The 2019 NASCAR season saw some changes, but there are many more to come in 2020. Let’s take a look at the big changes that are happening in the Cup and some in the Gander Outdoors Trucks and Xfinity series.
The Series name change
First, lets begin with the cup series. Since 1949, NASCAR had always had a sponsor name for their title. However, that is changing in 2020 as the name will just be called the NASCAR Cup Series with four premier partners. These four are Coca-Cola, GEICO, Busch Beer, and Xfinity. Sorry to all who liked seeing the Monster Energy girls, but they may go back to being fully clothed.
New 2020 Schedule
This was talked about in March, but there’s more details on the schedule changes in 2020.
There is also the big schedule change for the 2020 season. Noticeable changes is ISM being the season finale race in the playoffs and Homestead being moved back to March 22nd. Another one is that of Pocono Raceway which is getting a double header on June 27th and June 28th. Indianapolis is getting a sponsor and their date changed. The Brickyard will be July 5th and called the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard powered by Florida Georgia Line. The Brickyard last had a sponsor in 2017 called Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400.
The Coke Zero Sugar 400 is swapping with Indianapolis. That race is going to be the last race before the playoffs start. Both the Southern 500 at Darlington and the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol will be moved to the round of 16.
Cole Pearn stepping down as Crew Chief.
NASCAR fans can argue that Cole Pearn coming to Furniture Row Racing in 2015 helped Martin Truex Jr contend and win the 2017 championship. In 2014, Truex was already not in top shape. A year ago, it seemed like his career was back on top after winning the Toyota SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway which ended a 218 winless streak. However, due to spin gate, he was kicked out of the 2013 Chase for the Cup.
Enter 2014 with Furniture Row Racing, a team that Kurt Busch led to the chase, and its a step backwards finishing 24th. Todd Berrier was released and Cole Pearn was brought in and since, they have made the playoffs four times, including one championship with Furniture Row, and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Pearn announced on December 9th 2019 that he parted ways from Joe Gibbs Racing to spend more time with his family. Together, Pearn and Truex combined for 24 wins from 2015-2019.
Cole Custer to the 41, Daniel Suárez out.
To think in only three seasons, Daniel Suárez would be out of the two top rides. In 2019, Suárez seemed to have been finding momentum in that 41, sitting 13th in the point standings.
However, a tough summer had him back outside and now, he had to win. That did not happen as Suárez missed the playoffs for a third year in a row. He was released from Stewart Haas Racing and is now finding his third ride in four years. Options are running out for the 2016 Xfinity Series Champion.
Suarez in his first three seasons has eight top fives, 32 top tens, two poles, 241 laps led, and an average finish of 17.0.
His replacement will be Cole Custer. From 2016-2019 in the Xfinity series, Custer has nine wins, 39 top fives, 71 top tens, 1,613 laps led, and an average finish of 10.8. He had finished second in the standings twice.
Stewart Haas Racing did debunk the rumors of Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer leaving the team as both are coming back in 2020. It is going to be interesting to see if that 41 car can find speed with Cole Custer, or if Gene Haas and Tony Stewart will regret letting Suarez go.
Jimmie Johnson Retiring Full-Time after 2020
Already covered this story a few weeks back, but more analysis on the story. When Jimmie Johnson put that video up on his social media accounts, there were mixed emotional feelings. Everytime a reporter or fan brought up retirement, Johnson either said not yet, or his famous “I’m not done yet JA” tweet.
As said before, Johnson is tied with Cale Yarborough sixth all time with 83 career wins. Johnson is a seven time champion tied with Richard Petty (The King), and Dale Earnhardt (The Intimidator). Johnson has not won a points paying race since the 2017 AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway. Jimmie has been apart of Hendrick Motorsports since 2001.
He struggled in the Busch series, but four time champion Jeff Gordon and car owner Rick Hendrick gave him a chance. Turns out, both of them were right. 2020 is the last shot for Jimmie to go out on top.
