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Friday 5: Jimmie Johnson’s final Cup season also marks final tribute to friend

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The record books list Jimmie Johnson as a seven-time Cup champion.

But they are wrong.

They credit him with 83 Cup victories.

Again, they are wrong.

Truth is, Johnson has never won in Cup.

Blaise Alexander always beat Johnson across the finish line.

Alexander and Johnson got to be close friends when they raced against each other in what is now the Busch Series. As good of friends as they were, it made them want to beat the other that much more.

Alexander was killed in a crash during an ARCA race Oct. 4, 2001 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He was 25. Earlier that night, Johnson qualified for his first Cup race.

When Johnson drove his Busch car that weekend, one of his crew members, who was also was friends with Alexander, drew flames and Alexander’s initials on the front left bumper of Johnson’s car. That way Alexander would always cross the finish line before Johnson.

Johnson’s cars have paid homage to Alexander since. For a while, the design was drawn on to each car with a marker. Eventually, a decal was made and affixed in the same spot below the left front headlight sticker. Later, the tail number for the Hendrick plane that crashed and killed 10 was added to Alexander’s tribute.

During Thursday’s press conference, Johnson’s emotions remained steady as he explained the reasons why 2020 will be his final full-time Cup season.

But when asked about Alexander and how next year would mark the final year of the tribute on Johnson’s cars at NASCAR tracks, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson was taken aback.

He closed his eyes briefly, turned his head and was momentarily silent before saying, “wow” and shook his head.

“He was a very special friend,” Johnson said, taking a deep breath.

2. More of the same in 2020?

With the industry’s focus on the Next Gen car in 2021, one of the concessions is that there won’t be as many rule changes for next season.

In previous years, if a team or manufacturer was behind in one season, they could count on rule changes to possibly give them a better chance the next season. That won’t be the case next year.

So it leads to the question of what is to prevent a repeat of this season with Joe Gibbs Racing winning more than half the Cup races and putting three of its four cars in the championship race and winning the title?

Yes, Chevrolet has an updated car and there are some wind-tunnel testing restrictions, but will it be enough to top Toyota and Gibbs? Or will next year be more of the same?

“I would just say it’s all about optimizing all of your testing time and your simulation time to give the drivers the best chance of unloading quick, adjusting quickly and then executing in the race,” said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet. “I think that’s really what it’s about. There’s limited on-track testing, so it really comes down heavily to simulation, driver loop activity.  

“There is some aero testing. We’re limited, so we have to make sure every minute of those aero tests is productive, so that’s what we’ll do as a team. We have three major teams and we have a number of affiliates that we’ll use that to our best advantage. But it’s going to be about execution.”

Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, said he feels his teams can continue progressing with the package that will be used again next year.

“The rules changes for 2019, it took us a while to get our teams and our own heads around what those changes were and the aerodynamic effects especially, and I think we’ve seen some stronger performance in the latter half of the year, which we hope to continue into 2020,” he said. “I would also say that there are still rule changes for 2020, although the packages aren’t changing, some of the things like reduced wind tunnel time will be in place, and the effectiveness of your tools like aero, computational fluid dynamics will come into play more than wind tunnel testing is today. There’s still going to be, I think, some balance shifts. Maybe we’ll see who has the best aero CFD tool.”

3. A new tire isn’t that simple

As NASCAR looks at the racing, particularly at short tracks, one idea from fans is that Goodyear should change the tire so that it wears more.

But Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” that it is not as easy as that. He explained, describing what makes Homestead-Miami Speedway such a good track and why it’s hard to replicate that elsewhere.

“The variable degree banking is a terrific design,” Stucker said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It creates racing in multiple grooves. The surface itself is pretty worn now, so that’s really what promotes the (tire) falloff that we see at Homestead over the course of a fuel run, about 2 1/2 seconds through the course of those runs.

“You have to be very careful to say that we can go in and design a tire that is going to produce that kind of falloff at any given race track. The falloff you see at Homestead is because of that race track and the worn surface. The same would be true of Darlington. The same would be true at Chicago and Atlanta. Those are worn surfaces that have lost some of their mechanical grip. … You have to be very careful (to) say we want to do that at every race track because at some places it’s just not possible. The surface itself just has enough mechanical grip that it just won’t work.

“We don’t want to artificially influence falloff or tire wear because that leads to not a good situation. You want something that is a natural progression from a wear and a falloff perspective.”

