January 2020: Inside the Garage, NASCAR Season Preview

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Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL — February 12, 2020

It’s Speedweeks at Daytona, the kickoff of the NASCAR Cup season. It has been a busy break between racing events, the NASCAR Awards Banquet in Nashville, NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductions in Charlotte, and a number of driver changes. In addition, the 2020 Cup schedule has a new look. Here is a primer to catch you up on everything new as we get ready for another great year of exciting racing action.

Driver Moves

Watching drivers line up their rides for the upcoming season is a lot like watching a line of dominos fall. When the first one goes, all the rest fall one after the other. Daniel Suarez did not make the playoffs and he did not get to hang around for a second try at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Daniel Suarez, out at Stewart-Haas Racing, in at Gaunt Brothers Racing in the #96 / Lasco Press Photo

In steps Cole Custer, who has proved he can wheel a race car by winning everything in the Xfinity series. Don’t’ be surprised if he puts the #41 car in victory lane sometime this season. Suarez landed a ride with Gaunt Brothers Racing in the #96 car just before  Daytona.

Cole Custer / Lasco Press Photo

Another Xfinity to Cup move puts Tyler Reddick in the Richard Childress Racing #8 car replacing Daniel Hemric who will run a part-time schedule in the Xfinity series.

Tyler Reddick in the Richard Childress Racing #8 / Lasco Press Photo

Matt DiBenedetto almost won at Bristol for Leavine Family Racing (LFR). But that could not save his seat in the #95 car. LFR has a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and they needed a seat for Xfinity driver Christopher Bell. So, Bell takes the spot and DiBenedetto loses out despite a top-notch season in 2019.

But, everyone noticed the effort from DiBenedetto and when Paul Menard decided to retire he recommended the seasoned vet to take over the seat in the Wood’s Brothers #21. This appears to be a match that will breed success. DiBenedetto is eager for that first win and the Wood Brothers are still looking to notch their 100th victory. It just remains to be seen if Leonard Wood can learn to pronounce Dibenedetto.

Matt Dibenedetto joins Wood Brothers Racing in the #21 / Lasco Press Photo

In NASCAR’s version of a trade, Chris Buescher and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. swapped seats. Buescher returned to Roush Fenway Racing to take the chair held by Rickey Stenhouse Jr. in the #17 car. Stenhouse moves to JTG-Daugherty Racing into the #47 car that was piloted by Ryan Preece. No, Preece is not leaving JTG, he just changed to the #37. Confusing fans and everyone in the press box

Chris Buescher joins Roush-Fenway Racing / Lasco Press Photo

Crew Chief Changes

Talk about confusing, Team Penske swapped every crew chief in their organization. Here is how the line-up card shakes out.

Number Driver 2019 Crew Chief 2020 Crew Chief
2 Keselowski Paul Wolf Jeremy Bullins
12 Blaney Jeremy Bullins Todd Gordon
22 Logano Todd Gordon Paul Wolf

 

At least they did not scramble car numbers too.

It’s a shame to see Cole Pearn retire from the sport. Especially going out after blowing the opportunity for his driver to win the 2019 Championship by putting the tires on the wrong side of Martin Truex Jr’s car during a mid-race pitstop. No, that’s not the reason he left JGR. So, quiet down all you conspiracy theorists. He’s rich and wants to spend more time with his family. More power to him.

James Small, an engineer at JGR, gets the opportunity to show what he can do atop the box of one of the most consistent drivers on the circuit the past three years.

Not to be outdone by Penske, Stewart-Hass crew chiefs for Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer also traded places. Mike Bugarewicz leaves Clint and teams with Aric. Johnny Klausmeier picks up Almirola after moving from Bowyer’s crew.

Schedule Changes

Pocono Raceway traditionally hosts two races a year and they will again in 2020. Just on the same weekend, something that could happen more often in 2021 and beyond. After the Cup race at New Hampshire on July 19th, the series takes a 2-week break until racing resumes at Michigan on August 9th. Why? To not compete with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. NBC broadcasts both. Oh, come on!!! Sell those two dates to ESPN, the season is long enough already.

A tradition goes out the window when Indy takes over Daytona’s fourth of July weekend date. The 400-miler at the World Center of Racing will move to August 29. Daytona will open and close NASCAR’s regular season.

Daytona International Speedway / Lasco Press Photo

Mark this date down! September 19th at Bristol, the night race ends the first round of the playoffs where three drivers will be eliminated. Buy your tickets now, Bristol is Back, Baby. What was the most boring race of the year in 2019? Both races at Phoenix. Now the 2020 schedule ends in the Arizona desert. No more stone crab claws in the media center to celebrate at Homestead-Miami. What does coyote taste like?

The big schedule shakeup is set for 2021 as track contracts expire. Expect a whole new look to the series, maybe even a dirt short-track race at Eldora. Tony Stewart hopes so.

Rule Changes

Crews are now limited to 10 members at the track, down from 12. Less downforce on short tracks and road courses, making driver control more of a factor during those races. Think Phoenix here, hope it helps. In addition to the desert track, Bristol Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway will see those modifications enacted for their races. No further development is expected on this car as the Next Gen race car is set to debut in 2021.

What we hope does not change is the excitement of door handle to door handle racing that we saw last year at most tracks. Let’s go racin’ boys.