Offseason Recap, Things To Watch For 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Season

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — It’s hard to believe, but we’re almost to the start of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. Between Homestead last November and Daytona this February, a lot of change has occurred. Plus, factor in the change that was already scheduled and 2020 is going to look at lot different than 2019 and prior.

Here’s what you may have missed and what to look forward to this season.

Scheduling Overhaul

The schedule will be vastly different for 2020 and could have even more changes in store for 2021 too. Before we get too far ahead, lets focus on this season first.

The finale isn’t in Homestead anymore for 2020 — that shifts to Phoenix. The finale will also take place a couple of weeks earlier than normal too (Nov. 8) to allow for a longer offseason.

Then, the final races in each of the first three rounds of the playoffs are all switched too as now they will now 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 too.

The start of the opening round also begins in Darlington for the Southern 500 instead of Vegas like the last two years. Darlington, Richmond and Bristol will make up Round 1 — 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?

New Entitlement Sponsor Tiers

There’s also been change with the series sponsorship model. 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.

Plenty Of Change Between Rides Or Crew Chiefs

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.

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.

Team Penske shuffled 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.

That’s it.

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.

Should See Better Racing On Short Tracks

NASCAR listened to the race fans about the boring new rules package on short tracks in 2019. They ho-hum races left fans wanting more. So, NASCAR has altered the rules from 2019 to 2020 on these types of circuits.

The changes include significantly smaller spoilers, splitters and other aerodynamic devices in an effort to place a greater emphasis on handling and driver input with less stabilizing downforce on those tracks. The package draws inspiration from similar rules used in the 2017-18 seasons.

“Our first and foremost core goal is to deliver great racing, and I think that we constantly evaluate the things that we do on the race track, however and wherever we need to, to improve that situation for them,” said John Probst, NASCAR Senior Vice President, Innovation and Racing Development. “And as part of our normal ongoing critique of ourselves and how we’re doing, we just felt like this was a good opportunity for us to improve the on-track product at the short tracks and road courses.”

Among the changes for those specific tracks:

  • A significantly smaller rear spoiler, which shrinks from an 8-inch height to 2.75 inches.
  • The front splitter’s overhang will now measure a quarter-inch (down from 2 inches), with approximately 2-inch wings (reduced from 10.5 inches).
  • Alterations to the radiator pan, removing its vertical fencing in an effort to reduce front-end downforce. The dimensions of the pan remain the same.

The changes will be in effect for nine of the 24 layouts — three road courses and six ovals — that the NASCAR Cup Series will visit in 2020.

The six oval tracks that will use the new rules this season:

  • Bristol Motor Speedway (.533 miles)
  • Dover International Speedway (1 mile)
  • Martinsville Speedway (.526 miles)
  • New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1.058 miles)
  • Phoenix Raceway (1 mile)
  • Richmond Raceway (.75 miles)

All three road courses on the Cup Series schedule will have the new rules in place:

  • Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2.28 miles)
  • Sonoma Raceway (2.52 miles)
  • Watkins Glen International (2.45 miles)

“When we consider changes to the aero package, we often can look back on our playbook, if you will, from seasons past,” Probst said, “and there’s obviously some trade-offs that you make between introducing something completely new that the industry has never seen versus something that we have run before where we have a playbook from our side and (teams) have setup books from their end. We felt like we were going to look at aero packages that we have run in the past, and looking back at a lot of competitive metrics that we track, we feel like the 2017 levels of downforce on those types of tracks had pretty good side-by-side racing that our fans enjoyed.

“So instead of just coming out and creating a completely new aero spec that’s unknown to possibly us and more importantly the industry, we felt like we’d go back to something that’s tried and true for us and go back to a package that we had run recently. At the same time, we did make some small adjustments to that package so that it would fit with our current intermediate speedway package so that we’d minimize further the necessity of the teams to have to develop this package.”

This was absolutely the right move. I mean, just look at the final round races in the playoffs next season — Bristol, Charlotte (ROVAL), Martinsville and Phoenix (championship). This move affects all those tracks.

peaking of fireworks, will it even happen this weekend? See, these cars are much harder to get to the bumpers of one another now. They’re still very aero dependent and it’s amplified more on short tracks.

As an example, the Dover playoff race last year had 14 lead changes, most of those occurring during green flag pit sequences. We only saw three cautions on the entire day, two of which being for stage breaks and the other on the seventh lap for debris. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson combined to lead 372 of the 400 laps run.

In the May race at Dover, Truex and Chase Elliott combined to lead 277 of the 400 that day. Furthermore, the top five finishers in the spring race led 290 of the 400 laps. The same top four finishers in May were the ones taking the top four spots in October.

The Spring race read – Truex-Bowman-Larson-Harvick as the top four.

The opening race the second round at Dover read – Larson-Truex-Bowman-Harvick as the top four.

“Tough to pass” was the comment theme out of the drivers’ mouths after the race ended.

“It’s just really hard to pass and it took a while for the track to widen out,” said third place finisher that day Alex Bowman.

“Once we lost control – lost the clean air – it was so difficult to pass,” said fifth place finisher Denny Hamlin who led a race high 218 laps that Sunday. “I needed to be up front with as tight as my car was.”

“The car was really fast,” said seventh place finisher Matt DiBenedetto. “Even faster than seventh-place, but you get in situations with the dirty air and with the high downforce it was a lot harder to pass. The fastest drivers had to be a lot more disciplined. You had to stay behind them and not abuse your stuff and wait for traffic or situations to pounce.”

“When we were in clean air, our lap times were great,” Jimmie Johnson said, who also finished eighth. “Just as everyone experienced, it was really tough to pass. We had a few things that set us back and lost track position throughout the day. But we had a really fast race car. We were able to pass some, which I don’t think many could pass at all.”

