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Probable 2020 milestones in the Cup Series

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The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season is nearing with the 62nd running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 16.

There are a lot of changes this year.

Now it’s time to look at some of the accomplishments that could or likely will be achieved over the course of the 36-race season, for both drivers and teams.

Jimmie Johnson

The seven-time champion will have one last go at earning a record eighth title before retiring from full-time Cup racing. He’ll also try to end a 95-race losing streak that dates to June 2017. A win by Johnson would give him 84 and move him into a tie with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for fourth all-time.

Kyle Busch

The defending Cup champion is within milestones in all three of NASCAR’s national series. He’s four Cup wins away from 60, four Xfinity Series wins from 100 and four Truck Series wins away from 60. Busch has said once he reaches 100 Xfinity Series wins he’d stop competing in the series unless car owner Joe Gibbs needed him to fill in.

With 56 career victories, Busch is seventh on the all-time wins list. Dale Earnhardt is sixth with 76 victories.

A win by Busch this year would give him wins in 16 straight seasons. That would match Jimmie Johnson’s streak from 2002-17. Richard Petty had 18 straight seasons with a win (1960-77) and David Pearson had 17 straight seasons with a win (1964-80).

Kevin Harvick

The 2014 Cup champion needs one win to reach 50 for his career. He’s currently tied for 11th on the all-time wins list with his team owner, Tony Stewart. Harvick has 1,151 starts across NASCAR’s three nationals series. Thirty four starts this year will match him with Richard Petty for second all-time. Joe Nemechek has the most all-time with 1,188.

Denny Hamlin

After earning six wins in 2019, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver needs three more to reach 40 Cup wins. He’s currently tied with Hall of Hamer Bobby Isaac. Should Hamlin win the Daytona 500, he’d be the first driver to win the race in back-to-back seasons since Sterling Marlin (1994-95).

Martin Truex Jr.

The 2017 Cup champion could reach 30 career wins this season. He has 26. Of note, every eligible retired driver who has 30 or more Cup wins is a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Five active drivers have 30 or more wins: Brad Keselowski (30 wins), Kurt Busch (31), Hamlin (37), Harvick (49) and Kyle Buch (56).

Ryan Newman

In his second season with Roush Fenway Racing, Newman is within two victories of 20 career wins. He’s been stuck there since 2017 when he won the spring race at Phoenix Raceway. A win would give Newman a victory with all four organizations he’s competed for in Cup (Team Penske, Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing are the others). Roush is winless in the last 91 races.

Kurt Busch

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver should reach 700 Cup Series starts this season. He’s 16 starts away from the mark and is scheduled to reach it June 14 at Sonoma Raceway. Among active full-time Cup drivers, Busch’s 684 starts are the most.

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano

The Team Penske drivers should both reach 400 career starts this season. Logano will reach the mark in the Daytona 500, while Keselowski needs 23 starts. He’s scheduled to make start No. 400 on Aug. 9 at his home track of Michigan International Speedway (Keselowski has yet to win there).

More: Team Penske changes up crew chief lineup

Michael McDowell and Aric Almirola

McDowell and Almirola are each set to reach 350 Cup Series starts this season. McDowell is scheduled to reach that mark Sept. 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Almirola would reach it Oct. 25 at Texas Motor Speedway. With 321 starts, McDowell trails Landon Cassill (324 starts) for most starts among active full-time drivers without a win. StarCom Racing has not announced its plans for Cassill in 2020.

J.J. Yeley

The veteran driver is set to compete full-time for Rick Ware Racing this season. It would be his first full-time Cup season since 2007 when he drove for Joe Gibbs Racing. Yeley is nine starts away from his 300th Cup start. He is scheduled to reach the mark April 19 at Richmond Raceway.

Notable veteran drivers without Cup wins: Matt DiBenedetto (176 starts), Ty Dillon (126 starts), Corey LaJoie (93 starts), Bubba Wallace (76 starts), William Byron (72 starts) and Ryan Preece (41 starts).

Rookie winner?: Should Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek or Brennan Poole win a race this year, they’d be the first full-time Cup rookie to win a race since Chris Buescher in 2016.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Team Milestones

Wood Brothers Racing

If Matt DiBenedetto wins a race in 2020, he would earn Wood Brothers Racing its 100th Cup victory. The team has 99 wins in 1,582 starts since 1953.