Chris Buescher to Roush, Stenhouse to JTG Daugherty Racing
Ryan Newman made the playoffs in 2019 with the same number six car that was a 30th place car driven by Trevor Bayne, and then a decent showing by Matt Kenseth proved that it was not the cars equipment, but the driver.
The “Cat in the Hat” Jack Roush ended up releasing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr a few weeks before the 2019 season ended. Stenhouse only won two races, one in 2017 at Talladega in the spring, and the last being Daytona in July. He finished 13th in the standings that same season.
For his career, Stenhouse has 15 top fives, 34 top tens, 342 laps led and an average finish of 20.3.
Stenhouse will be replaced by Chris Buescher who was in the 37 Chevrolet Camaro. The 37 will be driven by Ryan Preece in 2020 and Stenhouse will take the 47 Kroger Chevy.
Chris Buescher has one win coming in 2016 at Pocono, a race that was rained shortened. He raced in the 34 Ford Fusion for Front Row Motorsports at that time. He has four top fives, 12 top tens, 31 laps led and an average of 21.8 in his career.
Paul Menard Retires, DiBenedetto replaces him/Bell to the 95
Paul Menard made a surprise announcement on September 10th that he was going to retire after 2019 to spend more time with his family.
Menard was going to stay thanks to the funding he had with the family owned Menards business being his sponsor. However, he decided against it and picked his replacement. That replacement he picked was Matt DiBenedetto, who was in need of a ride after losing the 95 Toyota Camry to Christopher Bell in 2020.
In his NASCAR career, Menard was consistent at times but others not. In the Xfinity series, he had three wins, 43 top fives, 102 top tens and an average finish of 14.8. His highest points finish was fifth in 2010.
When Menard came into the cup, it was not a good start, especially with a struggling Dale Earnhardt Incorporated team. In 2006, he replaced Michael Waltrip in the 15 and did not qualify for three races. In 2007 racing full time, he failed to qualify for six races. Menard made progress in 2010 with Richard Petty Motorsports driving the 98 Menards Ford and in 2011, he finally got his first career win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Brickyard 400, driving the 27 Menards Chevrolet Impala for Richard Childress Racing.
Menard would replace Ryan Blaney in the 21 Motorcraft Ford for the Wood Brothers in 2018 as Blaney moved to Team Penske. Menard was in the contention his first two seasons to make the playoffs but missed both 2018 and 19 by a few points.
Meanwhile, DiBenedetto will look to bring the 21 Ford Mustang back to being a playoff team. Last season was up and down for Matt. He had good finishes at New Hampshire, Sonoma, Watkins Glen and nearly won the Night Race at Bristol, but finished 22nd in points. His average finish improved to 18.3.
Part of that was Leavine Family Racing moving from Chevrolet to Toyota, and being a satellite team to Joe Gibbs Racing, the team that won the 2019 championship with Kyle Busch.
Xfinity talent Christopher Bell will be in the 95 Procore Toyota. Bell finished third place in the 2019 Xfinity standings making it to the round of four. He also won eight races.
In two full time and one part time season, Bell earned 16 wins 41 top fives, 46 top tens, and an average finish of 10.2
Daniel Hemric released from Richard Childress/signs with JR Motorsports
Daniel Hemric May have won rookie of the year, but that was not enough to keep his ride for 2020. On September 17th, it was announced that Richard Childress Racing would release Hemric after one season in the cup.
This seemed as if this was going to be bad from the start as Hemric may have been a consistent driver in the Xfinity and Truck series, but never won a race. His replacement will be two time Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick.
Hemric finishes out his rookie season with one top five, two top tens, one pole, 22 laps led and an average finish of 22.5 while finishing 25th in the standings. Daniel will share rides with Jeb Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr, racing for JR Motorsports in the number 8 Chevrolet Camaro in hopes of turning his career around.
