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What’s different in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2020

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The fog of the offseason has begun to lift and the start of a new NASCAR season looms.

When the fog clears, we will be met with the 62nd Daytona 500 on Feb. 16.

But this won’t be the start of just another season in NASCAR’s premier series. It will have a very different landscape compared to when the 2019 season ended in Miami in November.

While there’s a lot to breakdown for the coming season, it’s all essentially a preamble for 2021, which will see the Cup Series with its Next Gen car and potentially a very different race schedule.

Here’s what the table looks like for the Cup Series heading into 2020.

New Era, New Names

After serving in the role for three years, Monster Energy is no longer the entitlement sponsor of the Cup Series. With its departure also comes the end of the Cup Series’ entitlement sponsor model that had been in place since 1971 beginning with Winston.

After five decades of being the Winston, Nextel, Sprint and finally the Monster Energy Cup Series, the premier series will simply be called the NASCAR Cup Series.

2020 marks the start of NASCAR’s premier partner program, which includes Xfinity, Coca-Cola, Geico and Busch Beer.

Farther down on the series ladder comes the official merger of the ARCA Menards Series with NASCAR and what had been its K&N Pro Series circuits. The regional series will now be called the ARCA Menards Series East and West.

A glimpse at what Martinsville Speedway will look like at night. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Shuffling the Schedule

There’s a lot of expectations for what the Cup Series schedule will look like in 2021 after the end of NASCAR’s current five-year agreement with tracks.

But 2020 also has plenty of groundbreaking schedule developments.

– Martinsville Speedway will host its first official Cup night race on May 9. The short track also will host the final playoff elimination race for all three national series, with the Cup race held Nov. 1.

– Pocono Raceway will be the site of the Cup Series’ first ever doubleheader weekend June 27-28. Saturday’s race will be preceded by a Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series event and Sunday begins with a Xfinity Series race.

– Daytona International Speedway will host the Cup regular season finale, moving its second date from the traditional July 4 weekend to Aug. 29. The July 4 weekend race is now held by Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Cup races there July 5).

– Darlington Raceway and the Southern 500 will open the Cup playoffs on Sept. 6. It’s joined in the opening round by Richmond Raceway and in the playoffs for the first time, Bristol Motor Speedway, which will be the first elimination race.

– After being the site of the first elimination race the last two seasons, the Charlotte Roval will be the Round of 12 elimination race (Oct. 11) and be preceded by Talladega Superspeedway.

–  After a nearly two-decade run, Homestead-Miami Speedway is no longer the site of the championship weekend. Its place is now held by Phoenix Raceway, with the Cup championship race scheduled for Nov. 8. Miami’s Cup race will be March 22.

– Other notable changes: The Xfinity Series will compete at Martinsville (Oct. 31) for the first time since 2004. The Truck Series returns to Richmond Raceway (April 18) for the first time since 2005.

Chevrolet

Chevrolet Remodel

Chevrolet Cup teams will appear in Daytona with a slightly different look to their cars.

Chevy will field its Camaro ZL1 1LE model in 2020, replacing the basic ZL1 model. One reason for the change is difficulties with the latter’s pointed nose when it came to pushing other cars at Daytona and Talladega compared to Ford and Toyota and their flatter noses.

Familiar Names, Different Teams

When the full Cup Series starting grid forms for the first time at the Daytona 500, there will be a lot familiar faces sporting new numbers with new teams. That includes a rather accomplished rookie class.

Matt DiBenedetto debuts with Wood Brothers Racing in the No. 21 Ford, moving over from Leavine Family Racing and taking over for Paul Menard, who retired from full-time racing.

–  After a decade with Roush Fenway Racing, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. begins the 2020s with his first season at JTG Daugherty Racing driving the No. 47 Chevrolet. Teammate Ryan Preece will drive the No. 37. Stenhouse will have Brian Pattie as his crew chief. Preece will work with Trent Owens.

Chris Buescher left JTG Daugherty Racing to return to Roush and race the No. 17 Ford, which was vacated by Stenhouse. Buescher will be paired with crew chief Luke Lambert.

