Indianapolis Motor Speedway will replace Richmond International Raceway as the site of the NASCAR Cup regular-season finale starting in 2018, one of several changes to the schedule that were announced Tuesday.
NASCAR also will change the opening race of its playoffs, with Las Vegas Motor Speedway taking the spot formerly held by Chicagoland Speedway. It also will move the playoff race from Charlotte in the second round to the final race of the first round and use the “roval” course that includes part of the track oval and infield road course. That will give NASCAR an entirely new opening round of Vegas, Richmond and Charlotte.
“We look at Indianapolis as a longtime partner, as a key player in our season,” NASCAR vice president Jim Cassidy said. “We were happy that they were open to looking at moving a little bit later in the calendar [and] even more pleased we could find a significant spot.”
The Indianapolis race, called the Brickyard 400, has traditionally been at the end of July as part of the regular season. The September date should provide cooler temperatures in addition to the added drama of being the regular-season finale.
Richmond had been the regular-season finale since the inception of NASCAR’s playoff system in 2004. That race will move to April as a Saturday night event, as will its playoff race.
NASCAR announced in March that it would allow Speedway Motorsports Inc. to move one of its two Cup races from New Hampshire Motor Speedway to Las Vegas for a second race at the destination-city track. That is the only change as far as number of races per track on the schedule.
Chicagoland, which has been the first race in the playoffs since 2011, will move to July 1 next year.
The Indianapolis change is the biggest as NASCAR tries to breathe some life into what used to be one of its biggest events. The Indianapolis race will be Sunday, Sept. 9, which could potentially conflict with NFL’s opening day.
Eight of the 10 tracks in the playoffs remain the same, with Las Vegas replacing New Hampshire and Richmond replacing Chicagoland. The second round will be Dover, Talladega and Kansas; the third round remains the same with Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix and the championship race at Homestead.
Cassidy said the changes will add more diversity to the NASCAR playoff schedule, which will now include a road race with the reconfigured Charlotte track for an event that track officials said will be 130 laps, 500 kilometers in place of the 1.5-mile track. It also puts the 0.75-mile Richmond track in the first round, which used to have a pair of one-mile tracks with New Hampshire and Dover.
The one thing that did not change on the schedule is that all the NASCAR Cup events are Saturdays and Sundays. NASCAR has toyed with the idea of a weekday race but so far hasn’t found a suitable date and track.
“Certainly those sorts of things came up in conversation,” Cassidy said. “But I think that where we landed was obviously not focusing on midweek races, and focusing primarily with the portfolio of race tracks that we have, making the most of them on the traditional days we would race.”
NASCAR also announced it would run its preseason Clash and Daytona 500 single-car pole qualifying round on Feb. 11, instead of having the Clash the day before qualifying as it has been in the past.