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Silly Season Scorecard: Post-Miami edition

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NASCAR’s championship weekend in Miami has come and gone and with it came a flurry of driver announcements from teams about the 2020 racing season.

Among them was the news that Cole Custer is being promoted by Stewart-Haas Racing to the Cup Series, where he will take over the No. 41 Ford driven by Daniel Suarez this year.

Here’s a look at all the official driver announcements made so far for next season.

OPEN RIDES ANNOUNCED FOR 2020

No. 38: Front Row Motorsports must replace David Ragan, who stated Aug. 14 that 2019 would be his final season running a full schedule.

No. 36: Front Row Motorsports announced Nov. 13 it was parting ways with Matt Tifft so he could focus on his health following his seizure at Martinsville in March. Tifft said he could not commit to racing in 2020.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Nov. 1 a multi-year extension with Kurt Busch.

No. 6: Roush Fenway Racing announced Oct. 30 that Ryan Newman would return to the car as part of the news that Oscar Mayer would sponsor the No. 6 through 2021.

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer was announced Oct. 17 as returning to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth season.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Nov. 15 Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

JTG Daugherty Racing: It was announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Preece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher. The team said that an announcement on car number and sponsor would come later.

Rick Ware Racing: JJ Yeley will drive one of the team’s three full-time rides.

AMONG THOSE YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Daniel Suarez — The driver revealed Nov. 14  he would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020 after one season driving the No. 41.

Corey LaJoie – The driver hasn’t announced his plans for 2020, but he said in October he and Go Fas Racing were “working toward” him returning to the No. 32 Ford. The team announced on Nov. 1 it would enter a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year and that “2020 driver negotiations are still ongoing.”

Xfinity Series 

Ross Chastain – Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 he would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, joining Justin Haley.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Announced Oct. 17 Harrison Burton will drive its No. 20 Toyota full-time in 2020. Announced Oct. 31 Brandon Jones would return for a third year in the No. 19. Revealed Nov. 5 it would field a third full-time entry with Riley Herbst in the No. 18.

JR MotorsportsJustin Allgaier will return to the team for a fifth year in the No. 7 Chevrolet. The No. 8 car will be driven by Daniel Hemric for 21 races, Jeb Burton 11 races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one race. Noah Gragson will also return for a second season in the No. 9 car, while Michael Annett returns for a fourth year with the team in the No. 1 car.

Richard Childress Racing — Has not announced its driver plans for 2020, but Richard Childress said after Tyler Reddick claimed the Xfinity title that it would field a full-time entry.

Stewart-Haas Racing – The team has not announced plans for the No. 00 Ford with Cole Custer moving to Cup or whether Chase Briscoe will return to the No. 98.

JD MotorsportsJesse Little will compete full-time for the team.

Truck Series

GMS RacingDriver lineup will include Brett Moffitt, Sam Mayer, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum

Kyle Busch MotorsportsRaphael Lessard will drive the No. 4 full-time while Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 full-time.

Hattori Racing EnterprisesAustin Hill will return to the No. 16 Toyota for a second year.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. named honorary starter for 2020 Daytona 500

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It looks like Dale Earnhardt Jr. will complete a row on his Daytona 500-themed Bingo card next year.

Daytona International Speedway announced Monday that the NBC Sports analyst will be the honorary starter and will wave the green flag to begin the Feb. 16 Daytona 500.

A two-time winner of the “Great American Race,” it will mark the third year in a row Earnhardt has been part of the pre-race ceremonies for the event. In 2018, he gave the command to start engines and this year he was the honorary pace truck driver.

Include a win in the race, his 2011 pole as one box and that’s Bingo.

“The only thing left for Dale now is for him to sing the National Anthem prior to the Daytona 500,” said Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile in a press release. “That probably won’t happen. But what will happen, come February, will be another outpouring of support from race fans about Dale’s involvement. There’s no way to exaggerate how much he means to the fans and to NASCAR. Any role he plays on a Daytona 500 weekend is significant.”

In the press release, Earnhardt joked “One thing is certain, I’m not doing any singing at Daytona no matter how hard they ask. But I am going to enjoy waving the green flag in February. The start of the Daytona 500 is a special moment in not only NASCAR but all of sports. I am truly honored to be part of that.”

2019 Cup Series season by the numbers

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That’s it, it’s over.

After 10 months the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season came to an end Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway as Kyle Busch claimed his second series title.

A lot happened between Denny Hamlin‘s win in the Daytona 500 in February and Busch’s crown-seizing moment 290 miles south in Miami.