Christopher Bell moves up from the Xfinity Series to drive Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 Toyota along with crew chief Jason Ratcliff. Harrison Burton replaces Bell in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Xfinity car. 

Tyler Reddick was promoted by Richard Childress Racing to drive its No. 8 Cup car after winning the last two Xfinity Series titles. He moves up with crew chief Randall Burnett. Reddick replaces Daniel Hemric, who will drive a part-time Xfinity schedule for JR Motorsports.

Cole Custer and Mike Shiplett after their first win together in 2019. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images)

– Cole Custer and crew chief Mike Shiplett were promoted by Stewart-Haas Racing to take over its No. 41 Cup car, taking the place of Daniel Suarez. Suarez has not announced his plans for this season. SHR has not announced plans for its Xfinity program in 2020.

SHR also paired crew chief Mike Bugarewicz with Aric Almirola on the No. 10 and John Klausmeier with Clint Bowyer on the No. 14.

– Rookie John Hunter Nemechek takes over Front Row Motorsports’ No. 38 Ford, which was driven by the now retired David Ragan. Nemechek is paired with Seth Barbour at crew chief.

– Rookie Brennan Poole will drive for Premium Motorsports full-time in the No. 15 car. 

– After making 17 Cup starts in 2019, Quin Houff will race full-time in StarCom Racing’s No. 00 Chevrolet.

Joey Gase and J.J. Yeley will race full-time for Rick Ware Racing.

Martin Truex Jr. will have a new crew chief after the surprise resignation of Cole Pearn. The No. 19 team will be led by James Small.

Team Penske shook up its crew chief lineup for this year. Paul Wolfe will now work with Joey Logano, Jeremy Bullins is paired with Brad Keselowski and Todd Gordon is paired with Ryan Blaney.

Bubba Wallace also has a new crew chief. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver is reunited with Jerry Baxter, who he worked with in the Truck Series.

– Ryan Sparks joins Go Fas Racing after 13 years with Richard Childress Racing, primarily as an engineer, and will serve as crew chief for Corey LaJoie in the No. 32, replacing Randy Cox.

A Post-Jimmie Johnson World

Jimmie Johnson announced soon after the 2019 season finale that 2020 would be his final full-time Cup season.

That means the storyline of who will replace him in the No. 48 will simmer underneath the surface for much of the season. Who could succeed the seven-time champion?

Kyle Larson is entering the final season of his contract with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Erik Jones is racing on a one-year extension with Joe Gibbs Racing

Matt DiBenedetto is under a one-year deal with the Wood Brothers.

More possible candidates could include Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and others.

Building for the Future

Ford provided one of the biggest storylines of the offseason when it announced that Hailie Deegan was joining the manufacturer as a development driver after a few years spent in the Toyota pipeline.

Deegan will compete full-time in ARCA Menards Series with DGR-Crosley.

Joey and Caitlin Gase welcome twin sons

Joey Gase
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Xfinity Series driver Joey Gase and his wife Caitlin are now parents to twin boys

The babies were born on Wednesday. Their names are Jace and Carson.

More: Brad and Paige Keselowski welcome second daughter

Ryan Blaney among several drivers serving practice penalties at Texas

Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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FORT WORTH, Texas — Ryan Blaney and J.J. Yeley were held out of the first 15 minutes of the first Cup practice Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Blaney’s No. 12 Ford (which is in the Round of 8 playoff cars) and Yeley’s No. 53 Ford were penalized for being late out of the garage for qualifying the Oct. 26 qualifying session at Martinsville Speedway.

There were four practice penalties issued Friday at Texas in the Xfinity Series dating to its most recent race weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Gray Gaulding, John Hunter Nemechek and Joey Gase were held from the first 15 minutes of the first practice for failing inspection twice. CJ McLaughlin’s No. 93 Chevrolet missed the final 30 minutes of first practice for three inspections failures and being late to inspection at Kansas.

Ryan: Help thy enemy? Why it was the best strategy on Kansas restarts

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – With all the talk this year about the lack of autonomy afforded drivers because of rules that rob the accelerator of authority, restarts would seem the great equalizer.

If the low-horsepower, high-downforce combination makes you feel a little too stuck to the asphalt, let’s bunch them up and wave the green for 2019’s most consistently dependable spectacle on speeedways.

