A new NASCAR year brings with it my top five intriguing story lines and questions to be answered.
WILL JOE GIBBS RACING DOMINATE AGAIN?
Joe Gibbs Racing’s quartet of drivers won 19 of last season’s 36 Cup Series races culminating with Kyle Busch scoring his second career championship. The performance literally left every other organization in JGR’s collective dust. There’s no reason to believe the JGR juggernaut will slow down in the coming season. It’s not the same exact group returning in 2020 with a very significant change inside the No. 19 team as Martin Truex Jr. loses championship-winning crew chief Cole Pearn, who surprisingly left the sport at the end of last year. Engineer James Small takes over the position with some obvious big shoes to fill. But although JGR might not reach its 2019 win total, a victory total in the teens does not seem too far out of reach.
HOW WILL THE CREW CHIEF SHAKE-UP IMPACT TEAM PENSKE?
The driver-crew chief lineup at Team Penske got a major facelift with all three teams sporting a new look. Todd Gordon migrates to work with Ryan Blaney, Paul Wolfe is now paired up with Joey Logano and Jeremy Bullins will be teamed with Brad Keselowski. It’s hard to fathom the decision to break up the Logano-Gordon duo after winning a championship in 2018 and finishing fifth in last year’s standings but obviously the overall effort of his organization wasn’t enough for team owner Roger Penske. The new combinations will seek to exceed the 2019 win total of six while at the minimum returning Penske to the Championship 4.
CAN JIMMIE JOHNSON END HIS CAREER AS A WINNER?
Jimmie Johnson will bring the curtain down on his full-time NASCAR driving career in 2020. He enters the campaign with seven championships and 83 Cup wins although Johnson hasn’t been to Victory Lane since 2017. Last year saw Johnson and long-time crew chief Chad Knaus part ways with Kevin Meendering then Cliff Daniels calling the shots for the No. 48 team. Johnson’s performance was better near the end of the schedule and the Hall of Fame lock is hoping to build on it for a competitive final season in NASCAR.
HOW WILL THE XFINITY SERIES ‘BIG 3’ FARE AS CUP ROOKIES?
Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer combined to win 21 of last year’s 33 Xfinity Series races. Now the trip moves up the NASCAR ladder to the Cup Series in what will be one of the most anticipated Rookie of the Year battles in recent memory. Reddick takes over the Richard Childress Racing No. 8 ride formerly driven by Daniel Hemric. Bell jumps into the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing entry piloted last year by Matt DiBenedetto but with additional support from TRD and Joe Gibbs Racing. Custer takes the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 seat previously held by Daniel Suarez. All three should have the opportunity to be competitive this season and provide an interesting story line to the Cup campaign.
HOW WILL THINGS CHANGE IN 2021?
While this season will have plenty of stories and racing to monitor, the discussion about what lies ahead in 2021 and beyond will definitely be on everyone’s radar. NASCAR is expected to announce next year’s schedule by late-spring/early-summer that could provide some significant changes in terms of new tracks and different venues as well as dates. The development of the NextGen Cup car will also continue throughout this year ramping up anticipation for what many around the sport believe will be the beginning of a new era in NASCAR in 2021.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.