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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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Rodney Childers can relate to why Cole Pearn stepped away from NASCAR

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Cole Pearn shocked the NASCAR world last week when he announced he was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing, the No. 19 team and the sport as a whole to spend more time with his family.

Few people could better understand Pearn’s decision than Rodney Childers, crew chief on the Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 4 Ford driven by Kevin Harvick.

While Childers is not quite at the point Pearn was when he made the fateful decision to step away, he more than understands why his good friend did what he did.

“Cole has always been a simple guy,” Childers said on the Stewart-Haas Radio Podcast, Episode 43, with Mike “Nook” McCarville. “He was in a position to do whatever he wants. He’s more of a family man than I think anybody in the garage realized, what his wife and kids mean to him is quite impressive. No matter how many races or championships you win, none of that matters at the end of the day. What matters is those kids and how they grow up and what their dad means to them.

Now-former NASCAR Cup crew chief Cole Pearn. (Getty Images)

“I can promise you, I think about that stuff every day. I’ve done this stuff for a long time. I’ve raced since I was 12 years old. It’s been 31 years, that’s a long time to do it, for sure. You just have to keep plugging along. Some days are good, some days are bad but you have to have a supportive family beneath you, and I feel he definitely had a supportive family. … He’s doing it (retiring) because of what he loves and what means the most to him.”

Childers identifies strongly with Pearn’s desire to spend more time with his family.

“You look back in 2014 and 2015 when we were first started this deal, I was getting home at 10 o’clock every night and I was here at 6 o’clock in the morning,” Childers said on the SHR podcast. “The guys still joke about it but New Years Day came around and I said we were working, and they were like, ‘Well, that’s a holiday.’ And I said, ‘It’s not a holiday right now.’

“If you’re going to win races and run for a championship, you have to work. As a crew chief, you don’t get those days off. … The only time I see the kids is at night. If things are rolling real good at the shop, sometimes I can get out of here at 5:30 p.m. Other times, I don’t get home until it’s 7:30 p.m. or 8 o’clock and they’re already getting in bed. It’s dark when you leave to go to work and it’s dark when you get home and you don’t get a chance to play basketball with them, you don’t throw a ball, don’t go to the tennis court and you don’t take them to golf lessons. You don’t do any of that stuff. I see that with my own kids.”

Childers and Pearn may have been tough competitors on the racetrack, but they also became close friends over the years.

“We’ve talked for a lot of years,” Childers said on the podcast. “A lot of people don’t know this but the first person I called for an elite engineer position when I was starting the 4 team was Cole Pearn. He was just getting moved up into a crew chief position (at Furniture Row Racing) and wasn’t sure if he wanted to do that or not, but he made the best out of it.

“He worked under Todd Berrier out there (Furniture Row Racing was based in suburban Denver). Todd moved back to Charlotte to work for Gibbs and kept things going out there (Denver). We have a ton of respect for each other over the years. His way of racing was really like ours, they work hard and try to win races. We probably like being beside them in the garage than anybody else in the entire series.

“It’s funny, you put the two of us in a garage beside each other, and we act like teammates in a way. At Homestead (for this past season’s championship race), we were beside each other the whole weekend and talked the whole weekend and I remember I needed a tool and I borrowed it out of their tool box. We respect each other, don’t rat each other out. We see things on their car and don’t say a word and they see stuff on ours and they don’t say a word. That’s a lot of mutual respect.”

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Darlington Raceway unveils theme for 2020 Throwback Weekend

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Darlington Raceway on Wednesday announced the theme for its annual throwback weekend, Sept. 4-6, 2020.

The “Track Too Tough To Tame” will be “Celebrating NASCAR’s Champions … Past, Present and Future” and will recognize NASCAR champions in both the Cup and Xfinity Series during the weekend.

The three days will culminate in the opening race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, the legendary Southern 500, on Sept. 6.

“When you look back at the history of the sport and all the champions that have won our great championship and all those drivers that have won at Darlington, there’s almost 20 drivers that were champions in the same year that they won one or more races at Darlington,” track president Kerry Tharp said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

Tharp continued, “I think this gives teams a real opportunity to honor champions, whether it’s paint schemes or something on their car that honors champions of our sport. … We really thought this was the way to go and allows us to celebrate the past, celebrate the present and oh by the way, that first race in the playoffs at Darlington will be the first step towards the 2020 champion.”

This will be the sixth consecutive year that Darlington has held its award-winning throwback weekend, and also marks the 71st running of the Southern 500. The Xfinity Series will also host the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200.

“There is so much history and correlation between NASCAR champions and Darlington race winners that this Throwback theme makes our 2020 event that much more special for our fans, teams, partners and stakeholders,” Tharp said.

The NASCAR Cup Series has seen 33 different drivers capture 71 total championships since the series began in 1949. Drivers with multiple championships include Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson (all with seven championships apiece); Jeff Gordon (4); Lee Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Tony Stewart (all with three championships apiece); Buck Baker, Joe Weatherly, Ned Jarrett, Terry Labonte and Kyle Busch (all with two championships apiece), and 17 other drivers have won one championship each.

In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, 29 different drivers have won the championship since the series began in 1982: Jack Ingram, Sam Ard, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Tyler Reddick have all won two Xfinity championships apiece. There have been 20 other drivers who have won one championship each.

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