Five wide! Endless lane selections! Side-drafting in every corner!

It often seems as if drivers could treat restarts as they would reading a Choose Your Own Adventure story with limitless options.

In reality, restarts offer less opportunity for independence in certain situations.

The most critical restarts Sunday at Kansas Speedway were firm reminders of how nothing is as it seems when strange bedfellows emerge while getting back to full speed.

The first moment came on a restart with two laps remaining in Stage 1 (video above). Joey Logano restarted third by skipping a pit stop under yellow, and he charged around Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney to the high lane and the lead.

Behind him went Chase Elliott, who was on four fresh tires and also entered the race trailing Logano by 22 points for the last playoff transfer spot.

As traffic fanned out five wide, Elliott elected to tuck in directly behind Logano — pushing his chief rival to 10 stage points and a playoff point.

Wut?

“What else was he going to do?” Logano countered a reporter who asked him if he was surprised by the help. “He didn’t have another option. He was three wide and pinned in behind me. His only thing was to push me and to help himself. He didn’t do it to be a nice guy, I promise you that. He did it because it was going to help him. That’s what got him to second.”

Indeed, Elliott picked up nine points that helped make the difference in his advancement to the Round of 8 (over Brad Keselowski by three points).

But couldn’t he have picked another lane and made Logano’s life that much harder?

“The top is where you want to be on the restart,” Logano shrugged. “Obviously he got to second, so that was the only move for him. It was the smartest one. That’s why I went (to the high lane).”

Elliott gave Logano credit for forcing him into a decision that essentially left his No. 9 powerless to avoid aiding the No. 22.

“At that point, I was going to do what was best for me,” Elliott said. “Unfortunately, it helped him. At the point in time, it was the best thing I could do for myself and in those situations, you have to be as selfish as you can. Unfortunately, it was the best option and he happened to be the guy in front of me. It wasn’t by dumb luck. He put himself in a good position. He’s pretty sharp on that.”

Elliott was in the mix of two more crucial restarts that determined the race’s outcome and his playoff fate while underscoring how alliances can shift. The final two times the green flag waved Sunday, the top four consisted of Elliot and the Joe Gibbs Racing trio of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Erik Jones.

If it seemed like a recipe for the Gibbs Toyotas ganging up for a 1-2-3 finish, but Elliot managed to get second place and had some unexpected help from Jones when starting on the outside of the front row on the penultimate restart

“I was a little surprised that (Jones) gave me as good a shove as he did on that restart so appreciate that,” Elliott said. “At the end of the day, those guys moving their lane forward is going to help them. It might not look right at first, but you never know what is going to happen on the backstretch or down into Turn 3 that could give that guy behind you a shot to win. You’re just trying to do whatever you can to put yourself in a better position.”

Jones, who finished fourth, said working with his JGR teammates “was never talked about” on his team radio, but he did try to reduce Elliott’s momentum by pulling out of line briefly into Turn 1

“You want a team car to win,” Jones said. “But I wanted to win if our team car is going to win, so I would push (Elliott) on the restart, tried to split him on the top. It didn’t work. I was trying to get myself in a position to get to second to duke it out for the win with whoever it may be, whether a teammate or Chase. So there wasn’t really anything crazy teammate-wise we were trying to do.”

There was no expectation of tactical teammate precision from Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart, who said there is communication between Gibbs crew chiefs without a delineated strategy to help each other. “Everybody is pretty smart about playing chess at that point,” he said. “It’s about he who executes best. My guy did it.”

Said Hamlin: “There’s no guarantees at all. You just hope, from my standpoint, that the person that’s behind you gives you a push.”

The most important shove for the race winner came from the No. 18 Toyota of Busch, who stayed committed to the slower bottom lane to ensure Hamlin kept the lead into Turn 1.

“There was one that was really crucial,” Hamlin said. “If he dips out and takes us three‑wide, one way or another, our lane is dead, and the whole outside line just freight trains right by us all.”

Busch, who slipped from second to third on the final restart, said the move “proved that point” about being a team player.

His sense of resignation also might have revealed another reason he has been among the biggest detractors of the rules package.

