NASCAR released its 2015 schedule of races for all three of its national series on Tuesday, realigning the dates for several tracks, including moving the Southern 500 back to its traditional spot on Labor Day weekend.
Changes for Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway are among the major alterations to the 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, plus two non-points events. The season begins Feb. 22 with the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway and ends Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, site of the season finale since 2002.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will expand from 22 to 23 races next season, adding an early season date at Atlanta. The NASCAR Nationwide Series, which will gain new title sponsorship in 2015, remains at 33 races. The news was announced Tuesday on FOX Sports 1 and NBC Sports Network.
NASCAR Executive Vice President & Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell credited stakeholders across NASCAR with working together to put out all three national series schedules at once in August, earlier than the usual mid-September release date.
“It was really a result of some great collaboration from the entire industry,” O’Donnell said. “The tracks recognized this was an opportunity for us if we could collectively, with NBC and FOX coming on board, look at some of the venues that may have had challenged dates and put them in a better position to succeed.
“We also knew that getting the schedule out early for all three series was really important for the fans. If we were able to get that out ahead of time, a lot of our fans plan vacations around races so getting them notice early was really the goal for the entire industry.”
The move of Darlington’s Sprint Cup date to Sept. 6 rekindles a sense of history for NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway, which hosted stock-car racing’s first 500-mile race in 1950. The crown-jewel event and the surrounding pageantry became a staple of early September in the South Carolina sandhills until 2003. Since then, the Southern 500 has been held in November (2004), on Mother’s Day weekend (2005-13) and mid-April (this season).
Next season, Darlington will become the next-to-last race before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason begins. “Back to its traditional roots of Labor Day, we anticipate an early afternoon start on Sunday for that event,” O’Donnell said.
The 2015 Chase will be contested on the current 10 tracks, starting Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway. Richmond International Raceway will remain host to the regular-season finale on Sept. 12.
Atlanta, which had held the Labor Day weekend spot since 2009, shifts its lone Sprint Cup race to March 1. The 1.54-mile track, which first hosted NASCAR’s top division in 1960, had held stock-car races in either March or early April with regularity from 1963 to 2010. Atlanta also adds the Truck Series to its late winter weekend; the Hampton, Georgia track last hosted the circuit in 2012.
As announced last Friday at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile, Bristol Motor Speedway’s daytime Sprint Cup race will shift deeper into the spring on April 19, pushing it from race No. 4 this season to race No. 8 in 2015.