NASCAR: Multiple changes on the horizon for 2021

Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

Multiple changes are on the horizon for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, and Kevin Harvick discussed some of them with us.

No active NASCAR Cup Series driver has competed in more consecutive races than Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick. Harvick has competed in each of the 676 races which have been contested since he was suspended for the race at Martinsville Speedway in April of 2002.

Having signed a multi-year contract extension prior to the 2020 season to continue competing through at least the 2023 season, the 44-year-old Bakersfield, California native is slated to be back behind the wheel of the #4 Ford this year, when there are quite a few changes coming to the Cup Series.

Unexpected changes were thrust upon the Cup Series last season as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and while he failed to qualify for the Championship 4, Harvick thrived. With all of the one-day events and a lack of practice and qualifying, he posted a series-high nine victories; nobody else has recorded more than six wins during that span.

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One such change was the way starting lineups were set as a result of the absence of qualifying sessions, save for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Prior to August, starting lineups had been set based on random draw, with drivers for the chartered teams split into three groups based on their position in the owner standings. The top 12 drivers drew for the pole position through 12th place while the next 12 drivers drew for 13th through 24th and the next 12 drivers drew for 25th through 36th.

That method changed, and a formula was used to close out the year. This formula placed a 50% weight on most recent race result, with 25% based on driver finish and the other 25% based on car finish, as well as a 35% weight on position in the owner standings and a 15% weight on the rank of each driver’s fastest lap from the most recent race.

This formula did not get Harvick’s vote, but it worked out well for him, as he was on the pole for five of the 13 races which had their starting lineups set based on it.

“I voted for a random draw of the team charters on a weekly basis,” Harvick told Beyond the Flag. “But I didn’t even come close to winning that vote!”

As for the upcoming season, he isn’t quite sure what is going to happen, but he is willing to adapt.

“I think as you look at the metrics and things that they use now, it’s obviously mixed the field up some, and I think as you go forward, you’ll see that evolve, and I’m sure they’ll have conversations of what that looked like over the offseason and probably mix that up some more as we go into next year,” he noted. “But whatever it is, we’ll race and do the things that we do as a team and adapt to it and go from there.”

Harvick, who finished in a disappointing 17th place at Martinsville Speedway to conclude the round of 8 behind the wheel of his #4 Mobil 1 Ford and ultimately failed to qualify for the Championship 4 for what would have been the fourth straight year and sixth time in seven years, is also looking forward to a number of the schedule changes for next year.

Many of the changes to the 2021 schedule are changes which the sport may not have pulled off if not for the schedule changes that were effectively forced last year as a result of the pandemic.

He is most excited by the introduction of Circuit of the Americas and Road America. With the Daytona International Speedway road course, Sonoma Raceway, Watkins Glen International and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval already on the schedule, the addition of these two tracks plus the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course means that nearly one-fifth of the 2021 schedule is comprised of road course races.

“I think COTA is exciting, and I think as you look at Road America, I’ve not been there, but everybody who has been to both of those race tracks just raves about the race track,” he said. “And Road America, you hear not only about the race track but you hear about the fans and the people and the town and how great of a racing community that that is. I’m looking forward to that.

“Obviously for us, I think we’ve done fairly well on the road course stuff and I think with more road course racing, it will definitely allow you to hone in on that a little bit more as you go through next year. Those are two of the places that I’m looking forward to.”

He added that the addition of a dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway is also something he is looking forward to due to the excitement and the buzz that it has created around the sport.

“I think as you look at the schedule and you look at the dirt race at Bristol, obviously it’s creating a lot of buzz and excitement, and those are the types of things that we need,” he said. “Whether I think that’s right or wrong doesn’t really matter. It’s created the buzz and excitement that we need with the schedule changes and things  that they put in place next year. Those conversations that have started before the season even starts is something that is always going to be good for our sport.”

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season is scheduled to get underway on Sunday, February 14 with the 63rd annual Daytona 500, with live coverage from Daytona International Speedway set to be provided by Fox beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.

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