Even when it seems you have options … sometimes, you really don’t.

“If you’re not in control of the last restart, then you don’t have a chance to win,” Busch said. “So oh well.”


Lapped cars were a hot topic this past weekend with Garrett Smithley essentially causing Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell to wreck while racing for the lead late in Saturday’s Xfinity race.

That sparked an avalanche of outrage from NASCAR Twitter, which had thoughts on Smithley making contact with a faster car for the second time in six weeks (Kyle Busch took umbrage at Smithley’s lapped car in the opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway). One of the amusing and (naturally) blunt tweets came from Kyle Larson, who had an encounter Sunday with the lapped car of Joey Gase.

Larson spun Gase when he impeded his progress through the outside lane in Turn 4.

“There were a lot of us, and I was trying to get a big run up top,” Larson said. “I was hoping to get a lane and didn’t get one, and I was so slow. I was already to his back bumper, so …  yeah.”

Was a message being sent?

“It wasn’t really a message,” Larson said. “More it was just I was in a hurry, and he was doing his best to get out of the way of the guys below, and more so just impatience on my part. Yeah, I mean I just had to go.”

That’s the right assessment of the situation. As long as NASCAR races have a few dozen cars in the field and a few hundred miles to race to the checkered flag, there always will be lapped cars that potentially can affect the lead group.

There isn’t much that can – or should – be done aside from changing the parameters that govern how slower cars are allowed on track and then stay there.

“There’s just a few cars that are way off the pace, and it just is what it is,” Larson told NBC Sports. “Selfishly, I’d love to say make the minimum speed higher, but I know they have a formula for how that works.”

As Bill France Jr. once famously said: You always need slower cars for the faster cars to pass.


It seems only a matter of time before the best remaining open ride for 2020 is filled, and it seems likely Daniel Suarez will remain in the No. 41 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Suarez said meetings with sponsors have gone well the past two weeks as his management team helps shore up the funding for the car and with Arris. The telecommunications company, which has sponsored Suarez in NASCAR since 2015, recently underwent management changes with new ownership.

Encouraged that Stewart-Haas Racing now can focus on his deal after re-signing Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola, Suarez said “good progress” was made on having his car sponsored after meeting the new Arris executives.

“There are a lot of things moving internally with Arris as a company, and overall that slowed things down a little bit, but everything is looking pretty good,” he said. “You make a relationship with somebody, and all of a sudden, they’re not making the decisions anymore. It’s like starting over again. There’s a lot of things in the middle helping. You have to do more than put a sticker on the car. Working on different scenarios to try to make racing make sense for everyone.”

There also seems to be building sentiment at SHR of delaying the elevation of Cole Custer to Cup until 2021 when the debut of the Next Gen car is expected. Custer is an Xfinity championship contender for the second consecutive year along with Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick, both of whom are headed to Cup in 2020.

Suarez said he hasn’t felt pressure from Custer’s success, though.

“If you look at it, there are three drivers winning a lot in Xfinity,” said Suarez, the series’ 2016 champion. “Eventually, they’ll all be in Cup. Have to remember as well that in today’s world, it’s way easier to win races in the Xfinity Series because there is not Cup drivers there anymore, compared to two years ago.

“At same time, all three drivers are strong, eventually they’ll make it to Cup because they have everything it takes to be there. But honestly, I’m not worried. I know what I can do. I know what I bring to the table on the track and off the track. That’s very important. We just have to be patient and make sure the timing is right.”


In a revealing interview about his professional future, Jimmie Johnson told Jeff Burton last week that he expects to win this season.

New crew chief Cliff Daniels believes his driver can end a two-year winless skid over the next four races (“I think we can win any of them. With good execution, great restarts and pit stops, any day could be our day”), and a victory positively would influence the decision Johnson is facing about driving beyond the 2020 season.

“I think it would, and I think it would add years (to Johnson’s career),” Daniels told NBC Sports. “I think if he wins this year, he’s going to be fired up just to keep going. That’s just my take on it. To see his hunger and his drive right now, it’s still 100 percent committed, which is pretty cool to see.”

