January 2021: Inside the Garage, NASCAR’s Off-Season

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Daytona Beach, FL — January 31, 2021

With the 2021 Daytona 500 only days away, it’s time to catch up on off-season happenings, and look forward to the upcoming NASCAR Cup season.

Coronavirus

Photo Courtesy of Martinsville Bulletin

The pandemic continues, although there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Fans are returning to grandstands, in limited numbers, at most venues. The Garage remains closed to all non-essential personnel and that includes media. Meaning, at least for the foreseeable future, we must rely solely on NASCAR to provide event photographs and zoom interviews.

While everyone is eager for NASCAR garage access to return to normal, kudos to the organization for protecting their athletes and completing a full season in 2020.

Season Ending Awards

Chase Elliott took home all the big hardware with his 1st NASCAR Cup Series title.

Photo Credit / NASCAR

Some awards bestowed without the normal banquet fanfare deserve recognition.

Cole Custer, driver of the #41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year. Custer also earned his 1st NASCAR Cup Series victory in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

Ford Clinched the 2020 Manufacturer’s Championship. Ryan Blaney’s runner-up finish at Martinsville Speedway earned Ford the coveted trophy for the 2nd time in the last three years. It was also Mustang’s first championship since its debut in the Cup Seris last season.

Ford led all manufacturers with 18 wins in 2020 with #4-Kevin Harvick leading the way with a series-best nine. #2-Brad Keselowski (four), #22-Joey Logano (three), #12-Ryan Blaney (1) and #41-Cole Custer (1) also registered at least one victory.

Two awards announced recently honor legends in the sport.

Wood Brothers Award of Excellence

When NASCAR legend Glen Woods of the iconic Wood Brothers Racing Team passed in 2019, the National Motorsports Press Association created the Wood Brothers Award of Excellence.

Award winners are determined by the vote of a committee that includes members of the Wood family, the Wood Brothers Award of Excellence honors crew chiefs, crew members, engine builders, and race engineers who make outstanding contributions to NASCAR racing through on-track success.

Glenn’s brother, Leonard Wood, was the initial recipient. In 2020 the award went to Dale Inman, longtime crew chief for Richard Petty.

A 2012 inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Inman won 193 races and eight
championships as a crew chief—both records in NASCAR’s foremost Cup Series division.
Inman earned seven of his titles while paired with stock car racing legend Richard Petty,
in 1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1979.

Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Inman / NASCAR Photo

“The Wood Brothers Award is quite an honor, as long as they’ve been in racing,” Inman said. “What an honor it is. To be the second recipient of it is great. To be following Leonard Wood, who was one of the great ones, is another honor.” Full Story

Joe Littlejohn Award

The Joe Littlejohn Award is presented each year to a person or persons, or an organization, in recognition for or outstanding service to the NMPA. The recipient is chosen by the president of the NMPA.

The award is named for the former track owner from Spartanburg, S.C., who also was a
competitor in the sport. Littlejohn is credited with two career NASCAR starts but raced
extensively before the formation of NASCAR.

Ben White is the 2020 recipient of the Joe Littlejohn Award, NMPA president Reid Spencer announced Monday. During the past six years, White served two terms as president of the organization and most recently as vice president, assuming responsibility for the NMPA Hall of Fame committee.

“I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of the Joe Littlejohn Award than Ben White,” Spencer said. “Ben’s dedication to furthering the interests of the NMPA is unparalleled, and he has always gone far above and beyond the call of duty in his service to the organization.
“Whenever something needed to be done, as with securing renewal of sponsorships for awards or NMPA activities—and then organizing the events—Ben has always answered the call without hesitation.”

White currently serves as motorsports writer for the Lexington (N.C.) Dispatch as well as contributing to a broad range of auto racing publications and websites through his own Ben White Communications. Previously, White served as senior editor and managing editor of NASCAR Illustrated and as a writer and managing editor for American Racing Classics. Since 1993, he has authored 10 books pertaining to NASCAR racing. Full Story

Driver Moves

Jimmie Johnson has retired from full-time driving with Hendrick Motorsports. As he vacates the seat in the #48 car, Alex Bowman moves in. The 88 car number, previously assigned to Bowman, will be temporarily retired by the organization.

Kyle Larson has been readmitted by NASCAR after his suspension for racially insensitive remarks during an iRacing event last year. Larson completed NASCAR mandated sensitivity training and signed to race for Hendrick this year. He will pilot the #5 car.