4. Who will be the fourth?

Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and moderator for Jimmie Johnson’s news conference Thursday, noted that few would question Johnson’s place on NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore of drivers. Kelley raised the question of who would be the fourth.

NASCAR Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Leonard Wood and Rusty Wallace at Darlington Raceway in 2015. (Photo: Dustin Long)

It leads to an interesting debate. Presuming NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore features its three seven-time champions — Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Johnson — there could be quite a debate for the fourth spot.

Is it David Pearson? His 105 victories rank second on the all-time list. He rarely ran a full season but he did win three championships. Petty has said that he considers Pearson the sport’s greatest driver.

Or is it Jeff Gordon? His 93 victories are third on the all-time wins list and he has four championships in an era that was arguably more competitive than Pearson’s era.

Or is there a case to be made for Cale Yarborough? While his 83 career wins are one less than Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip each, Yarborough won three consecutive championships, a record that seemed unbreakable until Johnson won five in a row from 2006-10.

Or is it someone else?

5. Moving on

Overshadowed by Jimmie Johnson’s news this week was Justin Marks’ announcement Thursday that he was “hanging up the helmet.”

Marks, who came from a road racing background, made 79 starts throughout his NASCAR career among Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. He had 38 Truck starts and 35 Xfinity starts.

His one win came in the rain at Mid-Ohio in the 2016 Xfinity race there. No one could match him in the downpour there.

Marks has always looked at the sport in a different way with his background in multiple racing series. After finishing second in the inaugural Roval Xfinity race in 2018, Marks lauded the new way Charlotte Motor Speedway was used and said NASCAR could do more, suggesting a street course event.

“I’m a huge believer you have to take your product to the people,” Marks said that day. “In 2012, I went to the Long Beach Grand Prix as a competitor in the Pirelli World Challenge Series and I remember spending the weekend at that race there looking around at 100,000 people and thinking that 90,000 of these people aren’t racing fans. They’re here because it’s a great cultural event.

“I think that the days of people driving 500 miles from their home to spend four days at a race track camping are numbered.”

While he admitted there would be challenges with a Cup street race, he said: “I think it could be a hell of a show if they did it, especially if they went to a market like Detroit or LA or South Florida, or if they managed to pull something off in Nashville or Austin or something like that, great cultural hubs and great markets.”

As NASCAR looks to alter its schedule in the future, Marks’ words could prove prophetic.

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Career timeline: Jimmie Johnson through the years

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When Jimmie Kenneth Johnson first competed in motorcycle racing and then off-road truck racing, NASCAR seemed a world away.

But when General Motors executive Herb Fischel convinced Johnson a little over two decades ago that if he wanted to achieve even greater racing success, he had to head to NASCAR — in a Chevrolet, of course. Johnson agreed to try his luck in stock car racing and the rest, as they say, is history.

Even though he was from the West Coast rather than the South where most NASCAR stars back then hailed from, Johnson would go on to become one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history behind the wheel of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

The future Hall of Famer announced Wednesday that he will retire from full-time competition in the NASCAR Cup Series after the 2020 season. Let’s reflect back on some of the highlights of Johnson’s career:

1998 and 1999: Began his initial foray into stock car racing with a two-year stint in the ASA National Tour Series, earning two wins, 17 top 5 and 31 top 10 finishes in 40 combined starts. His first win in a stock car came on June 12, 1999 at Memphis Motorsports Park in the Greased Lightning 200. He dominated the event, leading 156 laps on the .750-mile paved oval. During those same two years, Johnson also dipped his toes in NASCAR racing, competing in eight races in the then-Busch Series for Herzog Motorsports, with a best finish of seventh on July 4, 1999 at The Milwaukee Mile.

2000: Still with Herzog Motorsports, Johnson competed in his first full season in the Busch Series, earning six top 10 finishes, with a best showing of sixth place at South Boston, Michigan and Homestead. But to this day, he’s still remembered by fans for one of the most vicious wrecks of his career, as his No. 92 ran off into the grass at Watkins Glen, vaulted into the air and slammed head-on into the retaining wall after his car suffered brake failure.

2001: In his final season with Herzog Motorsports and also his final full-time season in the Busch Series, Johnson earned his first win (Chicagoland Speedway), four top-five and nine top-10 finishes. Ironically, with all the success he would go on to experience in the Cup Series, Johnson’s win at Chicagoland was – and remains – his only triumph in what is now the Xfinity Series. In the same year, Johnson got his first taste of NASCAR Cup racing, competing in three races for Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, co-owned by Rick Hendrick and Johnson’s new teammate, NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon. It was an auspicious beginning: Johnson finished 25th, 29th and 39th in his three Cup starts.

