In what could have been a somewhat quiet offseason in the NASCAR world, has since changed into one of the wildest in recent memory. 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.
It wasn’t just driver changes this offseason. There were plenty of changes on top of their pit boxes too. Pearn, wasn’t the only shock movement in the crew chief offseason world.
This week started off with Team Penske shuffling literally all three of their driver and crew chief combos. Brad Keselowski will go from Paul Wolfe to Ryan Blaney’s former crew chief in Jeremy Bullins for the 2020 season. Wolfe, then goes to Joey Logano’s car while Todd Gordon, who was Logano’s long time crew chief in the No. 22 Ford, slides over to Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford moving forward.
That’s a big wholesale change, one that Stewart-Haas Racing practically did themselves as well. Last month, they swapped Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer’s crew chiefs, as Almirola gets Mike Bugarewicz while Bowyer inherits Johnny Kausmeier. Then, factor in Daniel Suarez being replaced by Cole Custer and in turn Custer getting Mike Shiplett as his crew chief as Shiplett and you get seven of the arguably top eight Ford’s in the series having big changes within their race teams this offseason.
Also, Richard Petty Motorsports announced that Darrell Wallace Jr. will have a crew chief change in him getting Jerry Baxter now instead of Derek Stamets, and you can see where this has been a busy offseason.
Combining the 10 cars that have different driver as well as all these crew chief changes, that equates to 20 of the top 32 teams in the final 2019 NASCAR Cup Series owners points having either a different driver, a different crew chief, or even both heading into Daytona in 2020 compared to this time last year.
It’s actually easier to say who didn’t have any big changes compared to who did. Those teams/drivers are — Chase Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Ty Dillon, Ryan Newman, Michael McDowell, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Erik Jones.
Now, only two crew chief/driver combinations in the series have won a championship together — Kyle Busch/Adam Stevens and Kevin Harvick/Rodney Childers. In a sport where continuity between the driver and his crew chief mean the most, there’s been a lot of reshuffling this offseason.
I mean, just look at all the greats. Jeff Gordon had Ray Evernham. Richard Petty had Dale Inman. Jimmie Johnson had Chad Knaus. Truex Jr. had Pearn. I can go on and on. Everyone is now chasing that Truex/Pearn, Busch/Stevens and the Harvick/Childers combo. There’s a reason why Truex, Busch and Harvick have dominated under this Championship 4 era in winning four of the six championships and have been to the Championship 4 more than anyone else.
But, that’s not all either.
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.