NASCAR has made its first major schedule change for 2021 by moving its non-championship curtain-raising Clash race to the Daytona road course for the first time.
The decision to move to the 3.56-mile course comes amid increased interest in road course races in recent years.
The second-tier Xfinity series will add the Indianapolis road course to its schedule this year, while both the Xfinity series and Cup series have raced on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ‘Roval’ course since 2018.
“The famed road course at Daytona has a long and storied history with sportscars and motorcycles, and now we can write a new chapter on it with stock cars,” said NASCAR vice president of racing development Ben Kennedy.
“Fans coming to the track will get to see six consecutive days of exciting NASCAR action, with no two days being the same.”
Currently polesitters from the previous season, previous Daytona 500 winners and polesitters, previous Clash winners, and playoff drivers from the preceding year are eligible to participate in the Clash race.
Three-time Daytona 500 winner and 2017 Daytona 24 hours winner Jeff Gordon welcomed the change for the pre-season event, saying that it will bring a new challenge for drivers and teams.
“Having driven on the road course at Daytona in the Rolex 24, I know how difficult the circuit can be,” said the three-time Cup series champion.
“It will present a real challenge to the drivers and teams, and I’m looking forward to calling what I believe will be a lot of action from the booth.”
As well as moving to the road course, usually used for the 24 Hours of Daytona that precedes NASCAR’s start of season activities at the Florida venue, the Clash will also move to the Tuesday before the Daytona 500 as part of a plan to condense the ‘Speedweeks’ schedule.
It has traditionally been held on the weekend before the 500.
“NASCAR fans have asked for more road-course competition and the industry is listening,” said Daytona International Speedway president Chip Wile.
“With the talent level the Busch Clash brings to the table, the race will now clearly have its own look and feel during Daytona Speedweeks in 2021 and beyond.
“The new placement on the Speedweeks schedule also adds to the anticipation. That switch will make for a fuller Speedweeks calendar.
“Fans also will have the opportunity to engage in a festive infield atmosphere, similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with many prime viewing opportunities.”
The Clash will be held on February 9, with Daytona 500 front row qualifying beginning the next day.
The Duel qualifying races will remain on the Thursday night (February 11), and will be followed by the NASCAR Truck Series season opener the next day.
Both the ARCA series and NASCAR Xfinity series will kick off on Saturday February 13, with the Cup series opener, the Daytona 500, slated for Sunday February 14.
A number of other changes are anticipated for the 2021 NASCAR Cup series schedule, with the full calendar set to be announced in the coming weeks.