NASCAR Draft Kit: What's New for 2021

NASCAR Draft Kit: What's New for 2021

This article is part of our NASCAR Draft Kit series.

Before we can fill out our cheat sheets or prepare our draft strategies for the 2021 NASCAR season, there are many changes that we need to take into account to be prepared for any fantasy racing league.  Let's take an in-depth look at some of the changes we'll see this season, including  some that aren't so apparent when the engines fire up at Daytona in February.

Driver Changes

Thanks to the usual silly season movement and free-agent driver signings, we have several  drivers who have moved to new teams in 2021.  A handful of teams are shutting down and some are starting new.  A few teams have merged or contracted to stay competitive. Also, a handful of driver/team swaps have taken place; among the most notable are the Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman team swaps, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth retirements and the rookie driver promotions.

DriverNew TeamOld Team
Kyle LarsonNo. 5 Hendrick MotorsportsNo. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing
Corey LajoieNo. 7 Spire MotorsportsNo. 32 Go Fas Racing
Chase BriscoeNo. 14 Stewart Haas RacingNo. 98 Xfinity Series
Christopher Bell No. 20 Joe Gibbs RacingNo. 95 Leavine Family Racing
Bubba WallaceNo. 23 23XI RacingNo. 43 Petty Motorsports 
Anthony Alfredo?No. 38 Front Row MotorsportsNo. 21 Xfinity Series
Ross ChastainNo. 42 Chip Ganassi RacingNo. 10 Xfinity Series
Erik JonesNo. 43 Petty MotorsportsNo. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing
Alex BowmanNo. 48 Hendrick MotorsportsNo. 88 Hendrick Motorsports

Before we can fill out our cheat sheets or prepare our draft strategies for the 2021 NASCAR season, there are many changes that we need to take into account to be prepared for any fantasy racing league.  Let's take an in-depth look at some of the changes we'll see this season, including  some that aren't so apparent when the engines fire up at Daytona in February.

Driver Changes

Thanks to the usual silly season movement and free-agent driver signings, we have several  drivers who have moved to new teams in 2021.  A handful of teams are shutting down and some are starting new.  A few teams have merged or contracted to stay competitive. Also, a handful of driver/team swaps have taken place; among the most notable are the Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman team swaps, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth retirements and the rookie driver promotions.

DriverNew TeamOld Team
Kyle LarsonNo. 5 Hendrick MotorsportsNo. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing
Corey LajoieNo. 7 Spire MotorsportsNo. 32 Go Fas Racing
Chase BriscoeNo. 14 Stewart Haas RacingNo. 98 Xfinity Series
Christopher Bell No. 20 Joe Gibbs RacingNo. 95 Leavine Family Racing
Bubba WallaceNo. 23 23XI RacingNo. 43 Petty Motorsports 
Anthony Alfredo?No. 38 Front Row MotorsportsNo. 21 Xfinity Series
Ross ChastainNo. 42 Chip Ganassi RacingNo. 10 Xfinity Series
Erik JonesNo. 43 Petty MotorsportsNo. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing
Alex BowmanNo. 48 Hendrick MotorsportsNo. 88 Hendrick Motorsports
B.J. McLeodNo. 78 Live Fast MotorsportsNo. 78 B.J. McLeod Motorsports
TBDNo. 96 Gaunt Brothers RacingTBD
Daniel SuarezNo. 99 Trackhouse RacingNo. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing

Race Tracks Dropped from Schedule

Kentucky Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway and Auto Club Speedway will not be included in the 2021 Cup Series schedule.  Those events have been absorbed by other tracks that are new to the schedule or existing tracks adding additional dates. 

The Kentucky and Chicago dates are presumed to be permanent changes to the schedule while the exclusion of Auto Club Speedway is termed as temporary.  NASCAR has stated that the top division of the sport intends to race at the Fontana, Calif., oval in 2022. 

All-Star Race Change of Venue

NASCAR is moving the midseason All-Star Race from its traditional location of Charlotte Motor Speedway to Texas Motor Speedway for the 2021 season.  The sanctioning body got a taste of moving the exhibition event in 2020 when COVID-19 forced a change of venues to Bristol Motor Speedway.  NASCAR liked the idea of holding the All-Star weekend at new venues, so in 2021 we get to witness our first-ever All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

It remains to be seen if this is a permanent change or just a short-term trial.  We're certain NASCAR will take feedback on every front to make an evaluation before naming the 2022 venue for the All-Star Race.  As a consequence of this move, Texas Motor Speedway forfeits its second points event in the calendar and is reduced to just one points race this season.