Corie LaJoie steps into the #7 car for Spire Motorsports.

Clint Bowyer joins the Fox Broadcast team and will make his debut during Speedweek. Chase Briscoe takes over for Bowyer in the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang.

Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, and Mike Joy, Fox Sports NASCAR Broadcasters / Photo Courtesy of Fox Sports

Bubba Wallace left Richard Petty Motorsports(RPM) to cash in on his new celebrity status as the only black driver in NASCAR’s premier division. Wallace will drive for the new team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan in the #23 car (Jordan’s basketball jersey number).

Erik Jones joins RPM taking over the controls of the iconic #43, hoping to follow his success at Joe Gibbs Racing(JGR) by taking the King back to victory lane in 2021.

JGR made Jones available after booting him from the #20 car in favor of Christopher Bell, despite Jones’s success. Hard to understand how the multiple Rookie of the Year driver (2015-Trucks, 2016-Xfinity, 2017-Cup) with wins at Daytona (July 2018), Darlington (September 2019), and the 2020 Busch Clash at Daytona, plus consecutive playoff appearances, finds himself out of a job at the end of 2020.

Rookie, Anthony Alfredo, joins Ford’s Front Row Motorsports in the #38 Mustang.

Ross Chastain climbs up from the Xfinity Series to take over the #42 car after Matt Kenseth retired again after he came back to fill the seat when Kyle Larson was suspended. (See the #5 car above) Yes, you might need to buy a program for your first race back at the track.

Cody Ware and Josh Bilicki will drive for the new Rick Ware Racing team in the #51 and #52 cars. B.J. McLeod takes over the Live Fast Motorsports #78 and Daniel Suarez will drive with a NASCAR Charter team Trackhouse Racing in the #99 car.

Looking Forward to 2021

2021 was supposed to be the year for the introduction of the “Next Gen” car. Blame it on COVID, the intro has been pushed back to 2022.

Jeff Probst commented on the delay. “In hindsight, when we were on target for 2021 and now we’ve gone through all of this, we look back and boy, we probably would’ve had our tongues hanging out right now if we were to launch it in 2021, which we could’ve done,” Probst said. “I think we’re certainly on schedule. We’re probably actually being able to spend a little more time since we pushed it out to 2022, focusing on a lot of the line-item costs.” Full Story

The 2021 NASCAR Cup schedule underwent a major overhaul as the sanctioning body responded to fan requests and wishes. Full Story

Five Decades In The Making: NASCAR Introduces Three New Tracks,
Two New Layouts to 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Schedule
Historic Slate Includes Three New Road Courses and First Dirt Race in Half A Century

2021 NASCAR CUP SERIES SCHEDULE

Date Race / Track
Tuesday, February 9 Clash (Daytona Road Course)
Thursday, February 11 Duel at Daytona
Sunday, February 14 DAYTONA 500
Sunday, February 21 Homestead-Miami
Sunday, February 28 Auto Club
Sunday, March 7 Las Vegas
Sunday, March 14 Phoenix
Sunday, March 21 Atlanta
Sunday, March 28 Bristol Dirt
Saturday, April 10 Martinsville
Sunday, April 18 Richmond
Sunday, April 25 Talladega
Sunday, May 2 Kansas
Sunday, May 9 Darlington
Sunday, May 16 Dover
Sunday, May 23 COTA
Sunday, May 30 Charlotte
Sunday, June 6 Sonoma
Sunday, June 13 All-Star (Texas)
Sunday, June 20 Nashville Superspeedway
Saturday & Sunday, June 26-27 Pocono Doubleheader
Sunday, July 4 Road America
Sunday, July 11 Atlanta
Sunday, July 18 New Hampshire
Sunday, August 8 Watkins Glen
Sunday, August 15 Indianapolis Road Course
Sunday, August 22 Michigan
Saturday, August 28 Daytona
Sunday, September 5 Darlington
Saturday, September 11 Richmond
Saturday, September 18 Bristol
Sunday, September 26 Las Vegas
Sunday, October 3 Talladega
Sunday, October 10 Charlotte Roval
Sunday, October 17 Texas
Sunday, October 24 Kansas
Sunday, October 31 Martinsville
Sunday, November 7 Phoenix

Playoff Races listed in Bold

The wait is almost over, let’s get back to NASCAR Cup racing!