2002: Johnson exploded in his rookie season in the Cup Series. He began by earning the pole for the Daytona 500, then went on to win the first of what would be 83 career Cup Series wins at his home track, California Speedway (now Auto Club Speedway). He would win two other races (both at Dover, where he would go on to win a career-best 11 times), had six top-five and 21 top-10 finishes and placed fifth in the final standings.

2003: Johnson finishes second in the standings behind Matt Kenseth. Earns three wins.

2004: Johnson finishes second in the standings behind Kurt Busch. Earned eight wins, which would become the second-most victories in a single season in his career. Also experienced one of the most tragic days of his life when, on October 24, Johnson won at Martinsville only to skip any victory celebration when it was learned that a Hendrick Motorsports plane carrying 10 headed for the race, crashed in Southern Virginia.

2005: Wins four races and finishes fifth in the standings.

2006: Johnson begins the season in a big way, earning the first of two career Daytona 500 wins, and then continues on to finish the season by winning his first career Cup championship, capturing five wins, 13 top five and 24 top-10 finishes. He also scores the first of four Brickyard 400 victories.

2007: Johnson wins his second consecutive Cup championship, paced by a single season career-best 10 wins, the only time he has earned double-digit wins in a season.

2008: Johnson wins his third consecutive Cup championship. Earns seven wins, including his second Brickyard 400 victory.

2009: Wins his fourth consecutive Cup championship, breaking Cale Yarborough’s record of three straight Cup titles. Once again earns seven wins, including his third Brickyard 400 triumph. Selected as Male Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press.

2010: Wins his fifth consecutive Cup championship. Earns six wins.

2011: His string of consecutive championships ends, as he has what many consider an off year, finishing sixth in the standings and earning just two wins, the fewest he would earn in a single season until he went winless in both 2018 and 2019.

2012: Finished third in the season standings. Won five races, including his fourth and most recent Brickyard 400 victory.

2013: Earns his second career Daytona 500 win. He also wins the summer race at Daytona for the first and only time in his career. Wins six races and caps it off with his sixth Cup championship.

2014: Wins four races but struggles in the first year of the new NASCAR Cup playoff format, finishing 11th, the first time he’s finished outside the top six in the final standings in his Cup career.

2015: In a similar storyline as the previous season, wins multiple races (five), but struggles in the playoffs and is eliminated in the first round, finishing 10th in the final standings.

2016: Johnson moves into NASCAR legend status when he wins his seventh Cup championship, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Once again earns five wins.

2017: Johnson earns three wins, including his most recent – and 83rd of his career – victory in the Cup Series on June 4. It also extends his record as the winningest Cup driver at Dover International Speedway to 11 wins in his career. He once again struggles to advance in the playoffs and finishes 10th.

2018: For the first time in his full-time career, Johnson goes winless. He earns just two top-five finishes, a career single-season low. Makes the playoffs but is eliminated after the first round and finishes 14th, which was a career-low (until 2019).

2019: For the first time in his career, he competes without crew chief Chad Knaus. They were split after the 2018 season. Johnson fails to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in his career and finishes a career-worst 18th in the standings. His winless streak reaches 95 consecutive races. Johnson announces that the 2020 season will be his last as a full-time driver in the Cup Series.

Two months ago on the Dale Jr. Download, as seen on NBCSN, Johnson gave some hints as to what he may do once his full-time Cup days are over with. Check it out.

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Jimmie Johnson’S CAREER – BY THE NUMBERS

1 – Made his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 7, 2001; he started the race 15th but finished 39th due to being involved in an incident.

4 – Won his first career pole in the Monster Energy Series in his fourth start; the 2002 Daytona 500; he started first but finished 15th.

4 – Number of career Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race wins – series-most.

5 – Only driver in NASCAR National Series history to win five consecutive championships – from 2006-2010.

 7 – Total number of career Monster Energy Series titles – tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the series-most.

11 – Career-most wins in the Monster Energy Series at single track – Dover International Speedway.

11.9 – Career average starting position in the Monster Energy Series – sixth-best among Cup drivers with 600 or more starts.