More: Miami weekend ends with never-before-seen achievement

Here’s a look at some of the interesting stats that made up the 2019 Cup campaign, courtesy of Racing Insights:

— The Cup Series competed in 36 races that accounted for 10,255 laps and 13,776 miles.

— Sixty-four drivers competed in Cup in 2019

— There were 13 different winners

Kevin Harvick led the series with six poles and Martin Truex Jr. had the most wins (seven).

— Two drivers earned their first Cup wins: Justin Haley (Daytona II) and Alex Bowman (Chicagoland). It was the first time there were first time winners in consecutive races since 2007

— Hendrick Motorsports led the series with 10 total poles (William Byron led the team with five)

— Hendrick Motorsports swept the front row in qualifying seven times

— Five races were won from the pole

—  Three races were won from a starting position outside the top 20: Denny Hamlin at Kansas II (23rd), Martin Truex Jr. at Las Vegas II (24th) and Justin Haley at Daytona II (34th)

— Kyle Busch continued his active streaks of the most consecutive seasons with a win – 15 (2005-2019) – and a pole – 12 (2008-2019).

Ryan Newman is the first Roush Fenway Racing driver with at least 13 top-10 finishes (14) since Carl Edwards in 2014 (14).

— Both Chip Ganassi Racing drivers won in 2019, the first time since 2010 they had two drivers win in the same season

— Five drivers ended winless streaks of 30 or more races in 2019: Denny Hamlin (47 races), Kurt Busch (30), Erik Jones (42), Kyle Larson (75), Ryan Blaney (37)

— The Stage 2 winner (plus Stage 3 in the Coke 600) went on to win 15 races

— Six races had an overtime finish in 2019: Daytona 500, Kansas I, Michigan I, Kentucky, Pocono II and Kansas II

— Three of the six races with overtime finishes were won by Denny Hamlin (Daytona 500, Pocono II and Kansas II)

— Kyle Busch won 40 times in the 2010s, the most of all drivers

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David Ragan, Paul Menard end full-time Cup careers in quiet fashion

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While most of the NASCAR world’s attention Sunday evening was focused on which of the Cup Series’ Championship 4 drivers would leave Miami with the title, the full-time Cup careers of two drivers quietly came to an end.

David Ragan and Paul Menard drove into sunset, ending full-time careers that each began in 2007.

After being recognized by NASCAR President Steve Phelps in the drivers meeting, Ragan’s 470th Cup start ended with a 27th-place finish, while Menard’s 471st start ended with a 17th-place run.

While Menard finished one lap down, Ragan’s night ended with him four laps off the lead pace.

“Our last race was really uneventful,” Ragan said afterward. “We tried some strategy a few times and it kind of bit us. We probably lost a lap or two that we shouldn’t have, but we were being aggressive because we didn’t really have anything to lose. I can’t say enough about everybody at Front Row Motorsports and the NASCAR industry for making this last weekend special. It was a tough season. I wish we had some better results to show for it, but the last season won’t dictate my 13-year career. We’ve had a lot of fun, a lot of good memories and don’t regret anything that we’ve done. I’ll sleep good tonight and think a little bit over the offseason on what I want to do next year and I’m sure I’ll be around.”

To top off the occasion, soon after he exited his No. 38 Ford for the last time, Ragan swapped out his racing helmet for another form of head gear that properly conveyed his new job description, or lack thereof: a dark blue hat with the word “retired” emblazoned on it.

As for Menard, no quotes were available from the typically quiet driver after the race.

But not long before the start of Sunday’s race, the Wood Brothers Racing Twitter account produced a lengthy tweet storm thanking Menard and his family for their contributions to NASCAR and auto racing in general over the years.

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Call to ‘dance with the fire’ leaves Denny Hamlin burned on pit gamble

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – There were several aggressive calls by Chris Gabehart that got Denny Hamlin back to the championship round this season.

But the first-year crew chief’s final gamble might have cost Hamlin the championship.

With Hamlin running second and closing in on Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, the No. 11 team applied a thick swath of tape to the right side of Hamlin’s front grille in the hope of gaining speed during its last scheduled pit stop with 58 laps remaining.

The aerodynamic adjustment backfired, forcing Hamlin to pit again 12 laps later with an engine on the verge of overheating.

“We beat ourselves right here just trying to get too much because that’s what you do in the championship race of the playoffs,” Gabehart said. “We just tried to pull off a really difficult play and didn’t get it done and unfortunately, as good as our car was at the end, I don’t know if we needed it anyway, but a race team isn’t going to be this good because they don’t live by the fire.

