THE LEFT TURN

A look ahead at the 2021 NASCAR schedule

Here's what's ahead for NASCAR. Photo via: WikiCommons.

On Wednesday, NASCAR rolled out its 2021 schedule and BOY is it big. There will be several wholesale changes going into next year. It is clear that 2021 will be a new era in NASCAR. In this article I will go over all the major changes and what I like about the new tracks and what I don't like.

  • New tracks: So first and foremost there will be a lot of new tracks on the schedule for the first time in a long time. Those tracks are Nashville Superspeedway, Road America in Wisconsin and Circuit of the Americas in Austin. Overall, I couldn't be more pleased that NASCAR is going to a lot of new venues next season. This has been what NASCAR fans have been asking for. I look forward to seeing how these cars run on these new tracks, especially the track in Austin. This had been rumored for many years and after going to the track a couple of times, I look forward to seeing the cup cars here in 2021. I am also looking forward to seeing Road America as well considering how great the racing has been in the Xfinity Series. All of these new tracks will certainly be a learning experience for each driver
  • New layouts: Aside from new tracks, we will also see a lot of new layouts on some of the old tracks as well. The most notable of changes has to be Bristol as it was announced that next season, the track will be revamped into a dirt track for NASCAR's first dirt race since 1970! This had been a rumor that was picking up steam and was confirmed on Wednesday. Personally, I have no idea how this will work. It is possible for NASCAR to run on dirt as they have been running the trucks at Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway since 2013. Me personally, I am not sure how well this is going to work, will NASCAR run qualifying races? It will be interesting to see what type of format they run with this. Another factor I am looking forward to is the possibility that we may see some Dirt Track regulars run this race. I am cautiously optimistic about this race but it should be fun regardless. Another new layout we will see next season is at the Brickyard as instead of running like the oval like we have seen since 1994, they will run the road course configuration instead. This is something I have been calling for since 2018 when the Charlotte Roval started. I am excited to see how this works out considering the Xfinity cars ran here on the fourth of July this year.
  • The new dates: One thing that will also drastically change next season is the dates the races will be on. Next season, we will see tracks like Texas and Homestead run at a much different time in the season than we are accustomed to. The All-Star Race will also be moved to a new date and a new track as it will be run on June 13th-14th at Texas Motor Speedway. We will also see tracks Atlanta and Darlington get another race as NASCAR tries to return to its roots. I personally am extremely excited to see Darlington get another race back considering it's one of the hardest tracks to run on.
  • The tracks we lost in 2021: With new tracks unfortunately comes the subtraction for some of the old ones. Next season there will be two tracks that NASCAR doesn't return to, those being Chicagoland and Kentucky. It is fairly ironic that these two would get the axe considering they are relatively newer tracks. I feel awful for the people in both of these markets that won't be able to watch a race at their home track and I hope that in some way these tracks can stick around, especially Chicagoland considering the awesome racing we have seen there over the past couple of years.

Next season will be uncharted water for this sport but a change of pace is good. I look forward to seeing what they do going forward in the next few years and seeing if there are any more new tracks that will be added. Here is to a new future in both the real world and in the NASCAR world.

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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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