NASCAR adds Gateway, returns Homestead to playoffs for 2022

Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)Homestead-Miami Speedway will return to the playoff portion of the season in 2022, while St. Louis was awarded a Cup Series race and NASCAR will race on Easter Sunday for the first time in more than three decades in schedule changes released Wednesday.

Homestead hosted the season finale from 2002 through 2019 but was bumped to an early-season race date last year as NASCAR began experimenting with long overdue schedule changes. Phoenix Raceway was awarded the finale in 2020 and is slated to host it for a third consecutive season next year.

Homestead was given a second chance for 2022 with an Oct. 23 race date that makes it the middle race of the third round of the playoffs. The track located 40 miles south of Miami Beach is beloved by drivers but lost its cache after 17 years of hosting the finale.

World Wide Technology Raceway in Illinois across the Mississippi River from St. Louis will make its Cup debut on June 5. The 1.25-mile oval has held NASCAR national series races since 1997 and IndyCar the past six seasons. It is the only new track added to the 2022 Cup schedule.

”I set some ambitious goals when I took over the racetrack and to see them come to fruition is a dream come true,” said Curtis Francois, who purchased shuttered Gateway Motorsports Park in 2012 and re-opened the facility. ”I am proud to welcome the NASCAR Cup Series to the St. Louis region. I can’t wait to celebrate this incredible victory with our fans.”

The Cup Series will be 36 races as always, but Pocono Raceway lost one of its two dates to get the race near St. Louis. Pocono hosted two races a year from 1982 through 2021, but the last two years the events were doubleheaders held on the same weekend.

The 2022 season will officially open Feb. 20 with the Daytona 500, but NASCAR on Tuesday said its exhibition, made-for-television Clash that typically opens Speedweeks in Daytona will instead be held Feb. 6 on a temporary quarter-mile oval inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

It is the first time the Clash has not been held at Daytona International Speedway since its 1979 inception. NASCAR this year ran the race on Daytona’s road course.

NASCAR will race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for the second year in a row as part of a shared weekend with the IndyCar Series on July 31. But NASCAR wants the race back on the oval and IMS officials said Wednesday it will consider moving the race – potentially on a rotating basis with the road course – as fans and drivers are attracted to the prestige of the famous speedway.

The Brickyard 400 was held on the 2.5-mile Indy oval for 27 years before it moved to the road course this year.

NASCAR will also return to the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, its first Easter Sunday race since 1989. Bristol this year experimented by covering its 0.533-mile track in dirt as part of radical NASCAR changes to the 2021 schedule.

The Tennessee track announced during its March race that it would be on dirt again next year, but it moves a month later to avoid weather concerns that have plagued the track for years.

The race will be in primetime, which Bristol general manager Jerry Caldwell said will allow viewers to tune-in ”after many have finished with their Easter traditions.”

”For those who join us at the track, in addition to the thrilling racing, we will also have plenty of fun activities lined up throughout the day for our guests to celebrate Easter Bristol-style and create plenty of wow moments and cherished memories,” Caldwell added.

More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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