“You’ve got to dance with the fire to beat these guys. That’s what this race team does, but the problem with dancing with it is, every now and then you get burned.”

Hamlin, who rebounded to finish 10th despite the race staying green through the end, seemed fine with the tradeoff. He and Gabehart had a short and upbeat conversation outside his car after the race that ended with mutual pats on the shoulder.

Hamlin smiled and shrugged his way through several questions about the call, noting that similar strategic aggression by Gabehart had contributed to him scoring six victories in 2019 (his most in nine years) – including a clutch victory at ISM Raceway last week (sealing it on another aggressive call for two tires)

After overcoming a mediocre first two stages, Hamlin led his first (and only) two laps after a final restart with 101 laps remaining. He was within striking distance with Busch when he made the fateful pit stop, and his engine temperature began to spike to its limits.

With more than 40 laps remaining, there was no hope of the engine living through the checkered flag without “a miracle” or a caution flag, so Hamlin was forced to stop.

“It was going to blow up or run out of water, and at that point, if I stayed out and was going to blow, now it’s going to possibly screw my teammates over out of getting a win,” Hamlin said. “We were a stone’s throw to Kyle, and at the end of the runs, we’d run back to him

“At that point, our car woke up, I woke up, and it was fast. It was going to be fun. I was really looking forward to running those last 40 laps, 50 laps. And having the challenge of ‘Can I get them?’ ”

Gabehart thought his driver could with the help of a risky adjustment that was highly unfamiliar for his team to make under pressure.

“It’s uncharted territory for how our cars are built,” Gabehart said. “There’s no need to get into more specifics than that. We just didn’t execute that play. I wish I could have it back and just not have been so greedy there. I don’t know that we needed it anyway. I think we were at least going to get there, which is all you can ask for, right? Line up at the end with a shot.

“And we had a shot. Golly. We were awful. We were awful for two straight stages, and Denny Hamlin says we are not done. I don’t care. I’m going to drive this race car all the way to the end of this race because I believe in my race team. They will get it better. And at the start of that last stage, we got it better, and we had a shot at them and we just got burned.”

The tape was hastily slapped on the car just as Hamlin was leaving the car, but Gabehart said he was fully responsible for the error and wasn’t angry at his pit crew.

“Oh heck no, man,” he said. “This is pro sports. Winners want the ball and take the shot, and sometimes they miss it. And my race team is full of winners, and they want the ball. That doesn’t mean they’re going to execute every time, but they want the ball.

“It has nothing to do with the pit crew. I am the leader of this race team. I called an aggressive play. They tried to execute it, because that’s what they do. That’s what their job is. And it doesn’t mean they’re going to make it every time. But this is not in their playbook. What we tried to pull off right here is trying to win Homestead and let the emotion of the moment get the best of you trying to do it and we just got too aggressive plain and simple. That’s OK. That’s on me.”

Hindsight was even more painful given how fast the No. 11 was after the unscheduled stop. Gabehart said Hamlin probably wouldn’t have needed the tape.

“But in the heat of the moment, and you’re fighting for your life, you want every last hundredth of a second, so that’s the nature of what we do,” Gabehart said. “We tried to get every last hundredth of a second, and that’s what we did, and it just didn’t work out.”

Did Hamlin think he could have won without the extra stop?

“I don’t know,” he said. “It remains to be seen, right? I stayed right there within a couple of seconds of (Busch), but at this racetrack, you can’t use all the tricks until the end because it puts your car at risk, but I was getting ready to give it all I had. I’d empty the tank and if we crash, we crash. Who knows.

“(Busch) was very good, let’s not discredit that. But would have loved the shot to get him.”

No one else seemed to think less of the effort by Hamlin, who received nonstop well wishes and autograph requests from track workers and fans on the short walk from his car to the media center.

Former crew chief Darian Grubb congratulated him with a handshake. Austin Peyton, his childhood friend and longtime personal manager, gave him a hug as they walked together. Cup Series director Jay Fabian offered a hearty “Good job” and more words of encouragement.

Though there was no postrace visit as there had been in 2014 from Michael Jordan (the NBA legend was in attendance again and chatted with Hamlin before the race), Hamlin at least could look forward to a birthday celebration Sunday (he will turn 39) and a party to celebrate his season.

With no regrets.

“I was frustrated for sure (by the pit stop miscue), but (Gabehart) is going for it,” Hamlin said. “He is going for it. It’s just the way it is.

“We’ll go next year and win a lot of races. We’re going to win a lot. Hopefully get ourselves back in this position again, learn from it and see what happens.”

Crew chief Chris Gabehart watches practice Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway (AP Photo/Terry Renna).