Stewart-Haas Racing

Four wins away from 60 Cup wins since its inaugural season in 2009. Seven poles away from 60.

Chip Ganassi Racing

Two wins away from 20 Cup victories since 2001 (includes five wins under the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing banner).

Richard Childress Racing

3,000 combined Cup starts. Needs six, or three races with its two teams. Scheduled for March 1 at Auto Club Speedway. Team is winless since the 2018 Daytona 500 (71 races).

Team Penske

2,000 combined Cup starts. Needs 21, or seven races with its three teams. Scheduled for March 29 at Texas Motor Speedway.

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Team Penske shakes up driver/crew chief lineup

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Team Penske announced Monday that it has changed the driver/crew chief lineup for each of its three Cup teams.

The changes for 2020 are:

The changes come after a season where all three drivers finished in the top 10 in points and combined to win six races.

“As we do after the completion of each season, we evaluated what we can do to better achieve our goals and we felt it was time to make these changes to better position us to reach our potential,” said Roger Penske. “We are fortunate that we have three very strong leaders in Paul, Todd and Jeremy, who work with experienced and talented crews. Pairing each of these winning teams with different drivers and cars should provide new energy and a fresh approach for the 2020 season.”

Keselowski and Wolfe had been together since the 2010 Xfinity season. They won the Xfinity title that year and moved to Cup together in 2011. They won 29 races together and the 2012 Cup title but had only been to the championship race once since the playoff format change in 2014.

Gordon and Logano had been together since 2013. They won 21 races together and the 2018 Cup championship.

Bullins and Blaney had been together since 2014. Blaney has made all 162 Cup starts with Bullins as his crew chief. They were together with the Wood Brothers and moved together to Team Penske in 2018. They won three races together.

The changes were made even though all three teams won races last season. Logano won two races and finished fifth in the points. Blaney won one race and was seventh in points. Keselowski won three races and was eighth in points. Last year marked the second consecutive year Team Penske had all three of its drivers place in the top 10 in points.

Keselowski and Wolfe had the longest active streak together in Cup. With them split, the longest tenure for a current driver/crew chief pairing is Rodney Childers and Kevin Harvick. The 2020 season will mark the seventh year together for Childers and Harvick.

These changes also mean that six of the top 10 finishers in the points last year have had a new driver/crew chief pairing since 2019. Other drivers who finished in the top 10 who have had a new crew chief since the start of the 2019 season are:

Martin Truex Jr., who finished second in points last year, will be paired with James Small after Cole Pearn announced after last season he was stepping away from the sport.

Denny Hamlin, who finished fourth in the points last year, was paired with crew chief Chris Gabehart entering the 2019 season.

Clint Bowyer, who finished ninth in the points last year, will be paired with John Klausmeier this season after a swap of crew chiefs with Aric Almirola.

Decade in Review: Best NASCAR finishes of the 2010s

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From Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010 to Sunday Nov. 17, 2019, there were 3,564 days that went by on the calendar.

In that time span, NASCAR’s three national series held 924 points races.

That’s a lot of races, but unfortunately not every one had a memorable finish.

What were the best race finishes of the 2010s?

NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers compiled 21 memorable finishes from across the decade and then voted on them.

More: 10 most memorable quotes of the 2010s

More: 10 best drivers of the 2010s

More: 10 most memorable moments and stories of the 2010s

Here are the resulting 10 best finishes in NASCAR from the last decade:

 

1. Watkins Glen International, Aug. 12, 2012

To borrow a phrase from “Saturday Night Live’s” famous club critic, Stefon, this finish had everything.

On the last lap around the New York road course, the rumble began when the second place car of Brad Keselowski made contact with and spun leader Kyle Busch in the esses. Then it was on. Keselowski, the eventual Cup champion, and Marcos Ambrose, the defending race winner, took part in nothing short of a brawl, aided by a track coated in oil that had leaked onto the surface.

The two drivers went off course twice in the bus stop, kicking up a cloud of dirt.  Ambrose slid going into Turn 5 and recovered enough to deliver a shot to Keselowski’s rear bumper, opening the door for Ambrose. Keselowski then returned the favor in Turn 6, sending Ambrose off course and setting up a drag race to the final turn. Ambrose’s position on the inside line prevailed, as he beat Keselowski through the final right-hander and went on to claim his final Cup Series win.

