NASCAR’s busy stretch continues with the premier series in the midst of a four-race stretch in 11 days that includes a Sunday Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.
The stretch began with Cole Custer‘s win at Kentucky and continued to the All-Star Race at Bristol, won by Chase Elliott. After a Sunday Cup race at Texas, the series races at Kansas Speedway on Thursday night.
Here’s all the info you need for Sunday’s race:
(All times are Eastern)
START: The command to start engines will be given by four-time Super Bowl winning quarterback and sports broadcaster Terry Bradshaw at 3:08 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:17 p.m.
PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 8 a.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments at 1 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 2:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3 p.m by Bret Shisler with Texas Alliance Raceway Ministries. “God Bless America” will be performed at 3:01 p.m. by Texas singer/songwriter Rachel Bradshaw. The national anthem will be performed at 3:02 p.m. by members of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Trumpet Section: Kyle Sherman, Oscar Garcia and Cordelia Dedecker.
DISTANCE: The race is 334 laps (501 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.
COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 20
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 85. Stage 2 ends on Lap 170.
TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 2:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 2 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.
Eighty-three days after Kyle Busch celebrated his second Cup championship, the garage opens today at Daytona International Speedway.
And with it will be the sense of renewal and unbridled optimism that often pervades during the offseason and Daytona Speedweeks.
Such feelings are evident in drivers who think this is their year to win the Daytona 500 and with smaller teams that count on the race’s big payday to help fund their operations for the coming weeks. Hope also will be strong with those among the many driver and crew chief changes made since last year.
With all the good feelings entering Daytona Speedweeks, here are five storylines to watch:
1. When will Kyle Busch’s Daytona 500 drought end?
While Kyle Busch has won a summer Cup race at Daytona, three qualifying races, a Busch Clash, a summer Xfinity race, a Truck race, and an ARCA race, he’s never won the Daytona 500 in 14 previous attempts.
If it is any solace for Busch and his fans, Hall of Famer David Pearson didn’t win his lone Daytona 500 until his 15th attempt.
Others who needed more years before winning their first Daytona 500 were: Kurt Busch (in his 16th start), Darrell Waltrip (17th start), Buddy Baker (18th start) and Dale Earnhardt (20th start).
Of course, some Hall of Fame drivers never won a Daytona 500. Mark Martin failed to win the race in 29 starts. Rusty Wallace didn’t win in 23 starts. Tony Stewart, inducted into the Hall of Fame last weekend in a class that included Baker, did not win the Daytona 500 in 17 starts.
With Toyota the presumptive favorite again this season — based on few rule changes and Toyota’s 19 wins in 36 points races last year — will this be the year that Busch wins the Daytona 500?
But as Brad Keselowski recently said: “We want to be great. We want to win championships. You’ve got to recognize that winning races is still a significant accomplishment in this sport. It’s great competition week in and week out, so winning is good but also emphasize that greatness is the championship. We didn’t win it. It means we’ve got work to do.”
Daytona marks the debut of the new combinations. Keselowski is paired with crew chief Jeremy Bullins. Joey Logano is teamed with crew chief Paul Wolfe, who led Keselowski to a championship in 2012. Ryan Blaney is working with Todd Gordon, who guided Logano to the Cup title in 2018.
Crew chief strategy often is limited at Daytona because of the need for cars within the same manufacturer to work together (i.e. pit at the same time), but Speedweeks can be valuable for new driver/crew chief pairings with communication. After Daytona, Cup teams race seven consecutive weekends before the Easter break in April. If the communication falters, the results may not be as good.
3. Will the chaos continue?
Last year’s Daytona 500 saw 36 of the 40 cars involved in a crash, according to NASCAR’s race report (Racing Insights, which supplies statistics to NBC Sports, had 37 cars involved in accidents).
“It’s incredible to me how many times we were able to crash in the last 10 laps,” Jamie McMurray said after last year’s race, his final Cup start.
“Brains come unglued,” Kyle Busch said after last year’s race. “That’s all it is.”
There were three cautions, including two red flags totaling nearly 40 minutes, in the last 17 laps. Those incidents collected 29 cars and forced the race to go seven laps beyond the scheduled distance.
Such destruction has become a trend. The past three Daytona 500s have seen an average of 32 cars involved in accidents.
Last year’s Daytona Speedweeks was especially tough on Cup car owners. A total of 60 cars were involved in accidents in practices, qualifying races, the Busch Clash and the Daytona 500. That was an increase of 16.7% from the previous Daytona Speedweeks.
As another Speedweeks begins, key questions are how many cars will be damaged, how will that impact teams and who can emerge from the chaos to win?
The 18-year-old makes her debut on Daytona International Speedway’s oval with today’s ARCA practice sessions. Of course, she was on track a couple of weeks ago in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race.
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:
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.
The #2crew is family to me, and the way I see it, that family tree is growing. It’s been a privilege to work with Paul and all the guys who have supported us over the past 9 years, and I’m grateful for all we accomplished together. @TeamPenske is coming in strong in 2020.
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.
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 Cup teams will appear in Daytona with a slightly different look to their cars.
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.
– 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.
“Not many times do you get the opportunity to do that, to leave when you’re at the height of your success,” Pearn told The Sun. “We were ready to go on to do the next chapter.”
Pearn was tired of being gone from home so often during the course of the NASCAR season and not being around 7-year-old son Callum and 5-year-old daughter Freya.
“I’ve had a ton of great memories when we do get time together, but that day-to-day life, they’re not used to me being there, so for me I felt like the window was closing,” Pearn told The Sun. “I think once they’re teenagers they probably won’t want anything to do with me. If I was going to be part of their lives, the window was now. I think that really pushed us to make the decision as early as we did.”
“I know it’s what we needed to do. I’m sure there’s going to be things I’m going to miss, but at the same time it would have been hard to keep going.”
Even though Pearn doesn’t rule out the possibility of doing some consulting in NASCAR in the future, his decision to buy the skiing and hiking business is something “I’m definitely at peace” with, he told The Sun.
The seed of Pearn’s new venture was sewn nearly a year ago while he was on a skiing trip in Japan with the now former owners of Golden Alpine Holidays, which includes four rental lodges.
“It just seemed to cross a lot of the things off the list of what we were looking for,” Pearn told The Sun. “We finally came to a point this year where we found an avenue that we felt could work and we were excited about and we just decided to act on it.”
“We’re either going to do this or we’re not, and we didn’t feel good about any other options and that’s kind of how we settled on our plan.”