NASCAR BLOG

2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is finally here!

A couple of weeks ago the highly anticipated schedule for next years NASCAR Cup Series was released, and the first thing I am going to say about it is just good job NASCAR! I am not completely on board with everything, but then again, there is never going to be a schedule that will keep everyone happy. But with the amount of changes they made, next season looks like it is going to be incredible. The first thing I look for though when a new schedule is released, is how many races on back-to-back weekends are located geographically close enough to each other that you can go to both and make a two week trip out of it. On this schedule there are a few, so that is absolutely a big plus, but more on that at a later stage. If you haven’t yet seen the schedule, you can easily find it on nascar.com.

They are starting off as usual with what is now the Daytona Speedweek, which was announced ages ago. However, with the Gen 7 car being pushed back to 2022, I was somewhat hoping that the Clash would be moved back to the oval. That obviously did not happen, so I’m not going to get my expectations up for that particular event. If it is anything like the race we saw on the road course earlier this year, it’s a one and done, then for the following season they are back on the oval.

Following Daytona, they are heading straight for Homestead-Miami, mainly to allow fans from afar to attend both weekends in one trip, thus help attendance. An interesting change to the schedule as we are used to seeing Homestead be the final race of the season, and now it’s going to be the second race. This is also great for people like myself as it gives fans a chance for a two week vacation with the possibility to enjoy up to nine days of racing within two weeks.

The west coast swing as they call it will keep its early slot on the schedule with just a minor change, where Auto Club is first up, followed by Las Vegas and Phoenix. A good change in my opinion as it’s nice to see the tracks move around a little bit, so we don’t end up with the same order year after year. There is an even bigger change coming to this part of the schedule for 2022, but I’ll be giving my view on that over the off-season.

Both Atlanta and Darlington are getting a second race each, which is one of the upsides to this schedule in my opinion. Atlanta has one of, if not the oldest surface on the circuit at the moment, and the racing there is always great because of this. It’s one of the few tracks where the drivers are constantly on the edge, even with this high downforce package they are running. Darlington is also a great track that puts on a heck of a show just about every time. The first thing that popped in to my head about that though is that the Southern 500 is one of the crown jewels of NASCAR, and now you’re going to have two races there? Well, upon a little bit closer inspection, the first race will be 310.6 miles (500 kilometres) with the second race being the 500 mile race. So that got cleared up quiet quickly.

The downside of this is that both Chicagoland and Kentucky are losing their dates. It’s never fun to see a track lose their races, and Chicagoland in particular usually puts on a good show. Hopefully these tracks will be back on the schedule soon, but then again, if you limit it to 36 races, there are only so many tracks you can go too.

The All-Star race is moving to Texas Motor Speedway. I like the idea of moving it around to a new track every season, but I would at least try and put it in close relation to the next or previous race so that you could attend two weekends, like they did with the 10 days of Thunder at Charlotte with the All-Star and Coca-Cola 600 being on back-to-back weekends. Here however they are racing on a Sunday, with the previous race being at Sonoma and the next one being in Nashville. Unless they are racing the Xfinity Series there on that same weekend, I just don’t see how they are ever going to get a decent attendance.

There are also a few new track added to the schedule, and this is probably my biggest question mark for this whole season. SIX road courses for next year (seven if you count the Clash), increasing it from the previous number of three. While most Chase Elliott fans are probably loving this, I myself am still not too sure on this. Three of these races will happen within five weeks as well, which is a bit odd, but hopefully they will put on a great show.

Since I’m not a big fan of neither Road America not Circuit Of The Americas though, I guess I might be biased, but I will give it a fair chance before judging it too much. The Brickyard 400 is being moved to the Indianapolis Road Course, which the Xfinity Series put on a great show at earlier this year, and then Dover is moving one of its races to Nashville Superspeedway, which I have no personal reference of what so ever, so that’s going to be a very interesting race to see how it unfolds. And last be absolutely not least, Bristol is changing one of its races to run on dirt?! It is probably going to be an amazing show, but people have been screaming for more short tracks, then they go and take 25% of the short track races and put it on dirt. I don’t really understand how that idea happened, but hopefully it will be a great race.

The playoffs remain pretty much unchanged, with only a couple of races switching positions. But having Daytona as the regular season finale, then Bristol, the ROVAL and Martinsville as the cutoff races yet again is the best they could’ve done.

