NASCAR is abuzz with an impending 2021 schedule shakeup after current agreements with racetracks expire following the 2020 Cup Series season. NASCAR president Steve Phelps clarified his realignment priorities during his season-ending State of the Sport press conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“We’re looking at three things when we’re looking at that race schedule,” Phelps said. “We’re looking at where we’re going to have the most competitive racing that we can have, where we’re going to have full grandstands, and what does that market look like; is it a new market that we can service?”
What racetracks out there fit those criteria? Here are a few you could see pop up when the calendar hits 2021.
1. Iowa Speedway
This 7/8-mile oval is nicknamed “The Fastest Short Track on The Planet” but acts more like an intermediate. Progressive banking in the turns leads to side-by-side action all over this racetrack, producing photo finishes in the Xfinity and Truck Series that have attracted near-sellout crowds. The track is already owned by NASCAR, so it’s easy to award it a Cup date, and it sits in a state (Iowa) that doesn’t have one.
2. Road America
Located in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, this 4.048-mile road course has hosted NASCAR Xfinity Series races for the past decade. A fan favorite for producing upset winners (Jeremy Clements, Michael McDowell), it’s cherished by drivers, too, and sits an hour north of a major market (Milwaukee). Will the Cup Series make a return here for the first time since 1956?
3. Fairgrounds Speedway
This Nashville hotspot hosted NASCAR Cup Series races from 1958-84 and is right in the heart of stock car country. The .596-mile bullring always fielded competitive races but lost its dates over problems with financing, local government, and track management. A new, veteran race promoter in Bob Sargent was hired this offseason to solve some of those problems; the new ARCA East Series will race there in 2020. Whether Cup makes it back to Nashville may depend on how city government wants to use the land, as a new MLS stadium is slated to be built in the area in time for 2022.
4. Circuit of the Americas
This 3.426-mile road course hosted more than 250,000 race fans over a three-day period for the 2019 Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix. Located in Austin, it offers a fresh market in Texas, which has seen attendance dwindle at its lone oval racetrack on the Cup schedule out in Fort Worth. It’s no coincidence that Tony Stewart piloted a stock car there this October and was fired up by the challenge of the 20-turn track.
5. Pacific Northwest
No specific track has been targeted for NASCAR expansion in one of its most coveted markets. IndyCar races at 1.967-mile Portland International Raceway, a facility that hosted Truck Series races in 1999-2000. But Phelps has said that the sport would consider street racing, and rumors of a street event near Seattle popped up late in 2019. The problem may be convincing a major market without a historic racing connection to hop on board. Remember NASCAR’s failed Staten Island raceway project during the mid-to-late 2000s?