On this day, the best club in New York was called “The Glen.”

2. Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Sept. 30, 2018

The drama from the last lap of the inaugural Bank of America Roval 400 came in the final turn and ensured the Roval’s historic Cup debut would not be forgotten.

Defending champion Martin Truex Jr. led Jimmie Johnson, who hadn’t won (and remains winless) since the June 2017 race at Dover. As they approached the frontstretch chicane, Johnson moved to Truex’s left side for a pass. But Johnson’s brakes locked up and sent his No. 48 into a spin that ended with it hitting Truex’s right rear, which turned the No. 78 around.

That’s when Ryan Blaney swooped in to take the checkered flag and score his only win of the year.

Almost forgotten in the chaos was Kyle Larson. Larson had been limping his battered No. 42 Chevrolet around the track following a wreck. He bounced off the wall twice in the final turns and passed the prone car of Jeffrey Earnhardt right before crossing the start-finish line. That gave Larson a 25th-place finish. That one extra spot placed Larson in a tie with Johnson and Aric Almirola for a transfer spot to the Round of 12. But the tiebreaker did not favor Johnson.

3. Chicagoland Speedway, July 1, 2018

Usually when the two frontrunners in a race make contact twice in the last lap and the second contact results in the first-place car going into a slide and the second-place car pancaking the wall, it’s not likely you’ll see a 1-2 finish between those same cars.

Don’t tell that to Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.

This last-lap duel between them included Larson’s failed “Slide Job!” on Busch exiting Turn 2 and the first contact between them.

Then in Turn 3, Busch gave a push to Larson’s rear bumper, which sent the No. 42 into a slide as Busch contacted the wall.

Thanks to a 55-lap green flag run to end the race, the third-place car of Kevin Harvick couldn’t overtake either as Busch won and Larson finished second.

(Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

4. Daytona 500, Feb. 21, 2016

The Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing had the front of the field locked down for most of the 2016 Daytona 500. That was true right up to the checkered flag.

Denny Hamlin was fourth at the white flag before a push from Kevin Harvick in the outside lane propelled Hamlin to the rear bumper of leader Matt Kenseth entering Turn 3. Kenseth’s attempt to block a move by Hamlin to the inside resulted in slight contact that had Kenseth successfully avoid a spin or worse.

That set up a drag race between Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. and Hamlin winning his first Daytona 500 by .010 seconds, the closest finish in race history.

5.(tie) Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 25, 2012

There’s last-lap passes for the win and then there’s what James Buescher did in the 2012 Xfinity Series season opener.

Buescher, driving the No. 30 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports, was in 11th place as the field navigated through Turn 4 for the last time.

Buescher technically passed the 10 cars in front of him. In reality, he avoided a really big wreck.

It would be the only Xfinity win for the cousin of Chris Buescher. James would go on to win that season’s Truck Series title, earning four of his six career Truck wins.

Also, what’s up with cars sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Eagles and wacky Daytona wins?

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

5. (tie) Martinsville Speedway, Oct. 28, 2018

Martin Truex Jr. was two turns away from winning his first short track race in the Cup Series.

Then Joey Logano pulled the rug out from underneath him.

After a spirited six-lap battle between the drivers, the playoff race came down to the final two turns. Logano gave Truex’s rear bumper a shove, drove underneath him and the two made contact as they exited Turn 4. Truex got sideways, Logano won and Truex finished third after Denny Hamlin snuck by him.

The win locked Logano into the Championship 4.

Three weeks later, Logano would pass Truex late in the season finale to win the race and his first Cup title.

7. Sonoma Raceway, July 26, 2016

If Tony Stewart was going to get his 49th and final Cup Series win on any type of track and in any fashion, it had to be a road course and it had to involve some bent fenders.

Stewart earned the eighth and final road course win of his career on this day after a last-lap duel with Denny Hamlin. Stewart lost the lead on the back half of the course. But opportunity presented itself in Sonoma’s signature hairpin turn.

Hamlin wheel hopped as he entered the turn, which left the inside open to Stewart. He took advantage and while Stewart passed Hamlin, he delivered an authoritative door slam to Hamlin’s car before racing to the checkered flag.

8. Homestead-Miami Speedway, Nov. 20, 2016

Jimmie Johnson only led three laps all night in the 2016 season finale. They were the only three that mattered.

