Getty Images

Meet the NASCAR Cup rookie Class of 2020

Leave a comment

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.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Myatt Snider: It’s ‘game on’ if conflict with Noah Gragson continues

Leave a comment

The spat between Xfinity Series drivers Myatt Snider and Noah Gragson may not necessarily be over.

The pair tangled in Sunday night’s Xfinity Series race in Las Vegas. Gragson made contact with Snider’s car, sending it into a spin.

Snider discussed the incident Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” and where things stand between the two drivers.

“It, to me, just seemed like some impatience on Noah’s part,” Snider said of the incident. “I had gotten into a rut and was trying to figure out how to make the car faster but at that point in time, I didn’t. So he was running me down and he actually had a run on me going to the frontstretch.

“So I was, ‘Okay, he’s going to go by me.’ Then I felt a little yoink in the left rear quarter and around I was going. It’s kind of unfortunate it had to go down that way, that’s not racing to me. But I’m a big believer in karma and what goes around, comes around. We’ll be performing at our best over these next couple of weeks and I’m not worried about it.”

Snider also told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he hasn’t texted or talked to Gragson since Sunday, but Snider said he’s ready if the spat continues.

“I’m the kind of guy that believes in racing people how you’re raced,” Snider said. “I’m not going to take any kind of stuff like that. If (Gragson) wants to send that kind of message early, then game on.”

On Tuesday, here’s how Gragson explained what happened on “Sirius Speedway” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“It was just some hard racing between the two of us and we got into each other, so I think we both can look forward to the next couple of races and stay out of each other’s ways,” Gragson said. “I think we’re both at fault. It was a long race, none of us were going to give and we’re going to go on to California and run as good as possible and do as good as we can.”

Much has been made about the TV replays of Gragson and Snider meeting after the race to talk about the incident. Gragson tried to give Snider a fist bump only to have Snider walk away without fist bumping him.

“I told (Myatt) let’s play rock, paper, scissors,” Gragson quipped in part on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I went with rock and he still hasn’t gotten back to me if he wants scissors, paper or rock.”

Gragson won the season opener at Daytona and finished fourth at Las Vegas for JR Motorsports. Snider, who won the pole at Daytona, finished 33rd at Daytona and 16th at Las Vegas for Richard Childress Racing. Snider will race this weekend at Auto Club Speedway for RSS Racing.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ryan Newman gets standing ovation in visit to Roush Fenway Racing

Leave a comment

Exactly 10 months to the day when the country will celebrate Thanksgiving, the entire Roush Fenway Racing organization gave thanks and a warm welcome to driver Ryan Newman, who visited the team’s shop Wednesday.

Newman, who was involved in a horrific crash coming to the finish line of the Daytona 500 just nine days earlier, received a standing ovation from his colleagues and posed for a number of photos.

While there is still no timetable for Newman’s return behind the wheel of his No. 6 RFR Ford Mustang — Ross Chastain is scheduled to drive the car until Newman comes back — Wednesday’s appearance was yet another positive move in that direction.

“Just a good day,” RFR president Steve Newmark tweeted about Newman’s visit.

Newman said in a prior statement he suffered an undisclosed head injury in the crash but did not suffer any broken bones or internal injuries.

Tuesday he took part in one of his favorite pastimes:

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Hendrick focused on Jimmie Johnson’s success, not successor

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Larson. Brad Keselowski. Ryan Blaney. Erik Jones.

No, we’re not talking about this week’s fantasy racing picks, but those four drivers have been among drivers mentioned most often when it comes time for Hendrick Motorsports to name a replacement for Jimmie Johnson, who will retire after this season.

Yet even though filling Johnson’s spot is important, it’s not as much a priority right now as it is for the entire organization to learn more about the nuances of the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, according to HMS vice president of competition Jeff Andrews.

“We don’t have a timetable for that, to be honest with you,” Andrews said of naming a replacement for Johnson on Wednesday “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Our focus has been getting better race cars under Jimmie Johnson and getting better race cars for (crew chief) Cliff Daniels and his race team to work with on the weekend.

“The focus right now immediately for the 48 is to get a win, get that car in the playoffs, get multiple wins through the season and then get Jimmie Johnson to Phoenix at the end of the year to battle for that championship.”

Andrews admits the vibe around Hendrick Motorsports’ campus is markedly different this year, knowing it’s Johnson’s final season in the No. 48.

“I think the sense is pride here within Hendrick Motorsports, to just have been associated with someone like Jimmie,” Andrews told SiriusXM. “For those of us who have been here really throughout his career, we’re just incredibly proud that he chose to drive for Hendrick Motorsports throughout his whole career.

“But we’re also proud of all his accomplishments and what he’s done for this company. I think we would have an awful hard time of ever paying him back for all that. Our goal this year is giving him everything he needs for a multiple win season and to get to Phoenix. We owe him that at the least.”

