postseason picture.
Known for close-quarters racing and dramatic finishes during its second race of the season under the lights, the World Center of Racing has had a number of underdog winners in its history. Drivers could see their postseason standings drastically improve — or falter — at the 2.5-mile superspeedway in a prime-time Saturday night race on Aug. 29.
"Quite fittingly, the birthplace of NASCAR will host the bookend races to the 2020 regular season," O'Donnell said. "Racing in Daytona - particularly in the summer under the lights - never fails in delivering intense and unpredictable action. There's no question this venue will create some incredible drama as drivers make one last push for a playoff spot."
Other notable changes to the 2020 schedule are:
• A summer stretch includes a doubleheader weekend at Pocono Raceway that will see back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series races on the same weekend. The first such instance in the NASCAR modern era, this doubleheader on Saturday, June 27, and Sunday, June 28, also ensures the season ends one week earlier on Nov. 8.
Additional summer changes include a Cup Series race on Father's Day, which recently has been an off weekend for the premier series. Chicagoland Speedway hosts the event, the first in the NBC portion of the schedule. With the Daytona summer race moving to the end of the regular season, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will serve as host of the July 4th weekend, a cornerstone on the NASCAR schedule. It hosts the NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday, July 5.
"We enjoyed collaborating with NASCAR and their track partners to create what we think will be our most exciting schedule yet in 2020," said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports and NBCSN. "From the iconic Bristol night race becoming part of the Playoffs, to the new home of the Championship Race at the thrilling ISM Raceway, we believe this innovative schedule will be a benefit to everyone in the industry, and, most importantly, the fans."
• Hosting the Round of 8 finale isn't the only change for Martinsville Speedway. The .526-mile track will host its first NASCAR national series race under the facility's newly installed lights on Mother's Day weekend, May 9, 2020.
• Previously the host of the finale, Homestead-Miami Speedway's race is slated for March 22, 2020, in the early portion of the regular season. The 1.5-mile track with variable banking produces some of the best racing all year.
• NASCAR goes West earlier this year, with the three-race West Coast swing starting immediately after the season-opening Daytona 500, with Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosting the second race of the season, followed by Auto Club Speedway and ISM Raceway.
• The four final races of the regular season are designed to test the mettle of NASCAR's top drivers on a variety of courses. That four-race slate includes a wide 2-mile oval (Michigan), a road course (Watkins Glen), a fast, 1-mile concrete track (Dover) and a 2.5-mile superspeedway (Daytona).
"It was a tremendous collaborative effort," said Bill Wanger, FOX Sports EVP Programming, Live Operations and Research. "Working with NASCAR to offer race fans the most compelling schedule requires a fine balance between honoring tradition, while at the same time, looking for places to add energy to the race schedule for the fans and viewers, and we believe that was accomplished for the 2020 season."
The full NASCAR Cup Series schedule for 2020:
|Sunday, Feb. 9||The Clash|
|Thursday, Feb. 13||Duels at Daytona|
|Sunday, Feb. 16||Daytona 500|
|Sunday, Feb. 23||Las Vegas Motor Speedway|
|Sunday, March 1||Auto Club Speedway|
|Sunday, March 8||ISM Raceway|
|Sunday, March 15||Atlanta Motor Speedway|
|Sunday, March 22||Homestead-Miami Speedway|
|Sunday, March 29||Texas Motor Speedway|
|Sunday, April 5||Bristol Motor Speedway|
|Sunday, April 12||OFF|
|Sunday, April 19||Richmond Raceway|
|Sunday, April 26||Talladega Superspeedway|
|Sunday, May 3||Dover International Speedway|
|Saturday, May 9||Martinsville Speedway|
|Saturday, May 16||All-Star Race at Charlotte|
|Sunday, May 24||Charlotte Motor Speedway|
|Sunday, May 31||Kansas Speedway|
|Sunday, June 7||Michigan International Speedway|
|Sunday, June 14||Sonoma Raceway|
|Sunday, June 21||Chicagoland Speedway|
|Saturday, June 27||Pocono Raceway|
|Sunday, June 28||Pocono Raceway|
|Sunday, July 5||Indianapolis Motor Speedway|
|Saturday, July 11||Kentucky Speedway|
|Sunday, July 19||New Hampshire Motor Speedway|
|Sunday, July 26||OFF|
|Sunday, Aug. 2||OFF|
|Sunday, Aug. 9||Michigan International Speedway|
|Sunday, Aug. 16||Watkins Glen International|
|Sunday, Aug. 23||Dover International Speedway|
|Saturday, Aug. 29||Daytona International Speedway|
|Sunday, Sept. 6||Darlington Raceway|
|Saturday, Sept. 12||Richmond Raceway|
|Saturday, Sept. 19||Bristol Motor Speedway|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||Las Vegas Motor Speedway|
|Sunday, Oct. 4||Talladega Superspeedway|
|Sunday, Oct. 11||Charlotte Motor Speedway|
|Sunday, Oct. 18||Kansas Speedway|
|Sunday, Oct. 25||Texas Motor Speedway|
|Sunday, Nov. 1||Martinsville Speedway|
|Sunday, Nov. 8||