NASCAR unveiled a revamped 2020 Cup Series schedule on Tuesday and the Bristol Night Race moves from its traditional August date to Sept. 19. It will be the final race in the first round of the playoffs behind Darlington and Richmond as the field is whittled from 16 drivers to 12.
“If NASCAR fans thought they’ve seen tempers flare and sparks fly under the lights at the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, just wait until they experience a real pressure-packed NASCAR playoff elimination race at Bristol Motor Speedway,” said Jerry Caldwell, BMS executive vice president and general manager. “We’re thankful to the fans that voiced their opinions and rooted for more short-track racing in the playoffs, and appreciative of NASCAR collaborating with its many stakeholders to deliver a schedule with many positive adjustments.”
Though the Food City 500 remains on the same weekend, scheduled for April 5, the move is part of a major shakeup in the schedule. Caldwell said the changes came as part of a major collaboration within the sport and were discussed for over a year.
“You can see looking at this that NASCAR is clearly looking at the fans and the things they want,” Caldwell said. “Other things make sense from a scheduling standpoint and we obviously love being a part of the playoffs.”
Other notable changes include Las Vegas moving to the second race on the schedule and the Brickyard 400 going to July 5, a weekend typically reserved for the 400-mile Daytona race, which now will be run Saturday, Aug. 29 as the final regular-season race.
The season-ending race in November moves from Homestead-Miami Speedway to Phoenix’s ISM Raceway. The Homestead race switches to March 22. Martinsville’s fall race becomes the next-to-last race of the season on Nov. 1.
“I love what they’ve done. After kicking the season off at Daytona, it’s great to follow up at Vegas and all that city can bring to the table,” Caldwell said. “It’s great for our sport and that West Coast swing makes sense. I think Daytona starting and ending the regular season makes a lot of sense. You’re kicking off the playoffs at Darlington, Richmond and Bristol. If that doesn’t get the attention of the sport, I don’t know if anything will. That has the makings of amazing racing just from that lineup.”
HAPPY TO MISS CLASS
On Tuesday morning, Tennessee High student Jayce Ketron received a check totaling $2,088 from NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Noah Gragson for the Dale Jr. Scholarship offered by Bristol Motor Speedway. Ketron plans to put the money to good use, hoping to one day, after training, work in an automotive body shop and eventually open his own shop.
Gragson, who will drive the No. 9 JR Motorsports Camaro in the Alsco 300 at BMS on April 6, said it was an honor to represent Dale Earnhardt Jr., his car owner, and present the check to Ketron.
“It’s humbling to be able to do this,” said Gragson, who at 20 is just a couple years older than Ketron. “To give Jayce an opportunity he needs for the path he wants to pursue. For the Dale Jr. Scholarship, it’s special because I needed someone to take a shot with me and that’s what JR Motorsports did.”
The scholarship was announced in front of Ketron’s peers at Tennessee High’s Frank Winston Auditorium. The Chevrolet Camaro honorary pace car — with a blue and yellow No. 2 paint scheme to commemorate the first career win by the late Dale Earnhardt 40 years ago — also was parked in front of the school.
“I can’t believe it. It’s absolutely insane to have Noah present that to me,” Ketron said. “I’m very excited to have the scholarship and look forward to pursuing a career in the automotive industry.”
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
The No. 9 team won last season’s Xfinity Series championship with Tyler Reddick behind the wheel. Gragson, a rookie currently eighth in the standings, has his own goals in mind.
“It’s a lot of pressure, big shoes to fill, but I’ve been trying not to measure myself off somebody else’s ruler,” Gragson said. “I just want to learn as much as I can. My goal this year is to become a better person, a better race car driver and hopefully with my preparation and learning I can be standing in victory lane at the end of the season. It’s going to take a lot of work, even though I have a great group around me to compete for race wins.”
LOCAL RACES SCHEDULED
Kingsport Speedway, which drew a good crowd for its season opener, has another day of racing set for this Saturday. Gates open at 1 p.m. with racing scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. An open practice is scheduled for Friday from 3-8 p.m.
Clay Valley Speedway in Coeburn, which also had a solid crowd for its grand opening, has its regular racing program scheduled for Saturday. Gates open at 9 a.m. with a noon drivers meeting and racing to start at 3 p.m.
Tyler Orfield of Johnson City swept motos to win the VetMX Warrior Class at last weekend’s Thor Mega Series opener at Muddy Creek Raceway. Other local winners included three Kingsport riders: Brandon Gilliam (Unlimited C/D), Kevin Walker (Senior 45+) and Carson Eads (Mini Sr. 2). Jane Gammon of Bluff City won two classes and Tate Ragan of Johnson City (51cc stock Multi Speed).
Haden Gang of Piney Flats (250C) and Eads (Super Mini 2) posted runner-up finishes.