Johnson, who started from the rear due to failing pre-race inspection, only took the lead on the overtime restart, taking it from Kyle Larson. Johnson then held off Larson and Kevin Harvick to claim the win and his record tying seventh Cup title.

9. Auto Club Speedway, March 24, 2013

Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin made contact multiple times during the last lap around the 2-mile track in Fontana, California.

The last instance allowed Kyle Busch to streak by on the outside for the win as Hamlin slid toward the inside wall and Logano scraped along the outside wall. Hamlin’s car would impact the wall nose-first with the incident injuring his back.

Hamlin would sit out the next four races before returning at Talladega.

 

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

10. Daytona 500, Feb. 20, 2011

Trevor Bayne might be the epitome of a one hit wonder in NASCAR.

A day after turning 20, Bayne made his second career Cup start. It came in “The Great American Race” driving for the historic Wood Brothers Racing.

On the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, Bayne received a pushes from Bobby Labonte and Carl Edwards over the last two laps.

Bayne would not win again in 187 Cup starts, the last start coming in 2018.

Honorable Mentions: 2018 Daytona 500, 2011 Coca-Cola 600, 2016 Truck Series race at Canada, 2015 Martinsville Cup playoff race and 2015 Truck Series race at Charlotte.

Now’s your chance to vote. What is the best finish of the 2010s?

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Decade in Review: Best NASCAR drivers of the 2010s

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Day 2 of NBC Sports’ NASCAR Decade in Review series is here.

We continue our look back at the 2010s with the top 10 drivers of the decade, as voted on by the NBC Sports NASCAR writers.

More: 10 most memorable quotes of the 2010s

Every Cup champion from the decade is present on this list, but where did they wind up?

 

1. Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch raced a lot and won a lot in the 2010s and claimed two Cup titles along the way, becoming the first repeat champion under the elimination playoff format.

Early in 2019, Busch claimed his 200th national NASCAR series win with a victory in the Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway.

Busch ended the decade with 56 Cup Series wins, 40 of which came in the 2010s. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has yet to go winless in his 15 full-time seasons in the Cup Series.

Of the drivers on this list, he and Kevin Harvick are the only Cup drivers to win in every year of the decade.

2. Jimmie Johnson

While his decade ended on a down note, going winless over the final two seasons, Johnson’s impact on the 2010s is indisputable.

He began it in 2010 be claiming his fifth consecutive Cup title and proceeded to win two more by 2016 while also winning 36 races before his drought began.

Two years after his record-tying seventh title, he and crew chief Chad Knaus split up after 17 seasons together.

Johnson will bring his full-time Cup career to an end in 2020 after 19 years while seeking his record eighth Cup title.

3. Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick surged in the 2010s, and that was before he moved from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and proceeded to win his first Cup title.

Harvick entered the decade on a two-year winless streak and with only 11 Cup wins since his debut in 2001.

In his last four years with RCR (2010-13), Harvick topped his total from the previous nine seasons by earning 12 wins.

He didn’t slow down with SHR. With crew chief Rodney Childers, he earned five wins in his championship year. In the five years since, Harvick’s won at least two races in each season, including a career-best eight in 2018.

He’s also made the Championship 4 in five of the six years of the elimination format.

4. Martin Truex Jr.

No driver quite experienced the rebirth in the 2010s that Martin Truex Jr. did.

When the decade began, the two-time Xfinity Series champion had just one win, at Dover in 2007 as a rookie with Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

Truex only claimed one victory from 2010-2013, at Sonoma Raceway in 2013 with Michael Waltrip Racing. In the aftermath of MWR’s “Spingate” scandal in 2013, Truex found safe harbor at Furniture Row Racing. After yet another winless season in 2014, he was paired with crew chief Cole Pearn.

Over the next five years the duo produced 24 Cup wins, the 2017 Cup title and four appearances in the Championship 4 even as they moved to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2019 season.

Truex will now race in a post-Pearn era going into 2020. The crew chief surprised many by resigning and announcing he was leaving NASCAR to spend more time with his family.

5. Brad Keselowski

While he had starts and even one win in Cup before the decade started, 2010 marked Keselowski’s first full-time season on NASCAR’s top circuit.

Though he went winless in his rookie season with Team Penske, Keselowski has since claimed 29 victories driving the No. 2 Ford and can tout himself as the first driver to win a Cup title for Roger Penske (2012).

