The only race in California will be moved to the Daytona Road Course in a last-minute switch before the 2021 Nascar season returns in February.
By Scottland Barcia
Fontana is home to Auto Club Motor Speedway, which has become a staple in the Nascar schedule due to factors like the celebrity sightings on track, it the site of Jeff Gordon’s first win, and it being the home race to seven-time Nascar Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson, who holds the record with six wins at the track. Fontana is the only Nascar race held in sunny California, which is supposed to be the second race of the season following the Daytona 500.
However, with surges in Covid-19 cases, Nascar has deemed it unsafe to hold the race until a later date can be decided. In place of Auto Club Motor Speedway, drivers will once again run the Daytona road course, which was introduced to Nascar in 2020 due to the pandemic. The Daytona road course is typically run by IMSA, which hosts the first race of the IMSA series: the iconic Rolex 24, better known as “the 24 hours of Daytona.”
Despite this change happening before the start of the 2021 season, massive complications to the series schedule occurred. With the unexpected shift, Nascar now has to see when they can run Fontana. This sudden change may also cause drivers to lose one of the limited off-weekends they have, or have to run a mid-week race, then run another race in the following two or three days. Nascar is the only series in motorsports to have a rigorous schedule of back to back races, with three or four off-weekends at most.
The news also puts a wrench in Nascar’s plans for the track. The two-mile oval is to become a .5 mile short-track, with construction beginning in mid-2021, as Nascar originally planned to have Auto Club Motor Speedway be the first short track of the 2022 season.. The change in race schedule has now caused the expected start time for the project to shift to early 2022, with completion occurring later that year.
There have also been concerns about the switch to the new track in 2021.
The first time Nascar drivers ran the Daytona road course was in 2020, in place of the Watkins Glen road course in upstate New York. Although Nascar itself has never run the track, multiple Nascar drivers are familiar with the layout. For the Rolex 24, since it is a 24-hour endurance race, the typically two-driver team can’t handle a 12-hour session each, even if broken up. The solution is to add a driver for endurance races that last 12 or more hours, with the temporary third driver coming from Nascar, IndyCar, Formula One, Supercar, or other forms of stock car and open seater racing.
Some drivers are more qualified to run road courses from past series experiences, those including Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott. Elliott has won the last four road courses in a row, one being the inaugural Daytona Road Course in August of 2020. Nascar also has some teams where they hire part-time drivers just for the road courses. Most of the part-time drivers requested for these races have come from past open-wheel experience where road and street courses are the more frequent tracks run. Formula racing has zero ovals on the current and past schedules, and IndyCar currently has six ovals out of 18 scheduled races.
Edited by Emma Moloney