The Hendrick organization has struggled in adapting to the new Chevrolet Camaro body style this year. In the season-opening Daytona 500, Chase Elliott (finished seventh) was the only HMS driver in the top 15.

Things were a bit better this past Sunday at Las Vegas. Johnson was the highest-finishing HMS driver (fifth), while Alex Bowman was 13th. But there was considerable sense of accomplishment overall for Chevrolet as a whole, with six of its Camaros in the top 10 (as opposed to only two Chevys in the top 10 at Daytona).

That leaves Andrews, the competition department at HMS and Chevrolet officials as a whole feeling optimistic as the series heads for the third race of the season this weekend at the two-mile track in Fontana, California.

“From a barometer perspective, we’re feeling good about where we’ve been,” Andrews said. “We haven’t had that finish, that win that we’re looking for, but certainly we’ve started off the year with some good speed in our cars.

“The one thing that all of our drivers were commenting on is we had more speed in our cars and just had a better platform in our cars and a better ability to run multiple lines on the racetrack, which is something we haven’t in recent years.”

Admittedly, it’s been a tough road for Hendrick drivers over the last three seasons. Since Johnson’s seventh Cup championship in 2016, no HMS driver has reached the Championship 4 round since.

Also during that time frame, only two drivers have finished in the top-10 overall in the last three seasons (Chase Elliott, fifth in 2017, sixth in 2018 and 10th in 2019; and Johnson, 10th in 2017).

These next five races, particularly the last two of that stretch at Homestead-Miami and Texas, will help give Andrews and his staff a better handle on where their adjustment to the Camaro goes from there.

“We know it’s a long season and have a long ways to go with this,” Andrews told SiriusXM. “We need to get through three or four more races.

“I think we’ve targeted as a company a better understanding of where we’re at after the Homestead/Texas timeframe to get some types of tracks and learn with this new car.

“Steep learning curve with the new car and we’ve got to act quick. We have just a year to work with this before we get to another generation of race cars. … We’re looking forward to going back to the track this weekend in Fontana and see where we go with it.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Joey Logano takes top spot from Denny Hamlin

Leave a comment

Move over Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano is coming through.

By virtue of his win Sunday in Las Vegas, Logano replaces Hamlin atop this week’s NBC Sports Power Rankings.

Eightteen drivers received votes from NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Here’s this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Joey Logano (37 points out of 40): Bounced back from a DNF at Daytona to earn a gifted win at Las Vegas when the top two cars pitted late, allowing Logano to move to the lead and keep it. Last week’s ranking: unranked.

2. Kevin Harvick (34 points): Pitted before final restart, which likely cost him a chance at a top-five finish (he wound up eighth). Still, with top-10 finishes in the first two races (one of only two drivers to do so), Harvick is off to a strong start. Last week: 6th (tied).

3. Ryan Blaney (29 points): Late pit call cost him the win and a top 10 (finished 11th), but maybe there’s some solace in being atop the Cup standings heading to Fontana. Last week: 3rd.

4. Chase Elliott (24 points): Even though he finished 26th at Las Vegas, Elliott led 70 laps and won each of the first two stages. Including Daytona, he’s led nearly 100 laps in first two races. Now all he has to do is finish off a race with a win. Last week: 9th.

5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17 points): One of the biggest surprises this season. The move to JTG Daugherty Racing is agreeing with him. Led 24 laps at Daytona before late-race wreck and 30 laps at Vegas, finishing third. Definitely someone to keep an eye on. Last week: unranked.

(tie) 6. Denny Hamlin (15 points): After his win at Daytona, struggled through a rough day at Las Vegas, finishing 17th. Last week: 1st

(tie) 6. Kyle Larson (15 points): One of two drivers to finish in the top 10 in each of first two races. Looks to add to one win and two runner-ups in six Cup starts at Fontana on Sunday. Last week: 4th.

8. Matt DiBenedetto (14 points): Earned second-place finish in his second start for Wood Brothers Racing. Could he bring the organization it’s 100th Cup win at Fontana? Last week: unranked.

9. Jimmie Johnson (13 points): Finished fifth at Las Vegas (as well as being fastest in final Cup practice there). Has six career wins at his home track in Fontana. Can he make it seven on Sunday (which would break a 97-race winless streak)? Last week: unranked.

10. Alex Bowman (7 points): Showed some impressive speed late before being shuffled back to 13th place after last caution. Last week: unranked.

Others receiving votes: William Byron (3 points), Bubba Wallace (3 points), Austin Dillon (2 points), Brad Keselowski (2 points), Chris Buescher (2 points), Clint Bowyer (1 point), Chase Briscoe (1 point), Johnny Sauter (1 point).