12.9 – Career average finishing position in the Monster Energy Series – sixth best among Cup drivers with 600 or more starts.

13 – Won his first Monster Energy Series race in just his 13th career start on April 28, 2002 at Auto Club Speedway; he started the race fourth.

Drivers Avg Finish Starts
1 Dale Earnhardt 11.061 676
2 Richard Petty 11.267 1,185
3 Buck Baker 11.374 636
4 Bobby Allison 11.493 718
5 Jeff Gordon 12.509 805
6 Jimmie Johnson 12.896 651

16 – Number of consecutive seasons with wins in the Monster Energy Series (2002-2017).

20 – Number of different tracks he has won at in the Monster Energy Series.

36 – Number of Monster Energy Series career poles – 17th-most all-time.

83 – Number of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career wins – tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough for sixth-most all-time.

227 – Number of Monster Energy Series top-five finishes – 11th-most all-time.

346 – Number of Monster Energy Series races he has led at least one lap – (53.5%).

364 – Number of Monster Energy Series top-10 finished – 10th-most all-time.

651 – Number of Monster Energy Series career starts – 26th-most all-time.

18,834 – Career number of laps led – ninth-most all-time

184,866 – Career number of laps completed – 22nd-most all-time.

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Jimmie Johnson announces that 2020 will be his final full-time Cup season

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Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, considered one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers, announced Wednesday that the 2020 season will be his final full-time Cup season.

“I know what this team is capable of, and I hope that 2020 is the best yet,” the future NASCAR Hall of Famer said in a video on Twitter.

Johnson’s contract expires after the 2020 season. Sponsor Ally extended its sponsorship of the No. 48 car in October through 2023. That led to questions of if Johnson would continue beyond next season. Johnson’s announcement comes three days after the Cup season ended. 

Johnson is tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most series titles. Some would argue that Johnson is NASCAR’s greatest driver, noting his record five consecutive championships (2006-10) and success in what is viewed as the sport’s most competitive era. Johnson’s titles also came with different types of cars and with various playoff systems.

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France issued a statement praising Johnson’s career:

“NASCAR history will always hold Jimmie Johnson in the highest regard, for his hard-charging success on the racetrack and the way he conducted himself as a champion off the track,” France stated. “This remarkable seven-time champion – through his competitive spirit, immense talent and sportsmanship – has made NASCAR a better sport. On behalf of my family and the entire NASCAR community, I thank Jimmie for his dedication to NASCAR and, along with his legions of fans, wish him all the best in his final season. I look forward to watching him race for wins and an eighth NASCAR Cup Championship in 2020.”

Johnson has 83 career Cup wins, which is tied with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time victory list, but has not won since Dover in June 2017. Johnson will enter the 2020 season with a 95-race winless streak. The 2020 season will be his 19th full-time campaign in Cup.

The 2019 season marked Johnson’s first without crew chief Chad Knaus. Kevin Meendering started the year as Johnson’s crew chief but was replaced by engineer Cliff Daniels in July before the race at Watkins Glen as the team struggled to make the playoffs.

Even with the move, Johnson failed to make the playoffs. It marked the first time since NASCAR’s postseason format debuted in 2004 that he was not a part of it. In his 15 races with Daniels this season, Johnson had four top-10 finishes with a best of eighth in the Dover playoff race.

Johnson has two Daytona 500 wins, four Brickyard 400 victories, four Coca-Cola 600 triumphs and two Southern 500 wins.

Career timeline: Jimmie Johnson through the years

Johnson will meet with the media Thursday afternoon to explain his decision.

While Johnson will not race a full schedule after 2020, he has said repeatedly that he plans to continue to race. He has expressed an interest in road racing and competing in an IndyCar race on a road course.

The timing of the announcement allows Johnson to celebrate one final season in Cup and gives Hendrick Motorsports time to find his successor with a move that could lead to significant changes in driver lineups for multiple teams for the 2021 season.

Johnson’s announcement sent shock waves through the sport.

Friday 5: Title race a reminder of how Jimmie Johnson looms over Cup

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Although Jimmie Johnson is not a part of the championship discussion this weekend, his shadow towers over the Cup Series and could play a role in how this generation’s drivers are judged.

The seven-time champion remains the only active driver with more than one Cup title heading into Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Should Denny Hamlin win the championship, Johnson will remain the only active multi-time champ. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, who also are in the Championship 4 race, each has one title.