“We started 17th and finished 10th, I don’t know,” said 10th place Clint Bowyer. “It was hard to pass. Extremely hard to pass. Almost impossible. You had to have a really, really good car. It was just kind of a struggle out there all day long for us.”

“It was very hard to pass today at Dover,” said Daniel Suarez.

“I had a difficult time passing cars, especially in traffic,” said Austin Dillon.

They’re right. The eye test showed a lot of single file running with the difficulty to pass at an all time high. It happened in both Phoenix races, another one-mile track. Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney combined to lead 291 of 312 laps in the March race. Furthermore, four of the top five finishers that day led 304 of the 312 laps run. Stats show 17 lead changes but again, most were on green flag pit sequences.

New Hampshire, a one-mile track, had 14 lead changes but between Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, they led all but 29 laps that July day.

One mile tracks aren’t producing on track lead changes, they’re producing some dominating runs instead.

Richmond and Martinsville, tracks shorter than one mile in length did too. In the spring race at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway, Brad Keselowski led 446 of 500 laps. Second place finisher Chase Elliott led 49 of 500 laps himself. Between them, that’s 495 of 500 laps led. Joey Logano led the other five laps in a four lead change race.

Richmond’s spring race saw eight lead changes. The top eight finishers led all 400 laps with Truex Jr. and Busch leading 287 of the 400 laps.

The playoff Richmond race saw Truex, Busch and Keselowski lead all 400 laps in a six lead change race.

So, why was passing on these tracks so hard under the old package?

Well, with a high downforce package, the cornering speeds are higher. There’s less time off the throttle. Drivers are nearly flat out through the turns which means it’s hard to pass when you’re going the same speed.

Also, factor in the dirty air in wake with the large spoiler throwing dirty air on the front end of the cars behind and you get follow the leader racing.

How can you pass when the front end is either too tight or too loose? How can you close in when you and the car in front are going the same speed anyways?

That’s why the on track product with that package was hurting racing. Now, it’s back in the right direction.

Will 2020 Produce Winless Droughts Snapped Like 2019 Did?

The year of 2019 can be known as a season in which long winless droughts ended. It all got started in the first race of the year in Daytona. Denny Hamlin ended a 45 race winless drought in the season opening Daytona 500. Kurt Busch won for the first time in nearly a year (30 races) with his thrilling victory in July at the Kentucky Speedway. Erik Jones won for the first time in over a year (42 races) in his Southern 500 victory on Labor Day weekend. Then, Kyle Larson (75 races) and Ryan Blaney (37) each won the first two races of the Round of 12 to end long droughts themselves.

But, they’re not the only ones. We saw two drivers reach victory lane for the first time of their careers this year too.

Alex Bowman earned his first win in 133 career start in June at Chicagoland. Justin Haley earned his first win a week later in Daytona.

That leaves a handful of drivers with long streaks left. The two longest streaks retired with Paul Menard hadn’t won in 304 races (2011 Brickyard 400) and David Ragan who hasn’t won in 242 races (2013 Talladega).

Chris Buescher hasn’t won in 123 races (2016 Pocono). Ryan Newman’s streak has reached 100 races, 104 officially (2017 Phoenix). Jimmie Johnson’s is 95 (2017 Dover). Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (91 – Daytona 2017), Austin Dillon (71 – Daytona 2017), Clint Bowyer (57 – Michigan 2018) and Aric Almiorla (41 – Talladega 2018) are the only ones with long droughts left.

Silly Season Already?

It’s human nature, but the successful ones always look forward. While the 2020 season is just now starting, the eye on 2021 can’t begin soon enough. See, there’s a lot of potential open seats available — the biggest at Hendrick Motorsports. We know Jimmie Johnson’s seat will be available for the taking. That has allowed everyone to begin to speculate on who will hop into the No. 48 Chevrolet.

No one, including Rick Hendrick himself, knows who will replace Johnson.

Remember, this is a tough ride to fill. It’s won seven championships, which ranks tied for first ever. It also has scored 83 wins, sixth most ever and two shy of fourth all-time. The flipside of that is, this ride hasn’t won since 2017 too.

Despite that, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on whomever takes over. The good thing though, this car is fully funded through 2023, so Hendrick can have his pick on who he wants with funding not an issue.

This could also have a trickle down effect. Just look at the free agent class — Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski, Matt DiBenedetto, etc. Those are some good rides available if any of them leave.

Rookie Class, Can Any Of Them Win?

Last year’s Cup Series Rookie of the Year is back in the XFINITY Series. I don’t expect this year’s ROY champion to go backwards though. While we have several rookies in 2020, the focus will be on the XFINITY Series’ “Big 3.”

For the last two years, the talk of NXS action has been of the “Big 3.” The three most successful drivers in the series will now all be rookies in NASCAR’s premiere series for 2020. All three will compete for different manufacturers too.

Christopher Bell will race for Leavine Family Racing in the No. 95 Toyota. Tyler Reddick will race for Richard Childress Racing in the No. 8 Chevrolet. Cole Custer will run the No. 41 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Combined, this trio won 21 of the 33 races run in 2019 and 31 over the last two years.

Bell, won seven times in 2018 and eight more in 2019. He’s had 16 wins, 40 top five finishes and 45 top 10’s over the course of his brief NXS career.

Reddick, won the championship in each of the last two years to go along with nine wins, 35 top five finishes and 52 top 10’s in 84 starts.

Custer, had nine wins, 39 top fives and 71 top 10’s in 104 starts.