Practice & Qualifying Procedures for 2021

NASCAR removed qualifying and practice from its weekend schedules last season when racing resumed after the COVID pause. The move was made to make more one-day race weekends and to reduce overall costs.  The sanctioning body has decided to keep this rule and will run 28 of the 36 events in 2021 as 1-day Cup Series events.  Only the new tracks and some high-profile races will feature practice and qualifying.  The list includes the Daytona 500, the Bristol dirt track event, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, Indianapolis, Phoenix and the new races at Nashville, COTA and Road America. 

No other change impacted performance and drivers more in 2020 than the elimination of practice and qualifying.  Drivers and teams have had most of a full season to adapt to the new rules and lack of track time.  It will be interesting to see what the net effect of this is both in terms of competition and fan appeal.  The shorter race weekends mean less bang for the buck for fans, while drivers who struggled with the lack of pre-race hot laps will have to quickly adapt to perform.

NASCAR Cup Series Rules Package for 2021

In October, NASCAR announced the 2021 Cup Series rules to the teams. The rules will largely remain the same to allow teams to build off their knowledge and experience of the race package, while preparing for the transition to the Next Gen car in 2022.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Races at Darlington Raceway and Nashville Superspeedway (new track) will utilize the 750 horsepower, low downforce race package.
  • Teams are limited to 150 Restricted CFD runs per calendar month.  CFD being Computational Fluid Dynamics, which are executed using simulation.
  • Teams must compete in a minimum of 16 points events with a short block sealed engine (up from last season's 13).

NASCAR continues to look for improvements to the racing action and to also address team operating costs.  NASCAR is tightening these requirements to help teams save money, and to put more parity in the racing between the smaller teams and large mega-team stables.  The current package performed very well in 2020, so there are minimal changes for this season. 2022 will mark the launch of the Next Gen car, which should take these initiatives even further into the sport.

Truck Series Branding Change

Last season's change to Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series was just a one-season brand change.  Camping World has the sponsorship and owns the naming rights, so Gander was used in 2020.  For 2021, Camping World will reassume the naming rights for the NASCAR truck series.  This corporate sponsor has been affiliated with this division of NASCAR since the 2009 season. 

The change in naming rights and branding won't be completely unfamiliar as many fans are already accustomed to this brand sponsoring the truck series.  New series logos, marketing imagery and other noticeable changes will appear this season.

Schedule Changes

For the 20th consecutive year, the NASCAR Cup Series schedule will consist of 36 points races as well as two additional weekends featuring non-points events. The Clash at Daytona (Feb. 9) and two Daytona 500 qualifying races (both Feb. 11) will take place before the season officially gets underway. The NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway will take place  June 13.

The schedule gets a pretty major overhaul for 2021.  We have three new tracks added to the schedule (Circuit of the Americas, Road America and Nashville Superspeedway).  We also have two tracks that will run new configurations as Indianapolis Motor Speedway will open its road course to NASCAR's top division and Bristol Motor Speedway will transform its half-mile paved oval into a dirt track for their March 28 race date.  Further tweaks include moving the All-Star Race from its longtime venue of Charlotte Motor Speedway to the oval at Texas Motor Speedway.  Chicagoland Speedway has been dropped from the schedule to make room for some of the new tracks.  The playoff lineup of tracks remains the same, however, some have been shuffled in the order.  The Phoenix Raceway date is still the final event and championship-crowning race of the season.  A late schedule shakeup in December cancelled the Auto Club Speedway event for 2021 and instead will now race that event on the Daytona road course, adding yet another road course event to an already heavy road course schedule.  The ongoing pandemic was the reason for this late scheduling change.   

The plan is to bring the most entertaining and dynamic schedule to the fans as possible. The inclusion of more road courses seems to confirm fans' request for more of the winding circuits and less oval racing.  In addition, NASCAR seems to be willing to take some chances with the vast unknowns of racing on dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway.  All in all, you can't say that NASCAR has remained status quo as it pertains to scheduling. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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