All four drivers are members of the Johnson generation, a fraternity of talented racers who had the misfortune of competing during Johnson’s reign. Hamlin and Busch have each raced their entire Cup career against Johnson. Harvick started running Cup full-time in 2001, a year before Johnson.

In that time, they’ve seen Johnson win a record five consecutive titles from 2006-10 to go with crowns in 2013 and ’16. He’s also collected 83 series victories, which ranks sixth on the all-time wins list.

While Denny Hamlin (left) seeks his first Cup title, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch go for their second series crown Sunday. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“Definitely behind in wins and championships,” said Kyle Busch, who has 55 career Cup victories. “Why? The list goes on. It’s a pretty long one. So how many can you get now is about where it’s at. If I end with one (championship), that’s going to suck. If I can only get two, well, whatever. 

“But three, four, five, I think five’s still achievable. But when you get to this final race in this moment, this championship format the way that it is, and five years in a row and you only come away with one, that gets pretty defeating.”

Johnson’s success won’t keep Harvick, Busch and Truex out of the NASCAR Hall of Fame after their career ends. One Cup championship has been a gateway to immortality. Mark Martin, who never won a Cup title, showed that there’s still room in the Hall of Fame. Should Hamlin never win a series crown, he likely is headed to the Hall with his 37 career victories, including a pair of Daytona 500 triumphs.

While Johnson’s career is measured against Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, how should those who raced against Johnson be viewed since they have fewer titles?

One consideration is to look at the Championship 4 appearances by each driver.

This is Harvick’s fifth title race appearance in six years. Busch is making his fifth consecutive championship race appearance. Truex is racing for a title for a third consecutive year.

“I think there’s some merit to championship appearances,” Hamlin said as a measuring stick for greatness. “I think one race, winner-take-all, anything can happen. I mean, if you have a mechanical failure on Lap 25, does that mean you’re not good enough? You made the final four.

Making the final four is the culmination of your whole year. That is what deems your year a success. You made it to Homestead.  Every single driver here will tell you that. No one is going to discount their year based off of the outcome on this weekend.”

Said Truex: “I would say the odds are a lot worse in this system to win (a championship). I don’t know how to view that, to be honest. I don’t know if it’s final four appearances, straight‑up race wins. Championships are huge. I think it’s harder to win now than ever. Maybe one means more than one used to.”

2. Picking the right strategy

The strategy for Sunday’s race would seem easy for the Cup title contenders. Set the car up for a short run. Since the winner-take-all format in 2014, four of the five title races have had cautions in the last 15 laps, setting up a short run to the finish.

Last year, Joey Logano, whose car was set for the short run, passed Martin Truex Jr., whose car was set for a long run, with 12 laps left to win the race and the championship.

Kevin Harvick warns it’s not quite that simple with strategy, especially for a race that starts in the afternoon and ends at night under cooler track conditions.

“The only problem with short runs is you got to stay on the lead lap during the day,” Harvick said of when track conditions are warmer and more challenging to a car’s handling. “So you have to have some good balance and good adjustability built into your car. 

“The short run has definitely been what’s won this race over the past few years, but having … the proper track position to take advantage of that short‑run speed is still necessary in the first half of the day. I don’t think these cars are going to race like what we have raced here before.

“I just don’t see the characteristics being exactly how they have been in the past for the amount of laps and things that have happened when your car is good and when your car goes to falling off and things like that. I think that those numbers are going to change. I don’t know exactly what that number will be as far as the crossover and falloff, but we’ll just have to see.”

3. End of the road

This weekend marks not only the end of the season but the end of a journey for Ross Chastain.

He’ll race for a Ganders Outdoor Truck Series championship tonight and run in Sunday’s Cup season finale. When the weekend ends, he will have competed in 77 races across Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. That equals the number of races Kyle Busch ran in those series in 2006. Busch topped that total three times, including 2009 when he ran 86 races across those series.

“Yes, I’m tired,” said Chastain, who will compete in 23 Truck, 19 Xfinity and 35 Cup races this year. “The best part about it is that if I had a bad race, I had another one in a couple days, I would forget about it. … Now the bad part was when we had a good race, I didn’t have any time to celebrate.

I don’t know what the future will hold on that. I don’t know if we’ll hit this many races for years to come. There’s a reason nobody does it.”

Chastain will run the full Xfinity schedule next year for Kaulig Racing and is expected to also be back in Cup.