Since his title, Keselowski has finished in the top five just twice, including making the Championship 4 in 2017.

Other decade highlights include: becoming winningest active Cup driver at Talladega (five wins), earning Team Penske its first Brickyard 400 win (2018), its first win at Darlington since 1975 and becoming Team Penske’s overall winningest driver.

6. Denny Hamlin

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver ended the decade with nearly the best season of his career.

Hamlin won six times in 2019, the second-most of his career, a year after he went winless for the first time in his career. That gives him 36 Cup wins in 14 full-time seasons.

Since 2010, his wins include the Daytona 500 (twice), Southern 500 (twice), at Martinsville (three times), Talladega and the Bristol night race (twice).

The biggest knock against the 39-year-old driver is that he remains the winningest active driver on the circuit without a championship.

7. Joey Logano

Logano had a rough start to his Cup career to begin the decade with just one win in three seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing. But Logano came into his own in the 2010s after joining Team Penske in 2013, eventually winning the 2018 Cup title.

Logano ended the decade having earned all but one of his 23 Cup wins. He’s won at least one race each year since joining Penske and has claimed victories in the Daytona 500, the Bristol night race (twice), at Martinsville and four superspeedway wins.

Logano has also reached the Championship 4 three times while also failing to make the playoffs in 2017.

8. (tie) Matt Kenseth

The first of two drivers on this list whose Cup careers came to an end before the decade did.

Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, claimed 21 of his 39 career wins during the decade, failing to win in two of his eight full-time seasons (including 2015 when he was suspended for two races).

Kenseth switched teams four years into the decade, going from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. That year he won a career-best seven races and finished runner-up in the standings for the second time.

Following the introduction of the elimination playoff system, his best season result was fifth in 2016.

Kenseth closed out his career in 2018 starting in 15 races for Roush. He also competed in the All-Star Race and won the pole for the event.

8. (tie) Tony Stewart

The driver known as “Smoke” tapped out of his Cup Series career after the 2016 season, taking with him three titles and 49 wins.

Only 12 of those wins came during his seven years of competition in the 2010s, but five of those victories occurred over a very important stretch in 2011.

Stewart claimed his third championship that year after he entered the playoffs winless and then won five of the 10 races in the “Chase,” including winning the season finale over Carl Edwards and earning the title via a tiebreaker.

Stewart would miss 26 races from 2013-16 – 10 races shy of a full season – due to injuries and the aftermath of the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy in 2014, but he did enough to earn a spot of recognition.

10. Christopher Bell

 Bell has the distinction of being the only driver on this list who has never made a start in Cup Series.

But Bell, who turned 25 on Dec. 16, has made his mark on NASCAR in a fast and furious manner prior to his rookie season in Cup next year with Leavine Family Racing.

The Oklahoma native has competed in national series from 2015-19. In that time he’s earned 23 national series wins, one Truck Series title and has reached the Championship 4 in all four of his full-time seasons (two each in Xfinity and Trucks).

He won a rookie record seven Xfinity races in 2018 and then topped that by one this year. Where will Bell land on this list in 2029?

Now it’s your turn to vote. Who was the best driver of the 2010s?

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JGR teammates prank Kyle Busch with 30,000 pennies

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. pranked Cup champion Kyle Busch by dumping 30,000 pennies on his bed as part of Truex’s payoff for losing a bet to Busch last month in New York City.

Hamlin, Truex, Busch and Kevin Harvick were all together in New York City promoting their appearance in the championship race in Miami. They were riding in traffic when Busch bet he could get to the hotel quicker by jogging. The other three took him up on it.

Busch arrived ahead of them and won.

Truex owed Busch $300 for losing the bet. Hamlin helped him come up with a creative way to pay it back.

Truex said on an Hamlin’s Instagram story: “It’s going to be fun to see his reaction. He’s going to be happy that he’s getting his money, I’m just not sure he’s going to be able to carry it home with him. We’ll see how this plays out.”

Busch didn’t know about the prank until Hamlin asked if he had seen Hamlin’s Instagram story.

“Took a look … and damn it,” Busch said after the banquet.

“I guess it’s in the pillow cases and everywhere. We’ll have to figure that out (how to remove them).

Asked if Truex was still good for paying off the bet that way, Busch joked: “He might get wrecked.”