As we continue our countdown ahead of the 2020 NASCAR season, we’ll be dissecting nine events throughout the 26-race regular season that will play a factor when the 10-race postseason rolls around.
9. Richmond Raceway (Sunday, April 19)
Darlington Raceway opens up the playoffs, but Richmond being the second race of the first round for the second consecutive year is an intriguing spot.
The first race in April is during the day, while the playoff event will be a nightcap. Weather permitting, track conditions will be much different.
A theme that’ll be recurring throughout the season (and this article) is the adjusted aerodynamic rules package for short tracks. Martin Truex Jr. won last season in dominating fashion, but by playoff time, we should have a better gauge on who has grasped the adjusted package best.
8. Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sunday, February 23)
For the second straight season, Sin City will open the 10-race stretch to determine the champion. Much like 2019, the weather in the latter race will be much hotter--upwards of 100 degrees--compared to the normal temperatures that’ll be seen later this month.
Regardless, every driver wants to start their playoffs off with a win and automatic bid to the next round.
7. Talladega Superspeedway (Sunday, April 26)
Talladega and crapshoot are synonymous, but there are still things that can be learned from the prior visit to NASCAR’s biggest track (2.66 miles) in April.
With the modern aero package, superspeedway racing has improved by all measures. It definitely passes the eye test, and still keeps an emphasis on manufacturer alliances. Will the Chevrolets have another “secret” meeting? Will the Toyotas be outnumbered and outworked? Will the Fords have shades of their 2018 playoff superspeedway dominance? We'll see...
6. Kansas Speedway (Sunday, May 31)
Opening the third round of the playoffs for the first time will be America’s Heartland and Kansas Speedway. Last season’s races at Kansas were characterized with wild restarts, seeing Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin win as both races finished in overtime.
Restarts are more important than ever, and Kansas is living proof.
5. Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, March 29)
When it comes down to crunch time, big time drivers have big time moments. And what better place to do so than where bigger is better at Texas Motor Speedway?
The playoff race (second to last race in the third round) will start one hour later than the spring race, meaning it will end in darkness, meaning track conditions will change throughout the 500 miles. And although an intermediate venue isn’t the finale anymore, they still pay dividends.
4. Bristol Motor Speedway (Sunday, April 5)
The Last Great Colosseum as a playoff cutoff race … under the lights. Can you say INSANITY?
For the first time ever, Bristol will be in the playoffs, and a cutoff race, no less. Say what you want about the schedule makers, but they nailed this change. A track that provides arguably some of the best racing in NASCAR with everything on the line is sure to provide some entertainment. Remember Matt DiBenedetto last season? If he makes the 16-driver field, you better believe he’ll be out for revenge at The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.
3. Sonoma Raceway (Sunday, June 14)
All tracks mentioned up until this point are ones that are in the playoffs. Here’s where that trend gets bucked.
I’ll say Sonoma Raceway is the more comparable road course (over Watkins Glen) to the Charlotte ROVAL. It’s slower, more technical and has more elevation changes than The Glen, making it a good test session for the Round of 12 cutoff race in NASCAR’s backyard.
2. Martinsville Speedway (Saturday, May 9)
When NASCAR’s oldest track installed lights, the dream of holding a Cup race under the lights became more of a reality than it had ever been. It’ll come to life in 2020 on Mother’s Day weekend, as the first national series event at The Paperclip will be held in the evening.
The playoff race will be in its traditional daytime slot, but being a short, low-speed track, conditions won’t matter as much. But whoever performs well under the lights may have the upper hand when the sun shines.
Oh by the way: it’s the penultimate race of the season and will set the Championship 4 field.
1. Phoenix Raceway (Sunday, March 8)
Pretty self-explanatory here, but for the first time in almost two decades, the season finale will not be held at Homestead-Miami Speedway but instead at Phoenix Raceway.
The move was met with some skepticism, largely in part due to the great quality of racing Homestead’s worn out, sun baked, progressive banked surface produces. But NASCAR felt it was time for a change, and with a $178 million renovation project, they put their money where their mouth was.
But the elephant in the room last year was the quality of racing at Phoenix, as well as other short tracks. In a word, it was bad. Really bad. So NASCAR did something about it.
Without getting into the minutia of it, they changed the specifications of the rear spoiler, front splitter, radiator pan which in turn will decrease downforce and, in theory, produce more passing and in turn, better racing.
The first trip to Phoenix comes in the first month of the season on the West Coast swing, and it’ll be telling as to who runs well in Avondale early on, because they’ll most certainly have the upper hand experience and confidence-wise coming back in the fall if championship eligible.