Will the Daytona 500 not be the first race on the NASCAR 2020 schedule? Our best guess at NASCAR’s next schedule

There’s no secret that NASCAR is in the midst of change ahead of the NASCAR 2020 schedule. New rules package, new sponsorship activation plans and potentially new race tracks on the 2021 calendar.

But how about next year? When NASCAR President Steve Phelps spoke with the Arizona Republic, he hinted that the NASCAR schedule could see a big change to scheduling beginning as soon as next year.

“I think there will be some meaningful changes our fans will like. What it looks like in 2021 and beyond, everything’s on the table. Do I think we potentially could end our season earlier? I do. Is it to avoid the NFL? The NFL is a big player and they drive (TV) ratings and our ratings are typically a little lower during that time. There are a lot of crossover fans between NASCAR and the NFL. Could we look at a pull-up? It’s something that we would entertain.”

Phelps said their plan is reveal its 2020 schedule on April 1. Is this an April Fool’s joke? Likely not. But for some fans it will as they will be expecting to see new tracks and races cut. That won’t happen until 2021 though.

But who wants to wait until April 1? Let’s take a quick look at what a new NASCAR schedule could look like in 2020.

Joey Logano won the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this season. (World Copyright: Matthew Thackler, NKP)

The West Coast swing happens in January

The races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, ISM Raceway and Auto Club Speedway all happen before the Daytona 500.

That means the first race of the NASCAR season in 2020 could begin as soon as Sunday, January 19 or maybe even sooner.

NASCAR wants to avoid as much as the NFL regular season as possible so that means it would want to avoid the Super Bowl as well. Does that mean NASCAR uses one of their first three races as a pull-up to the NFL’s biggest game? Possibly.

The Daytona 500 is staying in February

According to Daytona’s website, the 2020 Daytona 500 will be held on February 16. That also means that the Clash will be run most likely the weekend before.

If NASCAR does intend to begin before their regular season in January, the Clash could move to the middle of the week to help free up an extra weekend to race to avoid a conflict with the Super Bowl.

At Atlanta Motor Speedway in February, Brad Keselowski crossed the finish line first. (World Copyright: Matthew Thackler, NKP)

Sonoma-Las Vegas-Atlanta Swap

To keep the likelihood of warm weather to begin the season, (yes, Las Vegas had snow a week before NASCAR visited this year) the three Speedway Motorsports, Inc. tracks could swap race dates.

Sonoma Raceway could swap with Las Vegas Motor Speedway at the beginning of the season, providing a road course race as excitement for the beginning of the season.

Las Vegas could then move into Atlanta Motor Speedway’s current position following the Daytona 500. This would then leave the lone Atlanta race in June.

Sure, it’s hot in Atlanta but a warm, slick track could provide great racing. Or they could decided to turn the lights on for a summertime night race.

Keeping the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend keeps the tradition dating back to 1961. (World Copyright: John Harrelson, NKP)

Traditional dates would stay and others would move

The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway would need to stay on Memorial Day weekend. There is too much history to change that date for NASCAR to overlook. This means some other dates would need to shuffle around in the first part of the season.

The next tricky part of the schedule is the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Labor Day weekend. This race has taken on a life of its own over the past few years and has become a driver and fan favorite.

Does it become part of the NASCAR playoffs? Does it just move to another weekend, again? Does it stay where it is and instead of being considered a playoff race, becomes a Crown Jewel event tied in with the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600?

These are all things NASCAR will need to consider.

Ending the NASCAR season earlier would avoid more head-to-head matchups with the NFL. (World Copyright: Matthew Thackler, NKP)

The season would end in October or early November

Instead of finishing the Sunday before Thanksgiving, NASCAR could set themselves up for finishing at the end of October.

Simple math would show the NASCAR season ending on Sunday, November 1 with the movement of three races before the Daytona 500. There are two scheduled summer off-weekends in 2019 and if one of those are removed, NASCAR ends at the end of October.

That means NASCAR would go head-to-head with the NFL for 8 weekends, not 12.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.

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