The 2020 NASCAR season had more than its share of memorable and important stories.
Ryan Newman’s Daytona 500 Accident
This year’s running of "The Great American Race" ended in a frightening scene that thankfully had a happy outcome. As Denny Hamlin took the Daytona 500 checkered flag, Ryan Newman was involved in a violent last-lap accident where his Roush Fenway Ford flipped after being hit by Corey LaJoie. Newman was rushed to Halifax Health Medical Center and things appeared to be dire in the aftermath of the crash. But two days later, Newman walked out of the hospital holding the hands of his two daughters and made a full recovery to return to racing just months later.
The Pandemic Pause
The entire sports world was sent into hiatus by the COVID-19 pandemic, and NASCAR was part of the shutdown. The sport was forced to sit idle for nearly two months before getting back on track in mid-May. During the time iRacing telecasts took center stage and thanks to a series of national telecasts by FOX, fans were both entertained and engaged with the computer simulation competition that helped fill the void until the actual on-track product was able to return.
NASCAR Returns to Racing
NASCAR became the first major professional sports to resume competition May 17 at Darlington Raceway. The sanctioning body created and then implemented a strict set of protocols to allow teams and essential personnel to convene at the track for races. That included not having practice or qualifying. Teams put their cars (and trucks) through inspection and the field was set to race. It became the normal procedure for the remainder of the season, but despite having to shift other dates and venues around, NASCAR was the only sport able to complete all of its scheduled events on time.
NASCAR Addresses Civil Unrest
NASCAR delivered a strong message against racial inequality and racism before the running of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. A number of drivers appeared in a video speaking about the subject before the race as a prelude to an even bigger gesture before the start of the race. The field was stopped on the frontstretch while pit crews stood on the wall in front of the pit boxes. NASCAR President Steve Phelps then addressed the competitors as well as fans. Three weeks later at Talladega Superspeedway, another powerful message was delivered when every driver and crew member as well as other track and NASCAR officials stood behind Bubba Wallace in a show of solidarity.
Chase Elliott Wins Championship
The sport’s Most Popular Driver put together a string of successful performances during the Playoffs that culminated with Chase Elliott’s first Cup Series championship. The Hendrick Motorsports driver parlayed a "must-win" situation at Martinsville Speedway into a Championship 4 berth. Elliott went to the Phoenix Raceway finale and kept his streak alive by winning the race and taking home the title, joining his Hall of Fame dad Bill Elliott as father-son champions.
Harvick Misses Championship 4
Kevin Harvick had one of the best regular seasons of the Playoff era in 2020. He easily won the regular-season title and added two wins of the three races in the opening round of the Playoffs to his total to give him nine wins on the year. But things did not go well for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver the rest of the way, and despite a last-ditch effort at Martinsville Speedway to advance to the Championship 4, Harvick came up short and was not eligible to compete for the 2020 title.
Johnson’s Last Full-Time Season
It was fitting that the two individuals that teamed up to be one of the greatest driver-crew chief pairings in NASCAR history retired from active competition after the 2020 season, Jimmie Johnson hung up his full-time helmet and will transition to the next phase of his career racing IndyCar, sports cars and competing in other disciplines. Knaus, who helped guide William Byron to his first career Cup Series victory in 2020, moves into the vice president of competition role at Hendrick Motorsports. Together the duo combined to win seven Cup Series championships including five straight, a feat that more than likely will never be duplicated.
Kyle Busch Struggles
The defending Cup champion suffered through – by his high standards – a disappointing year. Kyle Busch didn’t win until October at Texas Motor Speedway and was not able to advance to the Round of 8 in the Playoffs. The end result was a shake-up at Joe Gibbs Racing that will pair Busch with new crew chief Ben Beshore while Adam Stevens moves over to work with Christopher Bell at the organization in 2021.
2021 Schedule Release
NASCAR promised there would be significant changes to the 2021 schedule and delivered with a major overhaul of next year’s slate. New venues including Road America, Circuit of the Americas and Nashville Superspeedway are now part of the calendar with second stops added at Darlington Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway as well as a dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The modifications meant the loss of tracks like Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway, but the end result is a much more diverse schedule than in the past.
New Teams Announced
A flurry of new organizations came to life in advance of the 2021 season. The highest-profile team is 23XI Racing, co-owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin. Bubba Wallace will drive the No. 23 Toyota next season. Trackhouse Racing owned by Justin Marks will have Daniel Suarez behind the wheel and Live Fast Motorsports, co-owned by B.J. McLeod and Matt Tifft will also debut next season with McLeod driving the No. 78 entry. Spire Motorsports also grows to a two-car operation with Corey LaJoie in the No. 7.