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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.

2019 Season in review: Kevin Harvick

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Kevin Harvick

CREW CHIEF: Rodney Childers

TEAM: Stewart-Haas Racing

POINTS: Third

WINS: Four (Loudon, Michigan 2, Indianapolis, Texas 2)

LAPS LED: 953 (Significant drop from 1,990 in 2018)

TOP 5s: 15

TOP 10s: 26

POLES: Six (Las Vegas 1, Richmond 1, Kansas 1, Pocono 2, Indianapolis, Texas 2)

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Was consistent throughout the season, never falling out of the top five in the weekly rankings (except for after the Daytona 500). Also, only once did he have two or more consecutive finishes outside the top 10. … Had second highest starting average (8.5) of his career.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Once again, finished third – for the third consecutive season. … Dropped from career-high eight wins in 2018 to four in 2019. … Pit crew mistakes continued to be a problem.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020: The 2020 season could be a very pivotal year for Harvick. Depending upon how it goes, it could help answer several questions about his future, including: A) How many more seasons will Harvick continue to race? B) Does he have three or less seasons left in him? And perhaps most importantly, C) Does he still have a second Cup championship in him?

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Top 19 moments from the 2019 NASCAR Season

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We’ve spent the last four days looking back at NASCAR in the 2010s through its most memorable quotes, its 10 best driver, best finishes and most memorable moments.

Now it’s time to look back at 2019 and the moments that defined the sport.

In chronological order, here are the top 19 moments from the 2019 season (watch the above video for more).

 

February 17, 2019 – DAYTONA 500

Following a restart on Lap 191, Matt DiBenedetto spun (after contact from Paul Menard) and sparked an accident that collected a total of 21 cars. This was the first of three multi-car wrecks in the closing laps of the race (Lap 195, Lap 199). Only three of the race’s 40 cars were not involved in crashes during this race (Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain). In the end, it was Hamlin taking home the victory, leading a 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing. The victory took place just over a month following the passing of team president J.D. Gibbs.

Hailie Deegan’S TWO WINS

Rising star Hailie Deegan earned two wins in 2019 in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West competition. Both wins came on exciting last-lap passes: Feb. 28 on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track, June 8 at Colorado National Speedway

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March 8, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT PHOENIX

After the first round of qualifying, Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell were involved in a scuffle on pit road. Suarez was upset with McDowell for getting in his way during the session. McDowell was unhappy because he felt Suarez tried to wreck him. McDowell’s crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer, rushed in and shoved Suarez onto the hood of McDowell’s car. Suarez tried to kick McDowell while still on the car.

March 17, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT FONTANA

Kyle Busch led a race-high 134 laps in his victory at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The victory was Busch’s 200th across NASCAR’s three national touring series (Cup, Xfinity and Trucks), becoming just the second driver to reach that milestone. Richard Petty had 200 wins during his career, all in the NASCAR Cup Series.

April 13, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT RICHMOND

Martin Truex Jr. held off a late challenge from Joey Logano to earn the win. It was Truex’s first Cup Series victory on a short track, having gone winless in his previous 80 attempts. This was the first of Truex’s series-leading seven victories in 2019.

May 18, 2019 – ALL-STAR RACE AT CHARLOTTE

Kyle Larson took home a check for $1 million by winning the All-Star Race. His victory was overshadowed a bit when Ryan Newman made contact with Clint Bowyer during the race’s cool down lap. Afterwards, an angry Bowyer rushed over to Newman’s car and threw multiple punches before crew members hauled him away. Neither driver was hurt.

FIRST-TIME WINNERS IN CUP SERIES

The NASCAR Cup Series saw its only first-time winners of 2019 in consecutive weeks. First, Alex Bowman passed Kyle Larson with six laps to go and held on to win at Chicagoland (June 30). The following weekend at Daytona (July 7), crew chief Peter Sospenzo had driver Justin Haley stay out during a caution following a massive multi-car accident, earning his first Cup Series win when the race is called due to weather.

July 13, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT KENTUCKY

Kurt Busch went from fourth to first during the overtime restart. He would then battle his younger brother Kyle on the final lap, passing the eventual Cup Series champ coming out of Turn 4 to take the checkered flag.

