Meet the NASCAR Cup rookie Class of 2020

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One of the most talented and promising rookie classes in recent NASCAR Cup history is ready to get its motor racing.

Six drivers have declared for their first full Cup season as well as being eligible for Rookie of the Year honors.

Highlighting the Class of 2020 are the so-called “Big 3,” Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and two-time Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick, who all reached the Xfinity Championship 4 round at Miami.

Also in the rookie class are Brennan Poole, John Hunter Nemechek and Quin Houff. Each of the six has an opportunity to become the first full-time rookie to win a Cup race since Chris Buescher did so in 2016.

Here’s a breakdown of each rookie class member (in alphabetical order):

Christopher Bell (Getty Images)

Christopher Bell
2020 team: Leavine Family Racing
2019 team: Joe Gibbs Racing (Xfinity Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 0
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 16/7
What’s ahead: Bell makes the long-anticipated move to the Cup Series in 2020. Because his former Xfinity Series team, Joe Gibbs Racing, had a full driver roster in the Cup Series, Bell has been farmed out to Leavine Family Racing in a partnership/technical alliance with JGR, similar to when JGR placed Erik Jones with Furniture Row Racing in 2017 (which was also the year Bell won the Truck Series championship). Bell will be sponsored by Rheem and Procore and his crew chief from the Xfinity Series, Jason Ratcliff, follows him as his Cup crew chief. Bell replaces Matt DiBenedetto, who has moved on to take the place of Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing, who has stepped away from Cup racing

Cole Custer (Getty Images)

Cole Custer
2020 team: Stewart-Haas Racing
2019 team: Stewart-Haas Racing (Xfinity Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 3 (all in 2018; best finish was 25th at Las Vegas)
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 9/2
What’s ahead: Like Bell and Reddick, it’s time for Custer to make the big jump from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series. Custer will drive the No. 41 Ford, replacing Daniel Suarez, whose racing plans for 2020 are still unclear. Custer had a breakthrough season in the Xfinity Series in 2019, earning a career-best seven wins, 17 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes. He also finished second in the Xfinity Series for the second straight season. He’ll bring his Xfinity crew chief Mike Shiplett to the same role in Cup. … Is the son of SHR general manager Joe Custer.

Quin Houff (Getty Images)

Quin Houff
2020 team: StarCom Racing
2019 team: Split Cup season between 13 starts for Spire Motorsports and four starts for Premium Motorsports)
Number of Cup starts to date: 17, all in 2019 (best finish 28th in Coca-Cola 600)
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 0
What’s ahead: The 22-year-old Houff replaces Landon Cassill in the No. 00 Chevrolet. Houff’s contract covers both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. … Houff competed in 17 Cup races last season but remains eligible for Rookie of the Year honors in 2020. … No crew chief has been named for the team yet; Joe Williams was crew chief for Cassill last season but was released from the team after the season-ending race at Miami. … Houff’s racing resume includes not only his 17 Cup starts last year, but also 10 career Xfinity starts, one ARCA Menards West start, five ARCA Menards Series starts and 19 CARS Super Late Model Tour starts.

John Hunter Nemechek (Getty Images)

John Hunter Nemechek
2020 team: Front Row Motorsports
2019 team: GMS Racing (Xfinity Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 3 (all in 2019, best finish 21st in fall Texas race)
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 1/6
What’s ahead: The son of veteran NASCAR driver Joe Nemechek moves to Front Row Motorsports to drive the No. 38 Ford Mustang in 2020 after 1 ½ seasons of racing in the Xfinity Series. He earned one career Xfinity win (2018 at Kansas), but reached victory lane six times while driving a Truck (2013-2019). … Barely missed making the Xfinity Championship 4 round at Miami; finished seventh in the season standings. … Takes over the No. 38 from David Ragan, who has retired from active full-time racing in the Cup Series. Ragan’s former crew chief, Seth Barbour, remains in that role with Nemechek

Brennan Poole (Getty Images)

Brennan Poole
2020 team: Premium Motorsports
2019 team: On Point Motorsports (Truck Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 0
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 0/0
What’s ahead: Poole is slated to compete in his first full season since the 2017 Xfinity campaign. He was supposed to run a full slate in 2019 in the Truck Series, but On Point Motorsports was forced to scale back plans due to sponsorship issues. Still, he managed to score one top-five and four top-10 finishes in 13 starts for the underfunded team. … Poole has never driven in a Cup race before, but he has 83 starts in the Xfinity Series, including eight top five and 36 top-10 finishes. … Crew chief is NASCAR veteran Pat Tryson.

Tyler Reddick (Getty Images)

Tyler Reddick
2020 team: Richard Childress Racing
2019 team: Richard Childress Racing (Xfinity Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 2 (both in 2019, best finish of ninth at Kansas 1)
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 9/3
What’s ahead: After winning consecutive Xfinity Series championships, Reddick moves up to the Cup Series in the No. 8 Chevrolet, replacing Daniel Hemric. It’s notable that Reddick won the 2018 Xfinity championship with JR Motorsports, and then won the 2019 title with RCR. … Caterpillar will once again sponsor the car. … Randall Burnett will be Reddick’s crew chief.

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Dr. Diandra: Strategies in making Clash picks

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Crew chiefs must develop their approach to today’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum using only last year’s data, plus this year’s practice and qualifying.

Fans wagering (for fun and/or profit) must contend with the same lack of data as they make their Clash picks.

The shortest regular-season track is a half mile. A quarter-mile track is a different beast, even with a year’s worth of Next Gen experience.