Overall I am very excited about next seasons schedule, and it’s got a great potential for some very interesting and exciting races, and I thing we might see some surprise winners again. And again, the face that it’s giving us people living overseas quite a few options for travel if you want to attend two weekends in one go is amazing. But until the Xfinity and Truck Series schedules are released, I won’t be able to take a proper look at that bit, so I will simply leave that for something to write about during the off-season.

For now, let’s finish up 2020 with a bang!

/Linus Broström

Which genius came up with this for a Round of 12?

Having Talladega and the Charlotte ROVAL back-to-back to finish up the Round of 12. As a driver I would absolutely hate this, but from a fan standpoint, this is one of the smartest things NASCAR have done in recent years. The outcome of the first race at Las Vegas basically dictates how your next two weeks will be, and with the shaken up result we got, the next two weeks are bound to be insane!

With the surprise win by the hometown hero Kurt Busch, he is through to the Round of 8, meaning there is no pressure on him at all at Talladega and the ROVAL. He said himself that they are still going to be chasing after more playoff points and try to build on this momentum, but should he get in the big one at Talladega, it’s not really that big of a deal. For the rest of the field though, it’s a whole other story.

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are 61 and 58 points above the cut line, which essentially means that they have a race in hand. So these two basically just needs to go in to Talladega and survive. While you might think that would be the plan for all of them, Brad Keselowski in 4th is just 16 points above the cut line, and should any of the drivers below the cut line win at Talladega, all of a sudden he is just seven points clear.

This means that for all the other nine playoff drivers there is not room for playing it safe at Talladega. They will just have to go for as many points as they can all throughout this race. That may sound like a given, to go for the max amount of points, but at Talladega, that is not always the case. While racing hard at the front to score points increases the risk of getting in a crash, I think you’d much rather be out of the playoffs cause you tried and got caught in the big one, than be out of the playoffs cause you sat at the back and just waited for something that never came.

While just about everyone has a chance to win at Talladega, the three drivers still in the playoffs I see with the best chance to win and advance are Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola and for obvious reasons, Joey Logano.  Then there are all the drivers looking to cap off their seasons with a win and spoil the party for those still running for a championship. Ryan Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto, Erik Jones, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Newman are just some of the names we can expect to see up front most of the race.

The tricky part here for the playoff drivers is that these other drivers have absolutely nothing to lose. While they’re still racing for their positions in the drivers and owners standings, if they have the slightest chance of winning the race at Talladega, they are going to take risks and make moves that a playoff driver normally wouldn’t make. So the race at Talladega this upcoming weekend is going to be one heck of a show, for many different reasons.

Even if you get in a wreck at Talladega, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the playoffs are over though, as there is still another race to go. The ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway. So for drivers like Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr who will most likely be up front at the ROVAL, Talladega might not be that much of a worry. This is racing though, and anything can happen, especially in NASCAR.

/Linus Broström

Double the fun going into Bristol

This upcoming weekend at Bristol is set to be great in every way possible, and all the main three divisions of NASCAR have big races coming up. It’s a Cup Series cut-off race, it’s the Xfinity Series regular season finale, and it’s the Playoff opener for the Truck Series.

First up is the Truck Series, where ten drivers have qualified for the playoffs, it’s pretty straight forward for everyone involved. Three rounds where the top 8 advance, and with the gap from Sheldon Creed in 1st down to Tyler Ankrum on 10th being only 24 points, these playoffs are wide open.

For the Xfinity Series season finale, the playoff field is pretty much set. The gap from Brandon Brown in 12th to Jeremy Clements in 13th is 49 points, so it’s going to take a minor miracle for Clements to make the playoffs. However, the win and you’re in-formula could easily change this and put Brown outside the playoff. I honestly don’t see this happening, but it’s racing, so anything can happen.

On Saturday night the first cut-off race of the Cup Series playoffs will take place. There are five drivers within 12 points around the cut-off line, and basically 13 drivers who can still fall out. Joey Logano (+51), Martin Truex Jr. (+38) and Austin Dillon (+36) are all somewhat safe to advance, if they just have decent races and stay in it to the end. Chase Elliott (+28 and Alex Bowman (+27) are in similar situations but are still going to have to score some stage points just to stay in full control of their own destinies. The first driver that has to be somewhat worried is Kyle Busch. Despite being 18 points clear of the cut line, he is still going to need a solid race to make sure he advances through to the Round of 12. I don’t think any of these drivers will have to be too worried about making it, but there is always the element of surprise in racing, and when it comes to NASCAR, always expect the unexpected.

