INDIANAPOLIS — As the calendar shifts towards a close and in the coming weeks a new one is likely to be hung, the NASCAR world has seen a ton of change over the last few weeks. In fact, since Homestead has come and gone, plenty of big storylines have dominated the offseason.
Jimmie Johnson announced that the 2020 season will be his last. Cole Pearn and Felix Sabates have said that the 2019 season was their final ones. That means since early in this century, Chip Ganassi Racing is without Sabates and for the first time since 2013, Truex will be without his comfort zone.
All are big changes.
Then, factor in who will replace Johnson for 2021. Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones are all entering their final years of their current contracts. Alex Bowman, a current Hendrick Motorsports driver, is also heading into his final season with his contract too. The No. 88 Chevrolet lost Nationwide as a sponsor and didn’t gain a replacement yet. Do they scale back to three cars for 2021? Do they sign Bowman to an extension and bring a new driver in to replace Johnson? If they go the latter route, do one of those big name free agents jump ship and join HMS? If so, who replaces them in their rides?
While the race cars themselves were virtually be identical for 2020, the focus for next season may be for 2021 because of that and several other factors. That free agent class and the new gen race car will make noise for the 2021 season. Also, the schedule, which also will be vastly different for 2020, could have even more changes in store for 2021 too.
The finale isn’t in Homestead for 2020 — that shifts to Phoenix. The final races of the first three rounds of the playoffs are all switched too as now they will take place in Bristol, the ROVAL and Martinsville. Previously, it was the ROVAL, Kansas and Phoenix. That’s big as the Bristol night race moves back a month to September and will be not only part of the playoffs, but a cutoff race.
The start of the opening round also begins in Darlington for the Southern 500. Darlington, Richmond and Bristol — talk about a historic round.
The annual July stop in Daytona moves to the regular season finale. Indianapolis, which held onto the final stop of the regular season for the last two years, moves into Daytona’s old place in July.
Homestead moves from November to March going from the 36th to the sixth race of the year. Atlanta moves from the second race of the season back to the fifth. The bumps the west coast swing up which begins a week earlier now and starts immediately after the Daytona 500.
The Martinsville Spring race shifts to May and will be run under the lights. Pocono will run two races in the same weekend instead of two separate trips.
Head spinning yet?
David Ragan and Paul Menard retired. John Hunter Nemechek and Matt DiBenedetto replace them. The “Big 3” in the XFINITY Series all move up as part of a stellar rookie class for 2020. Christopher Bell replaces DiBenedetto at Leavine Family Racing, Cole Custer replaces Daniel Suarez with Stewart-Haas Racing while two-time defending NXS champ Tyler Reddick replaces defending Cup Series Rookie of the Year Daniel Hemric with Richard Childress Racing.
That’s not all either.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chris Buescher essentially swap teams. Buescher takes over the No. 17 Ford while Stenhouse joins JTG Daugherty Racing. Then, Stenhouse and Ryan Preece flip flop seats as Stenhouse will race the No. 47 Chevrolet and Preece the No. 37 Chevy.
Brennan Poole and Quin Houff join the “Big 3″ and Nemechek as Rookie of the Year Candidates.
Then there’s change with the series sponsorship. Monster Energy is no longer the entitlement sponsor. In fact, for the first time in decades, there is no sponsorship in place for that. The series went from ” NASCAR Winston Cup Series” to “NASCAR Nextel Cup Series” to “NASCAR Sprint Cup Series” to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series” to now “NASCAR Cup Series.”
To make up for it, they have tiered a presented by portion. Instead of one sponsor like Winston, Nextel, Sprint or Monster Energy, it’s four. Those spots are taken by Coca-Cola, GEICO, XFINITY and Busch Beer.
All caught up now? Good. Plenty of change is coming to 2020 but the focus will be larger and more likely ahead to 2021.