The difference for them now is, can they adapt to a different aero package? See, the NXS package had less downforce and Bell, Reddick and Custer could free their cars up for more speed and ride around at the top of most tracks. This new Cup package doesn’t allow for that. With so much downforce on the Cup cars, the high line isn’t the fast line.

That’s why Kyle Larson struggled for much of the first half of the year as the new aero package doesn’t suit his driving style. I don’t think it suits Bell’s or Reddick’s either. It may take these two some time to adapt.

That’s why I don’t necessarily think the “Big 3” in the rookie class will instantly compete for wins.

Even Bigger Year For NASCAR’s Youth?

The veterans of the sport are still thriving. All four Championship 4 drivers last year were 34 and older. Three of the four were 39 and older.

While Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are shining, the youth wave is coming. I know this was highly publicized the last few years, but the proof is in the pudding.

Just look at fifth through 12th in the final standings from 2019.

Joey Logano claimed fifth in the final standings.While he won the title in 2018 and has been in the sport for a while, a lot of people forget that he’s only 29 years old.

In a tie for sixth in the standings was 25 year old Ryan Blaney and 27 year old Kyle Larson. Blaney, ended 2019 with five top 11 finishes over his final six starts including a win in Talladega. Larson, had a strong car again at Homestead before his engine expired to go along with a win in the Round of 12 at Dover and his first ever trip to the Round of 8.

10th in the standings was 23 year old Chase Elliott. He beat out his 21 year old teammate William Byron by one point for that position. Elliott, won three times again in 2019 and also made the Round of 8 for the third straight year. Byron, improved drastically in literally every category from 2018 to 2019.

12th in the standings was Alex Bowman. He’s just 26 years old and earned his first career win at the Chicagoland Speedway. He also made the Round of 12 and looked very strong at the end of the year as well.

That’s six of the eight drivers from fifth through 12th all under the age of 30. All were strong when it mattered the most and look to be on the verge of breakout years for 2020.

You also can’t count out Erik Jones who’s in a contract year again with JGR. He won the Southern 500 and ended the season great. Jones, had four top 10 finishes over his final five starts including a third place run in Homestead. He’s just 23 years old.

On top of that, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer all move up to the Cup Series for 2020 and all are 23 and younger too. They combined to win 21 of the 33 NXS races in 2019.

The future is still bright in NASCAR.

Can Busch Go Back-To-Back?

Winning a championship in NASCAR’s highest level is tough. There’s a reason only 10 drivers in the history of the sport have ever done so. Plus, for the 10 to have done it, just look at the names – Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Lee Petty, Buck Baker and Joe Weatherly.

It’s the best of the best.

Johnson won five straight from 2006 through 2010 but prior to him, the last driver to go back-to-back was Gordon in 1997 and again in 1998. Earnhardt did so on three different occasions, two of which coming in the 90’s. But, over the last 31 years, just three times has someone gone back-to-back.

Kyle Busch is hoping to make it four.

He’s coming off of a wild year in 2019. He started off hot in winning four of the first 14 races. He’d not win again until the season finale at Homestead to clinch the championship. Can he get a third career title and be the first since Johnson to go back-to-back?

Will Pearn Departure Hurt Truex?

Cole Pearn unexpectedly retired from NASCAR back in December. The crew chief for Martin Truex Jr. decided that the demands of 38 race weekends year in and year out were enough for him. I mean, who could blame him? The Canadian has a family and 38 of 52 weeks away from them was too much. That’s why he decided to walk away now.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision,” Pearn said. “At the end of the day, I really want to spend time with my family and actually see my kids grow up. Being on the road, you are away from home so much and miss a lot of time with your family. I don’t want to miss that time anymore. I want to be there for all the things that my kids are going to experience while they are still young. I love racing and there isn’t a better place to be than Joe Gibbs Racing, but I don’t want to look back in 20 years and think about everything I missed with my wife and kids while I was gone. They are what is most important to me.”

But, this also could have huge implications for Truex Jr. See, we’ve seen in recent years that the best drivers win championships with the best crew chiefs. Just look in recent years the combinations that have worked – Kevin Harvick/Rodney Childers, Kyle Busch/Adam Stevens, Brad Keselowski/Paul Wolfe, Joey Logano/Todd Gordon, etc.

Behind every driver is a good man on top of his pit box. Just look historically too. Richard Petty/Dale Inman, Jeff Gordon/Ray Evenham, Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus.

198 of Petty’s 200 wins came with Inman. All 83 of Johnson’s wins came with Knaus. Evernham propelled Gordon to 47 wins and three of his four titles. I can go on and on.

Pearn, guided Truex to 24 of his 26 trips to victory lane. 23 of those 24 have come since 2016 (most in the series). Their recent success together was top in the game. There wasn’t a better combo in the garage. Truex, has led over 1,000 laps in each of the last four years.

Now, he loses his partner in crime. That could be a big loss, an underrated one at that. It’s Truex’s safety blanket. When Truex started taking off in 2015, it was the first year together. That’s not a coincidence. When everything seemed to fall apart around Truex in terms of his racing career, Pearn was there to guide him.

I mean, when the fall out with Michael Waltrip Racing happened, it was the pairing with Pearn and Furniture Row Racing to catch him. When FRR decided to shut doors following the 2018 season, Pearn came with Truex to JGR. Change teams, change scenery, change anything, Pearn was there. In their first year together with JGR in 2019, they finished runner-up in the championship on the heels of a series leading seven wins, 15 top five finishes and 24 top 10’s.

Over the past five seasons, Pearn and Truex have enjoyed one of the most successful stretches in NASCAR history where they won the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series championship and qualified for the Championship 4 on four different occasions. The duo’s 23 wins since the start of 2016 are the best among all driver-crew chief combos over that time. Since 2017, his final points standing each year was first, second and second respectively.