Aric Almirola (+7), Kurt Busch (+7), Clint Bowyer (+3), William Byron (-3) and Cole Custer (-8) are all basically just racing each other, and just like the trio at Talladega, this will be the main group to keep an eye on if you want to see some exciting racing. With them all being well capable of finishing in the top 10, or maybe even scoring a win, these guys will race harder than ever for every stage point they can get, as one single point could be the difference between making the Round of 12, and being knocked out of the playoffs. Looking at the races at Bristol from earlier this year, all these drivers the speed to fight for the top 10 throughout, though for Almirola and Custer it ended in a pair of crashes, ultimately they are all very similar speed which is set to make this an incredible race. As we saw last time as well with the leaders, tempers will flare come the end of this race and I would not be too surprised if we see someone get turned for a spot in the Round of 12.

For Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney, Bristol is pretty much straight forward. Unless there’s a major crash taking out several of the previously mentioned contenders, both these drivers basically have to win to advance. They are only 25 and 27 points out respectively, but with the amount of points at least three of those five drivers are most likely going to score, these two will either have to be up front all day long, scoring the maximum points in all stages, or simply just win the race.

I would love to be able to predict what is going to happen at Bristol, but it is literally the me most unpredictable race of the playoffs in my opinion, simply because it’s a short track, with so much on the line for so many. However, Chase Elliott is going to follow up on his All-Star success and score the win, Blaney will have a great day score just enough points to advance, while Almirola will join Byron, Custer and DiBenedetto below the cut line and outside the Round of 12.

/Linus Broström

The 2020 NASCAR playoffs are finally here!

It’s been a weird season so far, with COVID, iRacing, double headers, mid-week races and some driver controversies. But now, it’s finally time for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, and boy is it going to be good!

Kevin Harvick has dominated the whole season along with Denny Hamlin, together scoring half the wins of the regular season. So going in to the playoffs, these two obviously have the upper hand, starting out with more points than anybody else. Looking at the different rounds though, I’m not so sure it’s going to be just a walk in the park into the Final 4 for both of them.

Round of 16 is compiled of three short tracks, if you want to call Darlington a short track, but It sort of drives like one. Then the Round of 12 is Las Vegas, Talladega and the ROVAL at Charlotte. This is probably going to be the toughest round for most of the playoff drivers, mainly because Talladega is a free-for-all, and not everyone is great at road courses. So to get through this one, you are going to have to be outperforming your expectations every single race. The Round of 8 is two 1.5 mile tracks, with Martinsville as the cut-off for the Final 4, and that is going to be one heck of a race. Then the final is a Phoenix, where I’m expecting Harvick to win the Championship, should he make the cut for the Final 4.

Starting off though with the Round of 16, there are a few key points when looking at the field. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin is one, with their domination and whether that will continue or not. He cut-off races throughout these playoffs being Bristol, the ROVAL and Martinsville makes for some really tricky situations for the drivers battling for those final spots at each cut. Will Matt DiBenedetto be able to score his first playoff points, and will he even be able to make it through the first round? What will Austin Dillon and Cole Custer be able to accomplish? These were the two drivers that got in solely based on their wins, so will they be able to back that up, or will they fall out straight away.

Then there is Kyle Busch. The reigning champion who is yet to win a race in 2020. He is going into these playoffs with three total playoff points. One from a stage win, and two from finishing the regular season in 9th place. Will he even be able to make it through the first round? I’m fairly confident he will, specially considering the speed he showed earlier this year at Darlington. He is always a contender at Bristol as well, so even if he doesn’t get his first win of the season in this round, I expect him to rack up enough points to go through.

My predictions for the Round of 16 and the drivers who will not advance are: Aric Almirola, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron and Cole Custer. As much as I want DiBenedetto to go through, I just don’t think he will be able to pull it off. And putting Dillon through to the Round of 12? Well, that probably comes from him being my favourite driver, and me wishing him more luck and points than he will probably get.

/ Linus Broström

Predictions for an unpredictable Daytona

Coming up this weekend is what I consider, one of the most anticipated NASCAR races in a long time. Going in to the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season finale, just about everyone has something to race for one way or another. The strategies will be all over the place, and a lot of the drivers will need to come into Daytona with completely different mind sets from one another. So, despite this probably being one of the most unpredictable races in years, I will do my best to predict exactly how this race is going to unfold.