“I’m a big yes man,” said Chastain, who ran 74 races across all three series last season. “If any NASCAR team owner calls me, stops me at the track and says, ‘I want you to drive for me.’ I’m like, Of course. I’ve begged all these guys for years. Now that they say yes, I’m like, Of course, yes.”

Here’s a look at the most races run in a season in recent years (Note: Chastain’s stats are entering this weekend in Miami)

Season

Driver

Trucks

Xfinity

Cup  

Total

2009

Kyle Busch

15

35

36

86

2008

Kyle Busch

18

30

36

84

2010

Kyle Busch

16

29

36

81

2006

Kyle Busch

7

34

36

77

2019

Ross Chastain

22

19

34

75

2010

Brad Keselowski

4

35

36

75

2006

Clint Bowyer

3

35

36

74

2018

Ross Chastain

7

33

34

74

2013

Kyle Busch

11

26

36

73

2007

Carl Edwards

2

35

36

73

To end the season, Chastain will have a different type of motorhome for the weekend. He borrowed one from a friend and made the 3 1/2-hour drive from Ft. Myers, Florida to Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Plugged in, got air‑conditioning, water, everything,” Chastain said. “Yeah, you go in and you turn and there’s a door and there’s a bathroom. Most campers and buses, there’s a bedroom. There’s no bedroom. The bedroom is the living room. It’s small. Yeah, it’s cool.”

4. Meaningful title

While the Cup driver and owner titles will be determined Sunday, the manufacturer’s crown was claimed last weekend at ISM Raceway by Toyota, which won the crown for the third time in the last four years. 

The manufacturer championship is overlooked by many but not those at Toyota.

“That championship I wish garnered more than it does,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports. “You can make no mistake, for Toyota that’s an important championship. That’s one that resonates all the way back to Japan.

“The culture of racing internationally is a little different than with NASCAR, which is a driver-centric sport and always has been and will be, and that’s great. But everywhere else we race, it’s manufacturer-centric. It’s Toyota against Porsche, Audi or somebody.”

5. A new view

Derek Kneeland, who has been Kyle Larson’s spotter, will be Tyler Reddick’s spotter next year in Reddick’s rookie Cup season.

“What brought it all into perspective for me is when I was running part‑time at Ganassi (in 2017), I would go up and sit or stand next to Derek during practice, the races, really get an understanding of his vantage point, what he sees, how he communicates, how well of a job he did,” said Reddick, who races Christoper Bell, Cole Custer and Justin Allgaier for the Xfinity title Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“That brought it all together for me when I was doing those races when I did have him, when I was in the racecar, it gave me a better understanding of how hard that job is and how good he was at it.

“It just came about that he wasn’t going to return (to work with Larson) next year. He was having a lot of fun working with me. Everyone at RCR really enjoyed how well of a job he did at Talladega to get our first win of the year, week in, week out.

Kyle Busch to compete in Rolex 24 in 2020

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
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PLANO, Texas — Kyle Busch will compete in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Toyota Racing announced Monday.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is scheduled for Jan. 25-26.

Busch will be one of the drivers for AIM Vasser Sullivan and drive the Lexus RC F GT3 car.

“I’d like to thank everyone at Lexus Motorsports and AIM Vasser Sullivan and Toyota for this opportunity,” Busch said. “To have the chance to run in such an iconic race as the Rolex 24 is certainly something I’ve thought about and wanted to do. My partnership with Toyota and the history we’ve had together has been incredible. I would love to continue that history and maybe get my Daytona Rolex to add to my trophy collection.”

This will mark Busch’s debut in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Rolex 24. He will compete in the GTD class.

“We’re thrilled to have a racer of Kyle’s caliber join AIM Vasser Sullivan to open our 2020 season at the Rolex 24 at Daytona,” said Jimmy Vasser, co-owner of the team. “Kyle has proved he can compete and win in many forms of motorsports and we look forward to having him drive the Lexus RC F GT3 at Daytona.”

Busch will participate in the 2020 Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 3-5 to prepare for the race.

Busch follows several NASCAR drivers who have competed in the event, including Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and AJ Allmendinger, among others.

The only other time Busch has competed on Daytona’s road course was in 2009 when he co-drove a Lexus with Scott Speed for Chip Ganassi Racing and finished 10th in the Brumos Porsche 250, the night before the July Cup race there.

Busch, the 2015 NASCAR Cup champion, seeks to advance to the championship race in the Cup Series for the fifth consecutive year.