CONCORD, N.C. – The 2019 season is in the early goings, but on Tuesday afternoon, the 2020 season took center stage.
NASCAR announced the Cup Series schedule for next year, and it featured plenty of exciting changes.
Among them are a number of alterations to the 10-race playoff slate, including one of the marquee differences in next year’s schedule – the season finale is moving to ISM Raceway.
“It is a big shake-up,” William Byron said. “I feel like the cutoff races in the playoffs are going to be really exciting now with the short tracks that are there, and then I feel like it’s going to be different going to Homestead early in the season. Also, going out West right after Daytona is going to be different, too. I look forward to it. I feel like it’s going to be a new challenge, and something innovative is cool.”
The changes to next year’s playoffs caught the attention of No. 9 team crew chief Alan Gustafson, who found himself excited about the prospect of Darlington, Richmond and Bristol comprising the first round of the postseason.
“Having the second Martinsville race late in the playoffs is pretty cool, too,” he said. “And ISM Raceway is a great and a fun track to run, so having the championship race there will be interesting, for sure.”
Alex Bowman – a Tucson, Arizona, native – was also pleased to see ISM Raceway get the honor of hosting the final race of the season.
“It’s pretty awesome to have my home track race as the finale to our season, and I think that is great for ISM Raceway,” the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 said. “I think it will be good. I feel like that’s a great track for us as a company.”
Another major shake-up next season comes in the form of a double-header at Pocono Raceway, which will hold two Cup Series races in one weekend – Saturday, June 27, and Sunday, June 28.
They’ll be followed by the Brickyard 400, which moves to the July 4th weekend next season.
“The Pocono races are going to be really interesting back-to-back like that,” No. 24 team crew chief Chad Knaus said. “I don’t know exactly how all that’s going to come into play. What’s really interesting is your Pocono and your Indianapolis cars are usually pretty close to one another. Going Pocono-Pocono-Indy is going to be pretty taxing on the facilities.”
But along with the double-header weekend comes back-to-back off weekends later in the summer, which Gustafson said teams will appreciate before the stretch run toward the playoffs.
“The two weeks off in the season is good to have a realistic opportunity for everyone to take a break,” Gustafson said. “It’s not only good for the teams at the track, but also the people back at the shop, so I like that. Other series have gone to that two-week break and it has worked well for them.”
Closing out the regular season at Daytona International Speedway – a bookend after the season-opening Daytona 500 – was particularly intriguing to Bowman.
“It will be interesting to see how the race shakes out in Daytona for the regular season ending,” he said. “There is always the potential for a race upset at a superspeedway, so that will make things exciting.”
Following up that excitement with the Southern 500 to commence the playoffs marked another notable change.
“I think having Darlington there to kick off the playoffs is really great,” Knaus said. “I think that’s really neat and honestly I think it will be a big draw.”
All of those modifications to the schedule – not to mention the introduction of a night race at Martinsville Speedway – have the drivers and crew chiefs anticipating another exhilarating season of racing when 2020 rolls around.
“It is quite the change,” Bowman said. “I think it will be good.”
In the meantime, the 2019 campaign rolls on this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, with the green flag scheduled for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 31, on FOX.