“Last year everything was brand-new – the track, the format and the car,” Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Chase Elliott, said in a team release. “We’ll have a little bit better of an idea of what we’re going for this time around, but the track is so unique that even with going there last year, we’re still learning.”

As are the fans.

There are a few changes to keep in mind as you make your Clash picks.

NASCAR increased the field from 23 cars to 27. With 36 drivers entered, only nine will miss the Clash. Even without points on the line, no one wants to head home before the main event’s green flag.

Last year, equipment failures caused four out of five DNFs in the main race. Expect fewer mechanical issues this year.

But perhaps more aggression.

Don’t pay too much attention to practice

Last year’s practice times showed no correlation with Clash performance. Eventual winner Joey Logano finished practice last year with the 26th fastest lap — also known as the 11th-slowest lap. But he qualified fourth.

This year, despite losing about 40 hp to mufflers, Martin Truex Jr. set a fastest lap of 13.361 seconds. Truex’s lap beats last year’s best practice lap time of 13.455 seconds, set by Chase Elliott.

Although only seven-tenths of a second separate the fastest practice lap and the slowest, the change is far from linear.

A graph showing practice times for the Busch Light Clash field

  • The top 11 drivers are separated by just 0.048 seconds out of a 13- to 14-second lap
  • Brad Keselowski, who didn’t make the race last year, had the third slowest practice time.
  • Tyler Reddick ran the most total practice laps with 117. He was followed by Kevin Harvick (116), and Noah Gragson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., both of whom made 115 laps.
  • Most drivers ran their best times in their first or second session. Austin Dillon, however, ran his best time on lap 109 of 112.
  • The top three in practice also had the three best 10-lap averages.

Qualifying is the key to good Clash picks

Last year, qualifying position correlated well with driver finish in the Clash. If your driver qualified on the front two rows for his heat race, last year’s results suggest that the only thing keeping him from making tonight’s Clash is an accident or mechanical failure.

That’s bad news for Ty Gibbs, who wasn’t allowed to qualify and will start in the back of the field. It’s also a negative for Ryan Blaney, who posted a 40-second lap, however, Blaney has a shot at the provisional and Gibbs doesn’t.

The heat races are only 25 laps, which doesn’t leave much time for passing. Heat race starting position is highly correlated to heat race finishing position.

  • Last year, the pole-sitter for each of the four heat races held the lead for the entire race.
  • Of the 12 drivers starting in the top three for each heat race, nine drivers — 75% — finished in the top three.
  • Only the top-four finishers of each heat race advanced last year. This year, the top five move on. Last year, 16 of the 25 drivers (64%) starting in positions one through five finished in the top five of their heat races.
  • No driver who started a heat race from ninth finished better than sixth. That’s not encouraging news for Blaney and Gibbs, among others.

That means Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron are pretty much guaranteed locks for a good starting spot in the Clash.

The 20 drivers who qualified in the top five for their heat race have a very high probability of making it through to the main — and of finishing well there.

As was the case last year, practice showed little correlation with qualifying. Martin Truex Jr. qualified 22nd despite posting the best practice time.

The Last Chance Qualifiers

Three drivers from each of the two last chance qualifiers fill out the final rows of the Clash starting grid. Last year, drivers were more aggressive in these 50-lap races than the first four heats.

Again, the closer to the front a driver starts, the better his chance of making the race. Last year, both pole-sitters finished in the top three and advanced.

The last chance qualifiers are long enough for a driver starting in the rear to make it to the front. Last year, Ty Dillon came from 10th place to win the second race. He was subsequently disqualified for jumping the final restart and Harrison Burton, who had started seventh, advanced. If you’re looking for long-shot Clash picks, don’t count the back of the field entirely out.

The Big Show

Last year, the 150-lap main had five lead changes and five cautions.

  • Of last year’s four heat-race winners, two finished in positions one and two, while the other two didn’t finish the race.
  • Of the six drivers who advanced from the last chance qualifiers, none finished higher than A.J. Allmendinger in ninth.
  • Allmendinger tied with Erik Jones for most spots gained. Jones started 16th and finished fourth.
  • Excluding drivers who failed to finish the race, Danial Suárez had the biggest position loss, starting fifth and finishing 14th.

If you want to avoid the frontrunners, you might want to keep an eye on Aric Almirola, who qualified fifth, and had the seventh best 10-lap average run during practice. Austin Dillon didn’t put together a strong 10-lap run, but his team found something in the last minutes of practice that allowed him to go from finishing practice in 22nd to qualifying sixth.

And although Bubba Wallace qualified 16th, he ranked first in runs of 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 laps. He was second in five-lap speed.

Good luck with your Clash picks!

NASCAR Sunday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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It’s race day for the NASCAR Cup Series.

The Clash at the Coliseum will open the 2023 season for NASCAR on Sunday with the featured 150-lap race scheduled for 8 p.m. ET at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The field for the non-points race will be set by a series of heat and last chance races Sunday afternoon. The top five finishers in each of four 25-lap heat races will advance to the feature, and the top three finishers in two 50-lap last chance races will join the grid.

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash as it moved from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to the Coliseum.

The Cup Series regular season is scheduled to begin Feb. 19 with the Daytona 500.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Weather

Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 64 degrees in the afternoon and no chance of rain. It is expected to be sunny with a high of 62 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the Clash.

Sunday, Feb. 5

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. Sunday – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

Clash qualifying results

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.