“I cannot say enough good things about Cole and what he has meant for my career,” Truex said. “I appreciate his hard work and dedication to our race team over the past six years going back to when he was my engineer at Furniture Row. Our friendship is what matters most to me and I’m happy that he’s doing what’s best for him and his family.”

For the first time since 2014, Truex will not have Pearn by his side. You can’t discredit that. It could take some time to gel.

Make Or Break Year For Jones

Erik Jones has made the playoffs in both of his seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing. Unfortunately, both of those postseason stays were short. Jones’ finishes in the first round of the playoffs the last two years are – 40th, 11, 30th (2018) and 36th, 38th, 40th (2019). When he has his three teammates from Joe Gibbs Racing all make it to the Championship 4 last year and he’s eliminated from contention in the first round, it puts a lot of pressure on the Michigan native the next season.

So does this — 2020 is another contract year.

Jones, signed a one-year extension to remain as the driver of the No. 20 Toyota for the 2020 season last September. That reward came after he scored a win in the prestigious Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend. The win though, was just his second of his career at JGR. The other came in the 2018 Coke Zero Sugar 400. By comparison, Kyle Busch has 13 wins, Martin Truex Jr. 7, Denny Hamlin 6 and Daniel Suarez zero trips to victory lane as Jones’ teammates in that same time frame.

Suarez, was already let go and Hamlin was on the hot seat last year after scoring zero wins in 2018 but rebounding for all six of those wins a year ago including a Daytona 500 triumph.

Jones’ two wins in two years and not advancing past the first round of the playoffs in those years put him back on the hot seat again for 2020.

The team and Toyota would eventually like Christopher Bell to be back with JGR on the Cup side. He’s on loan to Leavine Family Racing as a rookie in 2020 due to a seat not being open at JGR yet. Truex, has dominated the last several years and isn’t likely to go anywhere for 2021. Busch likely isn’t going anywhere either. Hamlin, should have a contract in place for 2021 too.

That leaves Jones on the bubble and the seat that Bell could take if he doesn’t perform well this season.

The problem is, while Jones’ playoff struggles is amplified, he can’t wait until then to solidify his 2021 racing plans. He needs to start out of the gates hot and win early. That will be the only way for him to likely return to JGR in 2021.

That’s why despite him being only 23 years old, 2020 is a make or break year for Jones.

Will JGR Dominate Again?

Joe Gibbs Racing came out of the gates swinging in 2019. Denny Hamlin won the season opening Daytona 500 for them with Kyle Busch finishing second and Erik Jones third.

A 1-2-3 start. Doesn’t get much better than that. Well, they ended 2019 that way too with them going 1-2-3 at Homestead.

Kyle Busch earned his 56th career victory, five of which coming last season, for his second career championship. It was also JGR’s fifth title overall too.

The win also was their 19th of the season, moving them into first place for most wins by an organization for a single season. That broke a tie with Hendrick Motorsports who won 18 times in the 2007 season.

Third most ever was Roush Fenway Racing when they won 15 times in 2005. JGR also won 14 times in 2015 which also tied HMS who also had 14 trips to victory lane in 1998 as well.

A 1-2-3 finish to start the year and a 1-2-3 finish to close it. It was also a 1-2-4 finish in the final standings as Martin Truex Jr. finished second on Sunday and Denny Hamlin 10th.

On top of all of this, JGR won the big races this year. Daytona, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500, Bristol Night Race and now a championship.

With a similar package being used in 2020, look for JGR to back this up with more success next season.

Toyota Eyeing 3rd Title In Last 4 Years

There’s no reason to believe that Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota won’t be celebrating another championship season in 2020. With a similar rules package in place, other than short tracks and road courses, JGR, who won a series record 19 races in 2019 and put three drivers in the Championship 4, can repeat.

If a Toyota driver can win the championship, it would be their third in the last four years and fourth in the last six overall. That’s an amazing feat. Plus, it’s a sign that this isn’t  your grandpa’s NASCAR anymore.

NASCAR has always been an American sport. From American drivers, driving American vehicles while racing on American tracks with predominately American fans in the grandstands has been NASCAR’s grassroots.

That’s why when Toyota came into NASCAR’s premiere series in 2007, it was met with some resistance. They struggled in year No. 1 with zero trips to victory lane, but that’s where everything changed. Toyota lured JGR over and it’s been all out dominance ever since.

Toyota won 10 times in 2008 and that kick started them into prominence. But, their most success has happened since NASCAR adopted the Championship 4 format.

Both Toyota and Chevrolet has won two championships apiece since 2014 while Ford has taken the other, but if you go for all out wins over the last five seasons, no one can touch Toyota.

The Toyota teams have won 79 races since 2014 compared to 68 by Chevrolet and 68 from Ford. But, 77 of those wins have come since 2015 though. Toyota won 16 races in 2015 and again in 2016, followed by 13 last year and 19 more last season.

They’ve won all the big races  too. They went 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500. They won the Coca-Cola 600, the Bristol Night Race and the Southern 500.

Can Chevy End 3 Year Championship 4 Drought?

We didn’t know it then, but when Jimmie Johnson won the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series championship, it would be Chevrolet’s last. Over the last three years now, not only has Chevy not had a title, they have failed to make the Championship 4 even.

Chevrolet is growing tired of not competing for championships anymore. From 2005 through 2016, the bowties captured 10 championships in the 12 year span.

If you go back to 1984 even and end it at 2016, Chevrolet had 23 tiles compared to Ford’s 5, Pontiac’s 3, Toyota’s and Dodge’s 1 a piece. At the time of Jimmie Johnson hoisting his seventh Cup championship trophy in 2016, Dodge and Pontiac were out of NASCAR while Ford hadn’t won a title since 2004.