Daniels, who took over the team at Watkins Glen International in August, said he and Johnson have had some conversations on the future. Daniels is confident the team won’t get distracted while Johnson mulls a career timeline (the seven-time series champion expects to inform team owner Rick Hendrick within four to six months).

“I think whatever level he’s going to want support or encouragement or advice, he’s going to ask for that,” Daniels said. “But as far as the team goes, I think everyone is aware, and we would be blinding ourselves needlessly to not be aware, and that doesn’t bother anybody, and that’s fantastic because the team knows that he still is operating at a really high level and performing at a really high level as a driver. With the way he approaches the weekend, the way he still stays good with his fitness, we’re here to give him our 110 percent, no matter what’s going on, to give.

“If he decided to hang it up at the end of this year or in three years, it’s going to change nothing about our approach. We are fully committed to building us back to where we need to be and then continuing that. And then once we get there, we have to sustain it. So again, whether it’s six months or three years, our approach doesn’t change.”


After three races of uncharacteristic blunders – some inexplicably occurring prerace – there were undoubtedly some uncomfortable conversations this week in the conference rooms at Team Penske headquarters in Mooresville, N.C. There were two loose wheels on consecutive days at Kansas for Austin Cindric and Joey Logano, and the latter nearly precluded the defending series champion from having another shot to reach the title round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Mistakes during championship runs aren’t totally unfamiliar to Penske – there was a period in the late 2000s when a comedy of late-season errors negated an IndyCar championship seemingly annually – but the “blocking and tackling” mistakes (as NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte calls them) are more egregious than just pit-stop miscues. While each has been a separate issue (e.g., Logano’s axle and Ryan Blaney’s hub failures at Dover; Brad Keselowski’s fuel pickup at Talladega), the rash of problems make it harder to write off as freak incidents and more indicative of a lack in quality control.

“We have to smooth out our days,” Logano said. “That’s the first thing and most controllable thing to work on is getting through the races with nothing happening. We shouldn’t have loose wheels when the race starts. We have to clean that stuff up. I’ve got to be smoother on the track and make sure I get the most out of it from there. We have to clean up pit stops and be faster there.

“We just got to look at every department and be a little better. We’re definitely not exactly where we need to be. I think we can close the gap. Don’t take that as I’m saying we can’t win this thing. We just have some work to do, and I know we’ll do it.”

Winners and losers at Kansas Speedway

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WINNERS

Joe Gibbs Racing — Team scored its 16th win in 32 races this season with Denny Hamlin recording his fifth victory of the year. All four of the team’s cars placed in the top seven with Kyle Busch third, Martin Truex Jr. sixth and Erik Jones seventh. Also, Brandon Jones won his first Xfinity race Saturday, giving JGR a sweep of the weekend.

Chase Elliott He raced his way into the Round of 8 for the third consecutive year. He is Hendrick Motorsports’ lone playoff car remaining.

Ryan Preece A few days after JTG Daugherty Racing’s hauler was damaged by a fire and his crew had to convert teammate Chris Buescher’s backup car into Preece’s primary car for this weekend, Preece finished 12th. That’s his best result since a seventh-place run at Michigan in August.   

LOSERS

Brad Keselowski Lost six spots on the final overtime restart, costing him a spot in the next round of the playoffs by three points. He entered the race 24 points ahead of Chase Elliott for the final transfer spot.

Slow cars — A tough weekend for a couple of slower cars. In the Xfinity race, Garrett Smithley, who was five laps down, said he didn’t realize the leaders were approaching and moved up the track, causing Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell to wreck. On Sunday, Kyle Larson turned Joey Gase, causing Gase’s race to end. Said Larson: “I was just trying to get a big run up top. There was a lot of us. I was hoping I could get a lane and I didn’t get one. I was already to his back bumper, so yeah. It wasn’t really a message, I was just in a hurry and he was doing his best to get out of the way of the guys below. It was more so impatience on my part.”

Ryan TruexMaking his sixth and final start of the season in the Xfinity Series, his race ended after four laps when the engine in his JR Motorsports car expired. Tough break for a driver trying to get back to a full-time ride.

Watch NASCAR America from 6-7 p.m. ET today on NBCSN with Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett for more on Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.