July 21, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT NEW HAMPSHIRE

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin engaged in a classic last-lap duel at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Harvick held off the hard-charging Hamlin in one of the best finishes of the year.

August 4, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT WATKINS GLEN

Following their epic duel the previous year at Watkins Glen, Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. went head-to-head again on the historic road course. Their battle came down to the final stage, and once again, Elliott was victorious. The race also featured Bubba Wallace spinning out Kyle Busch on Lap 62 after the two drivers engaged in some aggressive racing on the front stretch. On the previous Lap (61), Ryan Blaney spun Jimmie Johnson, leading the seven-time champ to confront Blaney after the race.

August 17, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT BRISTOL

Matt DiBenedetto was in pursuit of his first Cup Series win and led a career-high 93 laps at Bristol. However, he could not thwart the effort of Denny Hamlin, who made the winning pass with just 12 laps to go. During the NBC Post-Race Show, Hamlin and DiBenedetto embraced in a show of sportsmanship.

THROWBACK WEEKEND AT DARLINGTON (AUG. 31 & SEP. 1)

NASCAR honored its past during Throwback Weekend at Darlington as many drivers sported retro paint schemes belonging to the heroes of the past. Fans also welcomed back Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the driver’s seat just two weeks after a plane crash involving himself and his family. The weekend was capped by Erik Jones’ victory in the Southern 500.

September 29, 2019 – CUP SERIES PLAYOFFS AT CHARLOTTE ROVAL

Chase Elliott overcame his miscue on the Lap 65 restart on the Charlotte Roval, when he crashed into the Turn 1 tire barrier. Elliott rallied to pass Kevin Harvick with six laps to go and held on for the win. Alex Bowman, who finished second, grabbed the final transfer spot into the Round of 12. The event also featured a post-race altercation between Bubba Wallace and Bowman, who were involved in an on-track incident during Stage 2. Wallace walked up to Bowman, who was sitting next to his car, and splashed what appeared to be an energy drink in his face.

October 14, 2019 – CUP SERIES PLAYOFFS AT TALLADEGA

In a race determined by just .007 of a second, Ryan Blaney advanced to the Round of 8 with a thrilling victory over Ryan Newman at Talladega. The race featured three large multi-car wrecks, with the third and final one on Lap 182. During this crash, Brendan Gaughan‘s No. 62 car completely flipped, landing on its tires. Incredibly, Gaughan walked away from the crash.

October 19, 2019 – XFINITY SERIES PLAYOFFS AT KANSAS

A heated conversation between title contenders Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer turned physical following the playoff race at Kansas Speedway. The two drivers fell to the ground as they were swarmed by members of both teams. Reddick sustained a red mark above his right eye following the altercation.

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October 27, 2019 – CUP SERIES PLAYOFFS AT MARTINSVILLE

Martin Truex Jr. secured the first ticket to the Championship 4 with a dominant performance, leading 464 of the race’s 500 laps. The bigger story took place after the checkered flag when Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin got into a heated argument that led to a physical altercation. Team Penske crew member Dave Nichols Jr. was suspended one race for violently pulling Hamlin to the ground.

November 10, 2019 – CUP SERIES PLAYOFFS AT PHOENIX

Entering the Round of 8 elimination race at ISM Raceway outside Phoenix, Denny Hamlin was 20 points below the Championship cut line. As the race played out, Hamlin needed to win to advance to Miami. Hamlin pitted from the lead with seven laps to go and took just two tires only, winning the race off pit road. The decision paid off as Hamlin won to secure his spot in the Championship 4. Kyle Busch finished second to advance on points, joining Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick.

November 16, 2019 – XFINITY SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP AT MIAMI

Tyler Reddick became the sixth driver to earn back-to-back Xfinity Series Championships, and the first to achieve the feat while driving for different teams (JR Motorsports in 2018, Richard Childress Racing in 2019). The highlight of the race took place with 19 laps to go as Reddick and Cole Custer exchanged the race lead three times in one lap.

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November 17, 2019 – CUP SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP AT MIAMI

Kyle Busch earned his second Cup Series Championship with a hard-fought victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Following the race, he shared a victory lap with his son Brexton as the two cruised into Victory Lane.

 

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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