It was pure domination.

Chevy had won at least 10 races for 16 straight seasons. They had won at least nine races every year from 1993 though 2016 too. In fact, from 2003 through 2016, they won 15 races in a single season in 12 of 14 years.

But, that’s when the bottom started dropping out.

They won just 10 times in 2017, their lowest since having nine victories in 2000. In 2018, they won only four times, their smallest amount since only scoring three wins in 1982.

In 2019, they’ve rebounded to win seven times, but their 11 trips to victory lane the last two years combined is smaller than every single single’s total other than 2017 (10) from 2001 on.

With a similar rules package, can they close the gap?

RCR Energized For Big 2020

Richard Childress has seen enough down years for his NASCAR Cup Series team that he’s ready to make gains again. Richard Childress Racing has reached victory lane 108 times over the course of their storied NASCAR career in NASCAR’s premiere series.

But, after Dale Earnhardt passed in the 2001 Daytona 500 and Kevin Harvick departed the team for Stewart-Haas Racing following the 2013 season, RCR has been a bit of a work in progress.

Harvick, won four times alone in 2013 — they’ve had three combined wins in the last six years since. From 2001 through 2013, RCR won 35 times, Harvick won 23 of them.

They’ve gone through countless changes from 2014 through 2019. From three cars down to two. The only constant has been Austin Dillon who’s won two of those three races since 2014. Childress’ grandson won the 2017 Coca-Cola 600 and the 2018 Daytona 500.

In 2019, Dillon and his rookie teammate of Daniel Hemric struggled. They had zero combined wins and one top five finish. Also, Dillon and Hemric had seven combined top 10’s and 92 laps led.

But, Childress vows that big changes are coming. First, Dillon gets a new crew chief. Second, two-time defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion in Tyler Reddick will replace Hemric. Reddick, will bring entire team from this past NXS season up to Cup including his crew chief Randall Burnett and spotter.

The changes have Childress giddy at what’s ahead. He think those alterations to his team on the Cup level as well as Reddick can bring them back to relevance again.

“You know, I think he’s an amazing talent,” Childress said of Reddick following his championship last November in Homestead.”I seen that before he even won his first championship, watching him race.  He drove some loose race cars that year for Jr. and those guys.  Really loose.  That gets you in trouble.  First thing I told Randall, you keep him tight enough, he’ll go out and win a lot of races for us.  And he did.

“We’re so excited.  I just felt if we could get here, we’d have a great shot of winning the championship, and the talent that he’s got next year is going to be — it’s going to raise RCR to another level.

“We’ve changed so much this year.  I’m as excited about next year as I have been in a long time, having Tyler in the Cup car and the things we know he can do and what he’ll bring to RCR.

“I had confidence in him.  I know what he can do, and I know how he can drive the race car, and he’s a special talent for sure.

“But to win a race and a championship and have a great driver like Tyler be right there with us, and I am so excited about next year because we’re bringing — I’m letting these crew chiefs on the 3 and the 8 car next year, which Tyler will be driving, he’s going to bring his whole team up.

“We’re making a lot of changes, and I think you’re going to see a different RCR next year.  Tyler is going to put everybody to work over there because he’s going to bring some speed and some talent with it.”

Reddick, is equally as excited. He’s ready to mix things up and says that the people around him this year helped them reach greatness in 2019.

“Just goes to show when you get a group of really good people together and you can just do some crazy things, some incredible things,” said the California native. “It’s been a lot of fun this year.  Last year the chemistry was great, JR Motorsports with Dave and our whole team, but we had that again here at RCR right away, and from the top down, and just our road crew, to the guys back at the shop working on our cars, to all of it, it’s just a great organization.

“We get along really well.  We have fun, and we work really, really hard.  It’s just been a blast this year to put our heads together and go out and tackle the goals and challenges we have set forth in front of us.

“It’s been a lot of fun.  I know the next step is going to be more challenging, but it’s been a blast racing the Xfinity Series the last three years, and it’s really cool being able to go back-to-back. Absolutely.  I knew coming in it was going to feel different if we were able to succeed.  Yeah, it’s just a total team effort.  We were, like I said, consistent every week, and the things we were able to do and the things the team were able to help me with to accomplish, the things I wasn’t very good at.  And then some of our most consistent races become those road courses and things like that.

“Just it’s awesome.  They helped me a lot, and it just was a lot of motivation to go out there and get it done tonight when at times we were sixth, seventh, and other times we were down a couple laps on tires to other guys and just pushing them when we had to push and get around the 7 and the 20 — the 20, the 7 and the 00 at the end there, too.  They motivated me a lot this year, and I was coming into this with a lot of fire.”

Not of this is a slight at Hemric either. He’s a very talented driver himself. It’s just that he wasn’t surrounded with the right people in Childress’s mind and that Reddick is that special type of driver that you can’t ignore.

Breakout Year For Byron?

For the third straight year, Chevrolet was shutout of the Championship 4 in the NASCAR Cup Series. But, if that streak is going to end in 2020, look for William Byron to bring them back to prominence.

Byron, ended the 2019 Cup season 11th in points. Only two other Chevy drivers were ahead of him. One was Kyle Larson (6th) and the other was his Hendrick Motorsports teammate of Chase Elliott (10th).

That’s right, Byron was the second best Hendrick driver when it was all said and done and was only one point shy of Elliott. This is after Elliott scored three wins in 2019 and Byron zero but it was Byron who scored 2,274 points compared to Elliott’s 2,275. He missed the top 10 by one point.

