Ready for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season? Even if you are, several changes to the schedule from a year ago might have you scratching your head and wondering if these changes were the right move.

Let’s take a look at a handful of races that figure to be the most controversial ones of 2024 from the standpoint of whether NASCAR made the correct decision with regard to their placement on the Cup Series calendar.

The return of the Indy Oval

After three years of racing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, which garnered mixed reviews from drivers and fans alike, NASCAR’s premier division returns to the far more fabled 2.5-mile IMS oval in 2024.

Although the move has already been embraced by many in the Cup Series garage, the decision to return to the oval for the first time in four years comes with a lingering question: Will the racing on the oval be any better than it was before NASCAR decided to move its top division to the Indy road course in 2021?

Despite all of its history and prestige, the oval track has notoriously been extremely hard to pass on, creating a boring brand of racing that would threaten to lull even the most passionate fan to sleep. Not surprisingly in light of this, attendance at The Brickyard had pretty much hit rock bottom when NASCAR finally decided to pull the plug on the oval after the 2020 race and see if the Indy road course could improve the on-track product.

Whether it did or didn’t is debatable, but what isn’t debatable is the fact this year’s race will mark the Indy oval track debut of the Next Generation Cup Series car. Will the Next Gen car put on a better show at the Indy oval than its predecessor model, the Generation 6?

Time will well, of course, but if things don’t go so well, don’t be surprised if both drivers and fans alike start clamoring for a return to the IMS road course in 2025.

The Bristol spring race going back to concrete

After three years, the NASCAR Cup Series’ dirt-track experiment is over. Instead of competing on dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway for a fourth year in a row, the high-banked .533-mile track known as Thunder Valley is kicking it old school for its spring race weekend, which will take place on the track’s more traditional concrete surface.

Although BMS has continued to host its annual summer/fall night race on concrete the last three years, the track’s springtime event has been contested on a clay-covered surface that never quite generated the kind of buzz and excitement that many people expected. Worst of all was that passing proved very difficult on the dirt, which put a damper on a race that had long been known for paint swapping, fender banging and overall close-quarters competition.

While some fans will undoubtedly miss the dirt and want it back, the decision to return to concrete has already been widely embraced, and that will probably continue when the Cup Series competes at Bristol on the evening of Sunday, March 17, which happens to be St. Patrick’s Day weekend. And, as if going back to the concrete wasn’t enough to satisfy most NASCAR fans, the spring race has also reverted to its former name — the Food City 500 — which it was known as for many years before becoming the “Food City Dirt Race” in 2021.

The inaugural Cup Series race at Iowa Speedway

Owned by NASCAR and designed with significant input from NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace, seven-eighths mile Iowa Speedway has been knocking on the door of hosting a Cup Series race for a number of years now. On June 16, 2024, it’ll finally happen. But will it be for better or worse? Compared to most tracks, Iowa — which hosted NASCAR Xfinity Series and Craftsman Truck Series races from 2009 to 2019 — has an extremely limited seating capacity.

How limited? Well, at last check, the grandstands featured just 24,000 seats — significantly fewer than any other track on the Cup Series schedule that has a permanent location. Couple the limited space with the fact that the speedway’s location in Newton, Iowa (population less than 20,000) is a good 30 miles from Des Moines — the nearest city of any size — and this race would seem to have a lot working against it. Then again, the track itself has generally produced pretty good racing during its time as an Xfinity Series and Craftsman Truck Series host, so the event could be a success.

There’s another matter to consider, though: The Next Generation Cup Series car has for the most part been a big bore on short tracks since its 2022 inception. Maybe that’ll change in 2024, but, in any case, Cup Series racing at Iowa Speedway will have a few obstacles to overcome and is likely more of an experiment than a fixture of future Cup Series schedules.

Atlanta becoming the kickoff race of the Cup Series playoffs

Since Atlanta Motor Speedway added banking and narrowed its racing groove in combination with NASCAR implementing a new rules package for the track ahead of the 2022 Cup Series season, the 1.54-mile quad-oval has produced some of the closest and arguably most exciting racing on the Cup tour. But while fans almost universally love the new Atlanta, numerous drivers aren’t so keen on it. That’s because the close-quarters, big-pack style of racing now seen at Atlanta puts drivers at greater risk of getting caught up in an accident not of their own making.

In other words, despite being significantly shorter in length than NASCAR’s two true superspeedways — Daytona and Talladega — Atlanta now races like a superspeedway and has essentially become Talladega or Daytona 2.0. With a driver’s outcome at Atlanta being far more out of their own hands than it was prior to the track changes two years ago, Atlanta being moved to the first race of the Cup Series playoffs has raised some eyebrows in the garage. But whether the drivers like it or not, that’s exactly what’s happening in 2024, as Darlington Raceway — which had been the host of the playoff opener for the last several years — will now host the regular season finale in place of Daytona, which moves up a week, while Atlanta moves to Week One of the playoffs.

Given the change, it’s quite possible that one or more drivers could leave Atlanta and start out the playoffs behind the proverbial eight-ball due to getting swept up in a wreck they didn’t cause. Whether NASCAR decides to leave Atlanta as the site of the playoff opener in future seasons will be fascinating to see, but for now, at least, the drivers and teams are simply going to have to live with it. The good news is that most fans don’t mind.

North Wilkesboro remains the host of the NASCAR All-Star Race

The return of fabled North Wilkesboro Speedway to the NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 2023 was undoubtedly one of the biggest and most heart-warming stories of the entire season. Silent for over two decades, the .625-mile track that hosted NASCAR from to 1949 to 1996 was resurrected with great fanfare when it hosted several days’ worth of activities leading up to the NASCAR All-Star Race on May 21.

Unfortunately, though, the All-Star Race itself turned out to be a total dud as passing proved nearly impossible and drivers struggled to maintain any measure of grip while navigating the aging asphalt surface that hadn’t been repaved since 1981. Kyle Larson took the checkered flag in a total romp — over four-and-a-half seconds ahead of runner-up Bubba Wallace — in a race that featured just three lead changes, two leaders and one accident-related caution. Despite the continued pleas of some traditionalists to leave North Wilkesboro’s archaic surface in place for future events, track officials decided enough was enough and put down a fresh coat of asphalt that will formally debut in this year’s second running of the All-Star Race at the Wilkes County, North Carolina short track.

Whether the new surface is able to significantly improve the racing is a storyline worth watching, because if All-Star Race No. 2 at North Wilkesboro turns out to be as humdrum of an affair as All-Star Race No. 1 at the track, NASCAR executives will need to think long and hard about the future of the facility beyond 2024. As sad as it would be to see North Wilkesboro fall off the schedule again after all the money and work that went into getting the facility race-ready, NASCAR simply can’t afford to have its All-Star Race be a snooze-fest year after year.