A schedule that includes a dirt race, more events on road courses and other changes has plenty of options to choose from, but here are the five can’t-miss Cup races for 2021.
Bristol dirt race
The March 28 race at Bristol Motor Speedway is set to be the first time Cup has raced on dirt since 1970. No one truly knows what to expect. That makes it worth watching whether you like the idea of Cup racing on dirt or not.
It should be fun to watch those drivers with dirt experience, namely Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., among others.
“I’m super pumped,” Dillon said after the race was announced in September. “I’m hoping it becomes a staple.”
Circuit of the Americas
The road course in Austin, Texas, which has hosted Formula One and IndyCar, will host NASCAR for the first time. The Cup race is scheduled for May 23.
The stock cars will run the same 3.41-mile, 20-turn course F1 and IndyCar used. Lewis Hamilton won the inaugural F1 race there in 2012. He has five wins at that track.
The Xfinity Series has raced at the Wisconsin road course since 2010 and provided many memorable moments, but July 4 will mark the first time the Cup Series will have raced there since 1956.
Jeremy Clements scored his lone Xfinity win there in 2017 after contact with Matt Tifft spun both coming to the white flag while battling for the lead. Clements got his car going faster and cruised to the victory. In 2011, Justin Allgaier ran out of gas while leading under caution on the last lap. Reed Sorenson went on to win. Austin Cindric won last year’s Xfinity race.
Martinsville playoff race
It’s the last chance to make the championship race. This season that final chance comes on Oct. 31. Chase Elliott won at Martinsville this past season to advance to the championship race and won that event to claim his first Cup title. Kevin Harvick, who won a series-high nine races last year, failed to advance to the title race. Harvick attempted to knock Kyle Busch out of the way at the finish to get the point Harvick needed to advance to the title race but both cars spun.
There’s often drama at the Virginia short track in the playoffs.
Consider the chaos in recent years:
In 2018, Joey Logano bumped Martin Truex Jr. out of the lead on the last lap to win and earn a spot in the title race. Truex called the move a “cheap shot.” Logano went on to win the championship.
In 2017, Denny Hamlin and Elliott argued after Hamlin’s contact knocked Elliott out of the lead in the final laps of the race.
In 2015, Jeff Gordon scored an emotional win to advance to the title race. This also was the day Matt Kenseth intentionally wrecked Joey Logano as payback for an incident earlier in the playoffs at Kansas.
Phoenix championship race
It all leads to this Nov. 7 race at Phoenix Raceway. Late restarts led to dramatic finishes in the Xfinity and Truck race and the Cup event saw Chase Elliott collect his first series crown.
Can the track’s second year hosting the season finales prove as dramatic?