NASCAR planning in-season tournament in 2025, with opening race in Atlanta

Denny Hamlin celebrates in Victory Lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Dover Motor Speedway, Sunday, April 28, 2024, in Dover, Del. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)


ATLANTA (AP) — Following the lead of the NBA, the NASCAR Cup Series is planning a five-race, bracket-style tournament in the midst of the 2025 season, beginning with a night event at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The tournament, which comes with a $1 million prize to the winner, is part of a new media rights deal that includes TNT.

The Atlanta-based cable network will broadcast all five races in the tournament, starting with a 400-miler in its home market on June 28, 2025.

“Next year, having $1 million on the line, that’s for sure going to be a goal before the season starts and something that you and your team strategize around and all that,” Kyle Larson said. “I look forward to it. The summer months get stale. Not boring, but it just gets repetitive. You lose some excitement.”

Atlanta, which has produced some of NASCAR’s most thrilling races since the track was redesigned with higher banking, gets the honor of hosting the first tournament race. The remainder of the 36-race schedule will be announced later.

Brandon Hutchison, president and general manager of the Atlanta track, said the venue was eager to host racing after dark after being scheduled for two day races this season. To get the opening event of the new in-season tournament was an added bonus.

“We’ve heard our fans loud and clear,” Hutchison said. “We know that they wanted the night race back. We were excited to even be able to consider being able to give that to them. Then with TNT — a hometown broadcast partner, home track, the first season of the in-season bracket tournament, the first time that’s ever been held in NASCAR — we feel that … June 28, 2025, is going to be a very exciting time to be at Atlanta Motor Speedway.”

The tournament is patterned after in-season tournaments that are staged by soccer leagues around the world and were brought to the NBA this season. The Los Angeles Lakers won the inaugural event in December, beating Indiana in a title game held in Las Vegas.

The NASCAR tournament will feature the top 32 drivers from three seeding races, which will be held just before the Atlanta race and televised by Amazon Prime.

The drivers will be paired in head-to-head matchups based on seeding, with the winners advancing to the next round in a bracket format that mirrors the NCAA basketball tournaments.

The field of contenders will be reduced to 16 for Race 2, followed by the quarterfinals in Race 3, the semifinals in Race 4 and the final in Race 5.

“It’s never been a better time to be a fan of motorsports, and this new, first-ever in-season tournament will bring a new competitive dynamic to NASCAR’s summer race weekends,” said Craig Barry, executive vice president and chief content officer of TNT Sports.

Hutchison said the Atlanta track will continue to host two races in 2025 though the complete schedule is still pending.

This season, the 1.54-mile oval in suburban Hampton held the second points race of the year on Feb. 25 — a week after the Daytona 500 — that ended with Daniel Suarez edging Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch in a three-wide photo finish.

Atlanta’ s second race of 2024 is set for Sept. 8 as the kickoff to the NASCAR playoffs. Next year, that race will move up to be part of the in-season tournament instead of the playoff.

In a post on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, Denny Hamlin called the tournament “such a win for our sport and drivers.” He jokingly added, “I will collect my 1M royalty next season.”

Larson said the tournament will provide a much-needed boost to the doldrums of summer.

“I think this bracket, or whatever you want to call it, is going to add a lot of excitement and more storylines,” he said. “So I love it.”


AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing