The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, as announced Tuesday afternoon on Fox Sports 1’s “Race Hub” and NBC Sports Network's "NASCAR America," is a more geographically friendly version that also pays homage to important traditions of the past.
The Darlington race returns to its historic spot on Labor Day weekend, while the Atlanta date moves from Labor Day weekend to March 1, the Sunday after the season-opening Daytona 500.
Atlanta also will feature a weekend tripleheader, as both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will race at the 1.54-mile speedway on Feb. 28 as a prelude to the March 1 Sprint Cup main event.
Las Vegas occupies its traditional third spot on the schedule, but there’s a major difference. Vegas starts a three-race West Coast Swing that sees NASCAR’s premier series travel from Las Vegas to Phoenix and then to Fontana, California, on successive weeks.
For the past few years, the series has raced at Phoenix and Las Vegas as the second two dates, then returned to the East Coast for a short-track race at Bristol before heading back to California for a late-March race.
The current West Coast Swing not only is more cost-effective from a transportation and personnel standpoint, but it also creates a nexus of NASCAR activity centered in the western states, with manageable travel times between tracks for teams and fans alike.
Bunching the West Coast races also allows Bristol to move from mid-March to April 19, a more favorable date for Thunder Valley from a weather standpoint.
Other significant changes include the move of the July race at Daytona from its traditional Saturday night slot to Sunday night. Kentucky moves from late June to July 11, creating an off week on June 21, a month earlier than usual.
There’s another off week between the Aug. 22 Night Race at Bristol and the Labor Day weekend date at Darlington. That off week will gives teams on the Chase bubble more time to prepare for the final two make-or-break races of the Sprint Cup regular season.
The Chase tracks remain the same, with only one change in the order of the final 10 races. Charlotte and Kansas trade places, with Charlotte now the fourth Chase race and Kansas the fifth.
“The 2015 NASCAR national series schedules promise to provide our fans with the compelling competition and story lines they so richly deserve,” said NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France. “These enhancements to our race dates, particularly in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will be of benefit to our fans and other stakeholders in our industry.
“From the start of the season at Speedweeks at Daytona culminated by our championship finales at Homestead-Miami, we’re looking forward to the great racing that will be delivered through our outstanding television network broadcast partners FOX, FOX Sports 1, NBC and NBCSN.”
Make no mistake. The changes in the schedule are significant.
“One of the things that really gets lost sometimes is that really deviating a week on our race schedule is huge for our sport,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said on the “Race Hub” broadcast.
“Unlike other sports, we don’t have six to eight home games where a fan can pick and choose what game they may go to. Fans make vacation plans sometimes years in advance, so for us, to even change a week out of a market is a huge impact, on a race track and on our fans.”
The Sprint Cup schedule includes its typical 36 points races and two non-point events—the Feb. 14 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona and the May 16 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series, which will run with a new, yet-to-be-announced entitlement sponsor next year, features 33 races, six of which are stand-alone events. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule increases to 23 races, seven of which are stand-alones, including the popular dirt-track race at Eldora Speedway on July 22, four days before the Sprint Cup event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.