 First and foremost is off course the bubble drivers. Clint Bowyer is all but locked in to the playoffs, and for him not to make the cut, William Byron needs to win both stages and finish the race at least 3rd, with somebody outside the top 16 winning the races. If he wants to control his own destiny however, he basically needs to make sure he survives long enough to finish 32nd. So expect Bowyer to hang out at the back for most of the race, either until Byron has failed to score enough stage points, or until enough people have crashed out.

Matt DiBenedetto (+9), William Byron (+4) and Jimmie Johnson (-4) will all have pretty much the exact same objective for the race, which is score as many points as possible, but still be there at the end. Sound simple, right? Not exactly, it’s anything but simple. Every single move these guys make throughout this race could make or break their entire season. So exactly how these guys will approach Daytona is almost impossible to predict. For Matt DiBenedetto I think it will be all about staying up front all race long. He’s got his Penske Racing affiliates to help him out, and those have been some of the fastest cars on plate tracks over the last few years. So if they can make their way to the front, those Penske boys will be doing all the blocking for him, making sure he’s 2nd or 3rd at the end of each stage, while one of them passes him off turn 4 to take the stage wins.

The fact that Byron and Johnson are teammates obviously doesn’t help their situations either, as they’ll have to work together while desperately trying to beat each other. “But there are two slots available, so why can’t they just work together and finish 15th and 16th in the standings?”. Because if somebody outside the top 16 wins the race, the cut-off line moves up, and only 15th place gets in. So then the issue becomes who is going to get the most stage points of the two throughout the race, and who is going to be leading come the last couple of laps? Rick Hendrick has probably got the toughest job of all team owners this week, as he can come out of Daytona with anywhere between two and four cars in the playoffs.

What about the guys already locked in to the playoffs? They’ve got nothing to race for, so why would they still need to score points? These are unfortunate misperceptions I see a lot of on from fans on social medias. Put simply, every position in the points standings is worth another playoff point. Kevin Harvick already secure the 15 points for wining the regular season, but 2nd place also gets an additional 10 points, 3rd place gets 8 points and then it drops one point per position down to 1 point for 10th place. So coming to the finish line in each of these stages, everyone will be doing everything they can to get as far up in the top 10 as possible, not to mention what it will be like at the end of the race. Cause even if you don’t score that one playoff point you get for a stage win, dropping or gaining a position on the last few yards, could end up being the difference between gaining or losing a point going in to the playoffs. These are points that you carry through each round of the playoffs as well, so it’s not just one point at start of the playoffs. It’s one point more to start off the Round of 12 as well, and potentially even the Round of 8.

Looking back at the cut-off races these last couple of years, it’s pretty obvious that one or two points could be the difference between advancing or your season being over. Now obviously different drivers are in different positions, like Denny Hamlin in 2nd and Aric Almirola in 8th have no chance of gaining a position, so I’m expecting them to be taking it easy in the first half of the race, to make sure they survive long enough to be there at the end to score just enough points to keep their positions. Drivers like Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott or Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer on the other hand who are all within a few points of each other, will most likely be pushing themselves to the limit most of the race to score just about as many points as they can to try and gain or retain that extra play-off points.

Then there is the final group of drives who just have one mission throughout the entire race, lead at the end of the final lap! The only way for the drivers outside the top 17 (inside the top 30) to get in to the playoffs is to win at Daytona. Erik Jones in 18th can get in without a win should absolutely everything go his way, but he needs to go into Daytona with the mentality of winning the race. How these guys approach the race will obviously (again) vary from driver to driver, but they cannot afford to put themselves in harms way and get involved in any wrecks what so ever, so I’m expecting most of these drivers to hang out back until we are halfway through the final stage. It’s all about risk versus reward for all these drivers, and if they are to win the race, first they need to make it the final stage, and ultimately lap 160.

A driver like Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will most likely put himself up front as quickly as possible and do everything he can to be in contention all day, but with that comes a great risk. It could reward him with a win, but it could just as well put him on the back of a tow truck. Of the drivers currently outside the playoffs, the five drivers I think have the best shot at winning their way into the playoffs are Tyler Reddick, Ryan Preece, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Jimmie Johnson and Christopher Bell. Off course all 14 drivers have a good shot, but in the end, there are a total of 40 cars out on the track, and one little mistake from one of those drivers could end the day for half the field.

So, my predictions. Joey Logano will score his first win since Phoenix in early March, with Matt DiBenedetto and Jimmie Johnson securing the final two spots in the playoffs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will have led a lap by lap 30, the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas will go with their own weird pit strategy, and Penske Racing along with the Wood Brothers #21 will be 1-2-3-4 at some point during the race.

/Linus Broström