That’s a solid campaign, one that Byron can have massive momentum heading to 2020.

Byron, had no top five finishes in his first 53 Cup races. Over his last 19, he brought his No. 24 Chevrolet into the top five, five times and that even with bad luck over his final three starts to the season.

Even so, Byron grew a lot from 2018 to 2019. With Chad Knaus, he won the pole for the Daytona 500. He also went from zero top fives to five, four top 10’s to 13, zero poles to five and 61 laps led to 233.

Imagine what another jump from that could be in 2020?

Plus, this is the first time that Byron had raced in a series in back-to-back years. He ran one year of Trucks in 2016 and one year in XFINITY in 2017. He’s still very new to this and is already looking strong.

Can Elliott Put A Full Season Together, Make At Least The Round of 8 For 4th Straight Year?

Chase Elliott’s championship efforts for a season really doesn’t kick into gear until August. The two-time defending Most Popular Driver in the sport, typically rides a roller coaster of a season for the first six months of the year. Then, the Georgia native picks up his pace once the calendar turns to August.

Last year, Elliott did win at Talladega in April, but he only had six top five finishes in the first 21 races overall. He went to Watkins Glen in early August, on the heels of seven straight finishes outside the top 10 — 5 of which 29th or worse, and won. He’d score two wins, five top five finishes and eight top 10’s over the final 15 races en route to a Round of 8 appearance for the third straight season.

In 2018, Elliott took his WGI win to 11 top 10 finishes over the final 15 races. 10 of those 11 were in the top seven in fact. A year prior to that, Elliott had nine top 11 finishes over the final 11 weeks of the year.

34 of his 74 career top 10 finishes have come from August on. That’s 34 top 10’s in 60 tries, including five wins. In the first 21 races to each year (84 combined starts), he has 40 top 10 finishes with just one trip to victory lane.

Elliott, has made the Round of 8 in each of the last three years but looking for that Championship 4 berth. A stronger start to the season and evading bad luck as the playoffs go on would certainly help that cause.

Johnson’s Final Season

On Wednesday, Jimmie Johnson announced that the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season would be his last. While that move could be shocking, it’s not all that surprising. See, Johnson is arguably past his expiration date in NASCAR. While he still is an average driver, he’s not above average like he once was.

That’s not a slight at Johnson, that’s more of a testament on how great he once was. No one has more championships than Johnson (7). He’s tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most all-time.

His 83 wins rank sixth most. Only Richard Petty (200), David Pearson (105), Jeff Gordon (93), Darrell Waltrip (84) and Cale Yarborough (84) have more. If Johnson can steal two more wins in 2020, his 19th and final farewell season, he’d move into fourth ever.

His 47 wins from 2002-2009 made him the winningest driver of the decade. Then, his 36 wins from 2010-2019 allowed him to be the third-winningest driver of the past decade. He won on 20 of 25 Cup Series tracks where he has raced. His 28 career Cup Series wins on 1.5-mile tracks are most all-time.

Furthermore, Johnson has scored two or more Cup Series wins at 17 different racetracks. He’s been his best in the Cup Series “Crown Jewels.” Johnson, has won the DAYTONA 500 (2006, 2013), Charlotte 600 (2003, 2004, 2005, 2014), Brickyard 400 (2006, 2008, 2009, 2012) and Southern 500 (2004, 2012) multiple times. His win at Darlington in 2012 was Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th race win.

He’s also one of only three drivers with 11 or more wins at a single track (Dover), joining NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip.

Johnson, leads all drivers in wins at Dover (11), Charlotte oval (8), Texas (7), Auto Club (6), Las Vegas (4) and Kansas (3; tie).

He’s the only driver to win five consecutive Cup Series championships (2006-2010). He has made 648 consecutive starts; tied for sixth-most all-time. His 16 consecutive seasons with a win (2002-2017) is tied for third-longest all-time. He has a Cup Series record 15 playoff appearances, all consecutive (2004-2018)

That is a career that should be celebrated. The problem is, his stats have declined year over year. Those past great stats were all done from 2002 through 2016. I’d rather remember Johnson for the dynasties and dominance than just another driver in the field. That’s why it’s good for him to get out while he is.

I’d hate to see Johnson become one of those athletes that overstay their welcome. Michael Jordan hung around the NBA too long. Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, etc hung around the NFL past their primes. Heck, even my Indianapolis Colts have Adam Vinatieri back in 2019 with him showing so far this season that last year should have been his last.

Johnson, is in that territory but not quite like them yet. He was as competitive at the end of the 2019 season as he was since his championship winning one in 2016. Ever since the crew chief change from Kevin Meendering to Cliff Daniels, the No. 48 team took off. The problem was, it took a few races for Johnson and Daniels to click and by time that they did, it was playoff time.

That led 2019 to being the first time of Johnson’s NASCAR career that he failed to make the playoffs. That comes while his other three teammates were part of the postseason. So, in terms of equipment and resources, his teammates got it all while Johnson was kind of an after thought over the final 10 week stretch of the year. Even in being in that role, he was consistently fast though.

I want to see what Johnson and Daniels can accomplish on a full season together in 2020. I have confidence that Johnson’s near three year winless drought can finally come to an end. He can compete for race wins again which is why I’m glad to see him walk away like that than like he was in 2017 and 2018.

Over the past three seasons, Johnson has a combined nine top five finishes. He had 11 or more top five finishes in every single season before other than his rookie campaign. In terms of top 10’s, Johnson had 20 or more in every year from his rookie season in 2002 though 2015. In 2016, he had 16. In 2017 and 2018, he had 11 each year. Last season, he scored 12.

Also, from 2007 through 2014, he had at least 1,100 laps lead in every season. Since then? 558, 737, 217, 40 and 131 respectively.

