While the new schedule features just one new venue next year – a June race at Iowa Speedway – there are some significant race date changes that will impact the way the series determines its champion.
The biggest changes in the schedule come in the tracks which make up the 10-race playoffs which determine the series champion.
Out are Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway – although both remain on the schedule – and replacing them in the playoffs are Atlanta Motor Speedway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
The additions mean the 2024 series champion will have to navigate two superspeedway/drafting tracks and two road courses to reach the championship race at Phoenix.
“Now that we’ve seen how the playoffs have shaken out the past couple of years, we wanted to introduce a little bit of variety and innovation to it,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing development & strategy.
“As you think about the Round of 16 and Round of 12 in particular and the variability and diversity of the tracks, we have some of the best drivers in the world, and to be able to see them on short tracks, intermediate tracks, superspeedways and road courses, I can tell you as a fan it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.”
Shaking up the playoffs
Darlington on Labor Day Weekend will now be the final race in which a driver can qualify for the 16-race playoffs and the playoffs will kick off at Atlanta, which now races like a superspeedway.
The first round will conclude with Watkins Glen and then Bristol – offering a very tricky opening trio of races.
“Introducing a drafting-style track like Atlanta to the Round of 16, to follow it up with Watkins Glen and then the Bristol Night Race is really going to test the variability of our drivers and their skills as they think about punching their ticket to the Round of 12,” Kennedy said.
“It was something we wanted to do that was a little bit different and shake it up a bit.”
The second round of Kansas, Talladega and the Charlotte Roval appears equally challenging while the semifinal round of Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami and Martinsville remains the same.
While several changes for the 2024 schedule were prompted by NBC’s coverage of the Summer Olympics, Kennedy said it also provides NASCAR another chance to test the waters with new ideas.
“I know that ’25 is going to look different,” he said. “Naturally we’ll be in our new media rights agreement, so it won’t be an Olympic year, so I think the schedule overall will have a lot of variability.
“Does that mean Daytona is a regular season cutoff race (again)? Potentially. We’re going to look at all scenarios, and part of it will also be looking at seeing how Darlington is as a cutoff race for the regular season.
“I think as we’ve said, we’re going to continue to test and edit it. Is the schedule ever going to be perfect? It’s not. It’s going to be a journey for us.”