The 2019 NASCAR season is one of significant change.
Which changes have us the most eager to get the season underway in 31 days?
Same Team, Different Car
How long will it take before Chad Knaus accidentally visits the wrong hauler during a race weekend?
It seems like a plausible scenario given that NASCAR’s most successful crew chief of the 21st Century is working on a car not driven by Jimmie Johnson for the first time since 2001.
And Knaus himself said it could happen.
“Look, I had 18 years working on that 48 car, so I guarantee I’m going to walk into the wrong transporter,” Knaus said Friday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “At some point, I’m probably going to key the radio and start to say ‘Jimmie,’ by accident. I may look at the 48 as it rolls down the front straightaway and get confused, but hell, I’m getting old, so I get confused anyhow. So, that’s just part of life.”
2019 sees Knaus instead shepherding the sophomore effort of fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron in the No. 24 Chevrolet.
Meanwhile, Johnson and the No. 48 team will head to Speedweeks in Daytona with Kevin Meendering as its crew chief. After three years working with Elliott Sadler in Xfinity, Meendering gets his first shot in Cup with a seven-time champion near the end of his career.
It truly is a brave new world.
Old School Sonoma
A Cup Series road course will see a major change to its circuit this year.
No, Watkins Glen is not going to run “the Boot.” But Sonoma Raceway is bringing back “the Carousel.”
Almost lost in the hoopla of the inaugural race weekend on the Charlotte Roval last year was a press conference announcing the course alteration for Sonoma’s June 21-23 Cup race weekend.
The move, made to commemorate the track’s 50th anniversary, returns the track to its original 12-turn, 2.52-mile layout.
Cup races used “the Carousel” until 1998, but that was on a 1.99-mile layout. IndyCar also raced on “the Carousel.”
You can see the revised layout below.
In the Cup Series’ rookie class for 2019, Ryan Preece stands out in a significant area.
He’s actually won a NASCAR race.
While Matt Tifft, Daniel Hemric and Tanner Berryhill have never visited victory lane, the new driver for JTG Daugherty Racing enters this season with two Xfinity Series wins. Both came on short tracks at Iowa and Bristol Motor Speedway.
Those two oval wins are more than the number earned by the driver he replaces in the No. 47 Chevrolet. AJ Allmendinger ended 2018 with three NASCAR wins, but all came on road courses.
Preece hasn’t competed in Cup since he ran five races in the series in 2015, but it will be interesting to see what the 28-year-old can muster in a rookie campaign that coincides with the introduction of a rules package intended to create closer racing.
The 2019 rules package – complete with a tapered spacer – will make its superspeedway debut with the season’s first visit to Talladega Superspeedway in April.
This is significant because it will be the first NASCAR race on a superspeedway without a restrictor plate since 1988.
While the tapered spacer is meant to serve the same, but more efficient purpose of the restrictor plate, we won’t know how it performs until the series visits Alabama. Taking into account how Stewart-Haas Racing dominated at Talladega last October, it will be interesting to see what kind of race unfolds.
Fewer Cup-backed cars in Xfinity
The Xfinity Series will have a little bit less competition in 2019.
A full field will now consist of 38 cars, down from 40. But the series will also have less of a Cup Series influence.
There will be two less Cup-backed teams in the series with Roush Fenway Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing shutting down their Xfinity operations. Roush fielded two cars in 2018 with the No. 16 and No. 60 while Ganassi was set to field Ross Chastain in the No. 42.
Richard Childress Racing will not have just one full-time driver in the series with Tyler Reddick in the No. 2 Chevrolet. They’re expected to field a second car with the No. 21.
Just two years ago RCR fielded as many as five cars throughout the season.