I want to remember Johnson for running up front and stats show he hasn’t been able to do that over the last several years.

While I expect an uptick in all of these numbers in 2020, moral of the story is, they’re likely not a championship winning team anymore. Go out while you can at least still be competitive.

Chip Ganassi Racing Looking To Keep Momentum Going

Continuity. It’s a big thing in sports. While the leash grows shorter and shorter by the year, the most successful teams and organizations are ones that see personnel remain intact for several years.

Well, the 2019 to 2020 offseason in NASCAR was a wild one. There was a lot of change in terms of driver and crew chief pairings. Only 12 of the top 32 teams in the owners standings last year kept their driver and crew chief pairings the same. Two of those two reside at Chip Ganassi Racing.

Kurt Busch signed a multi-year extension to remain as the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet. Last year, Busch reached victory lane (Kentucky) and scored six top five finishes, 18 top 10’s and led 212 laps. The last time that the No. 1 entry scored a victory was way back in 2013. This was the best season for that ride in over six years. Everyone is expecting big things out of this ride with Busch and Matt McCall teaming up again in 2020.

Then there’s the other ride for Kyle Larson. The California native ended a 75 race winless streak last season with his playoff victory at Dover. Following a four win campaign in 2017, Larson went winless for all of 2018 and through the first 29 races of last season. That streak is now ended.

Also, Larson had arguably one of his best years in 2019 with the exception of 2017. He reached the Round of 8 for the first time ever and had eight top five finishes and 17 top 10’s to his credit. The slow start to the year was just Larson trying to get used to this new aero package.

See, Larson likes loose race cars where he can be fast and run up near the wall at most tracks. With the new package that debuted in 2019, he couldn’t do that anymore. There was just too much downforce and too minimal tire fall off. It took half of the year for Larson and his team to get his No. 42 Chevrolet to his liking.

Once they did, they took off.

Now that they have a full years worth of data under their belts to go along with a formidable teammate and continuity throughout the entire organization, watch out for CGR overall in 2020.

The only thing looming over their heads is Larson’s contract which is up after the season.

Can Penske Rebound In 2020?

Team Penske has had a widly successful racing year in 2019. Simon Pagenaud swept the Month of May for them at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in NTT IndyCar Series competition. He won the INDYCAR Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 pole as well as the Indy 500 itself. In the end, it was Josef Newgarden who brought him home a third championship in the last four IndyCar seasons.

In IMSA, they won the title in sports car competition as well. Then, in the Fall, Penske announced that they have acquired the rights to not just the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the entire IndyCar Series as well.

Unfortunately, their NASCAR season didn’t end with a title to join that highly decorated list of accomplishments.

In Phoenix, they still had two drivers championship eligible, but Ryan Blaney’s third place finish and Joey Logano’s ninth place runs weren’t enough to propel either to the Championship 4.

This was just the second time since the Championship 4 format was adopted in 2014 that Penske didn’t have a driver vying for the Cup title. 2015 was the only other year that they didn’t. In 2014, 2016 and 2018, it was Joey Logano’s turn. In 2017, it was Brad Keselowski’s.

Logano, was hoping to become just the 11th driver to even win back-to-back championships. He came up just short. There’s a reason the 10 drivers to have done so are on that list.

Just look at the names – Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Lee Petty, Buck Baker and Joe Weatherly.

It’s the best of the best.

Johnson won five straight from 2006 through 2010 but prior to him, the last driver to go back-to-back was Gordon in 1997 and again in 1998. Earnhardt did so on three different occasions, two of which coming in the 90’s. But, over the last 31 years, just three times has someone gone back-to-back.

Logano, wouldn’t be the fourth. He was widely inconsistent since his last win on June 10.

The Team Penske driver last won at the Michigan International Speedway in early June. That’s 22 races ago. In the 21 races since his win, the defending series champion has scored just four top five finishes. In fact, he’s had only three top fives over the last 19 races run.

Furthermore, over the last 16 races, Logano has brought his No. 22 Ford home 10th or worse in 10 of them.

Keselowski, was in the same boat. He did earn his sixth top 10 finish in the final standings in the last seven years, but he tapered off during the playoffs. Through the first round, he had three straight top five finishes. But, in the Round of 12, he was 11th, 25th and 19th. That got him eliminated.

Then there’s arguably Penske’s hottest driver to end last year in Blaney. He was fifth, eighth and third in the Round of 8. Unfortunately, his lack of playoff points kept him from advancing over Busch. But, Blaney has four top eight finishes, three of which being in the top five in his last six starts on the season. He’s finished in the top 10 in each of the last four years in the final standings – 9th, 10th, 6th and 7th.

Due to not finishing like they should have, Penske switched up the driver/crew chief pairings. 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.

Will Stewart-Haas Racing Rebound?

2018 was by far the best season overall from top to bottom for Stewart-Haas Racing. Combined, all four of their drivers that year (Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch) not only made the playoffs, but all four also made the Round of 8 as well. They also combined to win 12 times in 36 tries.

2019, well it went completely the opposite. It took until the 20th race of the year for them to finally win a race on the Cup level, with Kevin Harvick reaching victory lane at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Harvick, would go on to win three more times that year, including a victory in the Brickyard 400, and make it all the way to the Championship 4 for the fifth time in six tries.

The first half of 2019, SHR just didn’t have the speed. Credit that to the new aero package. They just guessed wrong on how the cars would race and it cost them. The entire 2018 into 2019 offseason was a waste because all of that planning didn’t work. That’s why it took over half of the year in order to undo everything that they’ve done and figure out a different way to gain speed.

By time we got to the Fall, it was working.