Corey Lajoie extends with GoFasRacing in 2020
Any driver should get an extension when your own face is on a NASCAR. That is what happened with Corey Lajoie. He may not have the big finishes, but he is taking Go Fas Racing to another level and making them become bigger. The good news, not only the extension, but that Stewart Haas and Go Fas will form an alliance, just like how Leavine and Joe Gibbs Racing did.
Now, do not expect the 32 Ford Mustang to be fast, as it will take time for it to develop. However, look for it to be outside the top 20s instead of the top 30s. If this alliance goes the right direction, then expect some big things in the upcoming future. Especially on the restrictor plates, as Lajoie had top tens in both Talladega and Daytona.
Lajoie finished 29th last year, racing in all 36 events. With this partnership, look for Lajoie to be a top 10 car on restrictor plates and road courses. Look for him to boost up in the standings too with the help of new equipment.
Hailie Deegan Moves to Ford
With all the up and coming drivers racing in Toyotas led by Joe Gibbs, it was speculated and rumored that K&N talent Hailie Deegan would move to the Ford development program. That speculation became true on December 18th as Deegan revealed her new Monster Energy Ford Fusion.
Deegan became the first woman to win a race in the K&N Pro Series in 2018 and added two more series wins this year. All these wins came by a last lap pass. Deegan raced a bit in ARCA last season as she netted four top tens.
Deegan, as said before, has three wins along with 13 top fives and 23 top tens. She has led 107 laps and has an average finish of 6.9. Look for Deegan to compete for wins every single week, along with possibly making a few Gander Truck starts part time in 2020 or 2021.
Deegan will also race part time in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge for DGR-Crosley. This is her time and we will see what happens with her future and if this change was the right or wrong move.
Landon Cassill may have been with some underfunded teams, but he is able to drive those cars to some top 30 finishes. He has spent the last two seasons with StarCom Racing, but will be replaced by Quin Houff in 2020.
In Cassill’s career, he has finished with zero wins, one top five, one top ten, 66 laps led, and an average finish of 29.4. StarCom Racing says that they will address the issue with Cassill down the road.
Quin Houff has made 17 NASCAR Cup Series starts last year with the new Spire Motorsports, and Premium Motorsports. Houff has the potential to drive the 00 like Cassill did, but it may take some time. Houff has two CARS Tour Super Late Model victories across 19 starts. His biggest struggle is being on the lead lap. Houff has only led four laps in 33 NASCAR appearances.
Kurt Busch signs extension with Chip Ganassi
The 2004 Cup Champion revived the struggling Chip Ganassi team in 2019 as he led the number one team to the playoffs again. That team missed the playoffs 2018 with Jamie McMurray.
The contract was originally a one year deal only, and Busch teased retirement early on in 2019. However, with the impressive season he had reviving the 1 team, Ganassi decided to extend him for a few more years.
In 2019, Busch earned one win, six top fives, 18 top tens, had an average finish of 13.1 and finished 13th in the standings. That win came at Kentucky in a last lap pass against his brother Kyle. Kurt has 31 career wins in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Front Row Motorsports
Matt Tifft and Front Row Motorsports parted ways with a few races before seasons end due to medical reasons. His replacement for the rest of the season was and will be Truck and Xfinity talent John Hunter Nemechek for 2020.
In the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Nemechek had six wins, 28 top fives, 49 top tens, 607 laps led and an average finish of 13.0. Nemechek was moved up to the Xfinity series and drives the 23 Chevrolet Camaro for GMS Racing.
With David Ragan now retired, Front Row will go from a three car team to a two car team again. Michael McDowell will return to the 34 Ford Mustang along with crew chief Drew Blickensderfer and John Hunter Nemechek will head to the 38 Ford, teaming up with Seth Barbour.
Nemechek is in a big battle for rookie of the year in what could possibly be a big rookie battle that NASCAR has not seen in a while.
This is a real big season for NASCAR to try and get back to being one of the most dominant sports on air and selling wise. We will see if Steve Phelps and Jim Frances’ decision is a good one.