2020 NASCAR Preview: Predictions, analysis for the upcoming season

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The 2020 NASCAR season is officially underway. Photo//Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images.

With Denny Hamlin winning the Daytona 500 this past Monday, the 2020 NASCAR season is officially underway. It will be a season of change for the sport that should provide some entertaining racing. 

The schedule has been revamped with the addition of a night race at Martinsville Speedway and a double-header at Pocono Raceway. It will also be the final season that NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson races full-time and the final season teams use the Generation 6 car before the much anticipated Generation 7 car debuts in 2021. 

The 2020 rookie class is also one of the deepest in years with Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, and Cole Custer headlining the group. All three drivers will be top competitors in the sport for years to come. 

Although there is a lot of change heading into the season, much still remains the same. Defending champion Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing are still the class of the field, while Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano remain their stiffest competition. Kevin Harvick will continue to add to his hall of fame career with Stewart-Haas Racing and Chase Elliott will look to build off the progress he and Hendrick Motorsports made in 2019. 

The 2020 NASCAR season has the potential to be the best season in years and the following is what is to be expected from the upcoming season.

Storyline to Watch

Jimmie Johnson’s Final Season

Since 2002, there has only been one constant force in NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson. He is tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most championships in history at seven and is tied for the sixth most wins ever with 83. Johnson is unquestionably the greatest driver of the 2000s and 2010s, but the past few seasons have been tough for the California native. After winning his record-tying championship in 2016, Johnson has not finished higher than tenth in the final standings and has just three wins over that span (all in 2017). Possibly as a result of this decline in performance, Johnson announced in November that 2020 would be his final full-time season in the Cup Series. Although it would be easy to get distracted during a farewell season, Johnson has assured fans that he is as motivated as ever and is determined to get the #48 back in victory lane and compete for a championship. It will be fun to watch the legendary driver go after his eighth championship and overcome the struggles he has faced in recent years. Even if he fails, Johnson’s farewell tour will dominate headlines all season long.

Honorable Mentions: Reddick, Custer, and Bell’s rookie seasons. Penske’s new crew chief and driver pairings. Martin Truex Jr.’s first season without Cole Pearn.

Biggest Surprise

Matt DiBenedetto

Matt DiBenedetto was one of the feel-good stories of the 2019 season. During the 2018 off-season, DiBenedetto left underfunded GoFas Racing with hopes to find a better ride for 2019. Fortunately, he found that with the Leavine Family Racing #95 Toyota, which had a small technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. After a tough start to the season, DiBenedetto found his groove and finished the year with seven top 10’s and three top fives. The highlight of his season was when he led 93 laps during the Bristol Night Race in August and nearly won the event. Although he showed great signs of improvement and became a fan-favorite, Leavine decided to part ways with DiBenedetto because Joe Gibbs Racing promised a stronger technical alliance if they gave Christopher Bell the #95. DiBenedetto quickly found a new ride in the #21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford after Paul Menard announced his retirement. Wood Brothers has a strong alliance with Penske Racing and is an upgrade from Leavine Family Racing. DiBenedetto has already proven he can race with the big boys in mediocre equipment, but will be able to consistently compete for wins with by-far the best equipment he’s ever raced in. The driver of the #21 will finish with at least one win in 2020 and make the Playoffs for the first time in his career.

Honorable Mentions: William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Erik Jones

Biggest Disappointment

Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer earns a lot of media and fan attention because he is one of the best personalities in the sport. He brings humor to every race and has conducted some of the best interviews in recent years. Many people, however, mistakenly consider Bowyer as one of the top drivers in the sport because of how much attention he gets. He had two great years in 2007 and 2008, when he finished inside the top five in points, and his best season was in 2012 when he finished second in the standings and recorded three wins. Since 2012, however, Bowyer has just two wins (both in 2018) and has finished inside the top-10 in points twice. Although he is statistically not a top driver, many experts still predict Bowyer to be competing for the championship in 2020 and it makes no sense. He is driving in top equipment for Stewart-Haas Racing, but that has been the case the last three years and he has shown each season that he is incapable of being a serious championship contender. Bowyer is nothing more than a decent driver and will have another mediocre 2020 season that will leave fans disappointed. 

Honorable Mentions: Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Tyler Reddick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Rookie of the Year

Christopher Bell

Although he lost the Xfinity Series championship each of the last two seasons, Christopher Bell is the most talented of the 2020 rookies. Bell won 15 races over his two full-time seasons in the Xfinity Series and was widely considered to be the series’ best driver, even though he lost the championship. Now in the Cup Series, Bell moves into the #95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota, which is essentially a part of Joe Gibbs Racing. Gibbs was the best team in the sport in 2019, so Bell is racing in some of the best equipment possible. He does, however, have some stiff competition for the Rookie of the Year award as two-time defending Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer, who had seven wins last year in the Xfinity Series, also made the jump to Cup. Reddick and Custer are skilled racers that will have successful careers, but will not have the same amount of impact in their rookie seasons as Bell. Reddick is racing for Richard Childress Racing, which has not competed for a championship since 2013 with Kevin Harvick. Custer will be racing for a top team in Stewart-Haas Racing and could find himself in victory lane, but Bell’s talent will win out over Custer’s and earn the driver of the #95 Toyota the 2020 Rookie of the Year award. 

Honorable Mentions: Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek 

2020 Playoff Field

  1. Kyle Busch 
  2. Kevin Harvick
  3. Denny Hamlin
  4. Joey Logano
  5. Martin Truex Jr.
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Chase Elliott
  8. Kyle Larson
  9. William Byron
  10. Erik Jones
  11. Kurt Busch
  12. Jimmie Johnson
  13. Ryan Blaney
  14. Christopher Bell
  15. Matt DiBenedetto
  16. Ryan Newman

On the Playoff Bubble: Aric Almirola, Cole Custer, Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher, Clint Bowyer

The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion will be…

Joey Logano celebrates his first championship in 2018. Photo//AP Photo/Terry Renna.

Joey Logano

The 2018 champion, Joey Logano will rebound from missing the Championship 4 in 2019 and claim his second championship in 2020. Penske Racing changed all of their crew chiefs and driver pairing prior to this season and Logano got Brad Keselowski’s former crew chief Paul Wolfe. Wolfe won the 2012 championship with Keselowski and is considered to be one of the top crew chiefs in the garage. The addition of Wolfe and Logano’s added motivation from missing out on the 2019 championship will result in another tremendous season for the driver of the #22. He will pick up at least five victories and be within the top five in points all season long. Logano already proved he is willing to do whatever it takes to win a championship in 2018 and that drive will lead him to the top of the NASCAR world once again. 

Honorable Mentions: Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott

At the time this was written, no statement had been released on the condition of Ryan Newman after his gruesome crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.