Harvick, had 15 top 10 finishes, 10 of them being in the top five, over the last 17 races.

Bowyer, had 10 top 11 finishes over the last 13 races.

Almirola, had one top five finish in the first 30 races but two of the last six. He closed the year with more speed too.

Daniel Suarez even found speed with nine top 15 finishes over the last 14 starts.

Now that they found the speed, the decided to change up 75-percent of their fleet. The reason? They want the other three cars to be as competitive as Harvick has been.

Last December, they swapped Almirola and Bowyer’s crew chiefs, as Almirola gets Mike Bugarewicz while Bowyer inherits Johnny Kausmeier. Then, they chose not to renew Suarez’ contract and bring up Cole Custer as a result. In turn, Custer is getting Mike Shiplett as his crew chief.

That’s a wholesale of changes.

Harvick, won all four times for SHR last year. While all four cars found victory lane in 2018, the other three cars outside of Harvick combined to win four times. Harvick, won eight times alone.

In 2017, Harvick only won twice, but Busch is the only other SHR driver to have found victory lane with his lone win.

In 2016, Harvick won four times and Tony Stewart just once (Sonoma). In 2015, Harvick won three times and Busch two. In 2014, Harvick won five times and Busch once.

Other than Kurt Busch, Harvick hasn’t had much competition among his teammates in fighting for wins and championships.

Since Harvick joined SHR in 2014, he’s won 26 times in six years. He won 23 times in 13 years with Richard Childress Racing. The rest of his teammates at SHR over the last six years have won a combined 10 times with Busch taking six of them. Busch, is now in his second season with Chip Ganassi Racing.

That’s why a change up was needed. They know what to expect out of these cars now in terms of raw speed, they need the other three cars to challenge Harvick. They also put pressure on the drivers with all being on the final years of their contracts too.

Harvick Eyeing 6th Championship 4 Appearance

No one is happier in the NASCAR garage than Kevin Harvick that the season finale was moved from the Homestead-Miami Speedway to the Phoenix Raceway. While Harvick has been really good at the South Florida race track over the years, he’s been that much better at in the Arizona desert.

Harvick, has won a track record nine times in Phoenix. No one is as good as Harvick at Phoenix.

Now, the key is for him to get there for a chance at the championship in 2020. If you go off trends, I don’t see why he wouldn’t be. Since the Championship 4 was adopted in 2014, Harvick has made it to the final round in five of the six years. He heads to 2020 with three straight third place finishes in the final points standings.

When Harvick joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, he immediately became a championship contender. He won his lone Cup title that season on the heels of five victories and 20 top 10 finishes.

In fact, 26 of his 49 career Cup wins have come with SHR. What’s remarkable is, the California native has 26 wins in six years with SHR and only 23 wins in 13 years with Richard Childress Racing.

He only had five top five finishes in the points standings with RCR. He’s had five top three’s in six years with SHR.

Now, is his time to grab another title. While 2019 started off like it would be a struggle to get to Homestead with a chance at one, they rebounded over the second half of the year to become a threat.

See, the first half of 2019, SHR just didn’t have the speed. Credit that to the new aero package. They just guessed wrong on how the cars would race and it cost them. The entire 2018 into 2019 offseason was a waste because all of that planning didn’t work. That’s why it took over half of the year in order to undo everything that they’ve done and figure out a different way to gain speed.

By time we got to the late summer/fall, it was working.

Harvick, had 15 top 10 finishes, 10 of them being in the top five, over the last 17 races. Now that we have a similar package for most tracks again in 2020, watch out.

“Big 3” Plus…Who?

In 2018, it was the “Big 3” and Joey Logano. Last year, it was the “Big 3” and Denny Hamlin. Who joins that group in 2020?

“Last year (Joey) Logano was fast off the truck, kicked our ass all weekend long,” joked Kyle Busch during Championship Four Media Day last November in Homestead. “It’s a matter of being good, being prepared, the team doing a really good job with the car, getting ready to rock’n roll when you get to practice.

“This is the big three with the new one.  Just like last year, we got our ass spanked by the new one.”

Busch, was right in a sense that the “Big 3” in 2018 combined to win 17 of the first 21 races to the season. It was Logano though that stole the show once the postseason started and not only won the Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, his victory allowed him to steal the championship from Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick.

Now, the “Big 3” are all back for another go of it this year while a new comer joins them. See, last year was Harvick’s fifth Championship 4 appearance in six years. Busch, has also made five appearances, all coming in-a-row. Truex, has been to three straight and four of the last five himself.

Should we go ahead and pencil them in for the Championship 4 this year? If so, who’s the lone driver to join them for a shot at the title in Phoenix?

Championship 4 Prediction With Champion

How can you go against the proverbial “Big 3?” Well, I’m breaking that party up just a bit. I do think Harvick and Busch get in, I mean Harvick was third in the final standings in each of the last three years and five Championship 4 appearances in six tries while Busch, too has five Championship 4 appearances himself, all consecutively. Truex though, well I think that he could slip a bit with a new crew chief. He has three straight top two finishes in the final standings, but a new man on top of the pit box could see the team go down a bit in stats. That opens the door Denny Hamlin to return to the final round again in his Toyota via a win in the Round of 8 and this time Kyle Larson keeping his end of the season momentum rolling with a final round appearance.

We always said, imagine if Larson could get to the final round. It would be game over. This time though, the final race was moved from Homestead to Phoenix.

That’s why despite some changes to the playoff races and their order, I give the nod to Harvick for his second career title in the desert this November.

The only thing really different from last to this was the changes for the short oval/road course package, but that actually favors the biggest dominating drivers from last year. I don’t expect much change up front.

 

 

 

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