From Ryan Newman’s last lap crash and Denny Hamlin’s photo-finish victory at the Daytona 500 to Chase Elliott becoming the third youngest driver in NASCAR history to win the championship, he did so by outlasting Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski during the last race of the season at Phoenix Motor Speedway. Kevin Harvick’s season high nine wins was not enough to make the final 4, only the final 8 as he made contact and nudged Kyle Busch out of the way on the last lap at Martinsville.It was a farewell season for three drivers including, seven time champion, Jimmie Johnson retiring after a 20 year Hall of Fame career, one of the greatest drivers of not only this era, but of all time. Johnson was committed to the Hendrick Motorsports team and drove the No. 48 Chevy throughout his career. Matt Kenseth also joins Johnson in retirement and a potential Hall of Famer eligible in 2023 as he came out of retirement and replaced Kyle Larson in the No. 42 Chevy during Larson’s suspension. Kenseth with an impressive 39 career wins in a 22 year career, Clint Bowyer also retired at the end of this season and will join Fox Sports as a NASCAR analyst next season.
This season was one of the more memorable in NASCAR history, starting with Ryan Newman’s horrific Daytona 500 crash only to see him return after missing three races, Covid-19 suspended the sport after just 4 of 36 races had been completed and the drivers had to adjust racing twice a week on Tuesday or Wednesday nights to make up for lost time, then there was the first race in cup series history to feature rain tires at the Bank of America Roval 400 in Concord, North Carolina and we can’t forget some of the all time craziest finishes – aside from the Daytona 500, there was the wild overtime dash at Talladega, Ryan Blaney edged out Ricky Stenhouse Jr by a foot, Cole Custer the lone rookie to win this season with a gutsy four wide passing of Martin Truex Jr on the final lap at Kentucky and postseason choker, Denny Hamlin who had a comfortable lead with 7 laps to go in one of NASCAR’S prestigious events, Brickyard 400 crashed due to a tire blunder handed second place Kevin Harvick the victory.
This season also showed unity as the drivers and crew members rallied behind Bubba Wallace, the only black driver in the top racing series, as they pushed his car all the way to the front of pit road to stand by him during the National Anthem at Talladega. This came about after a noose was found hanging in his garage stall days later he sported a Black Lives Matter decal on his No. 43 Chevrolet and hailed NASCAR’S decision to ban the Confederate flag. Despite the sign of injustice, he continued to persevere to earn a career high, 22nd place finish in the chase, the now 5 year driver has made some noise in the big leagues as he has achieved 6 career wins with the Gardner RV & Outdoor Tuck Series along with 35 top ten finishes with the Xfinity Series.
Some drivers are already jumping cars and owners for the start of the 2021 season, here are some of the notable transactions so far, Bubba Wallace has signed a multi-year deal with Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin Racing, it should be intriguing to see one of the best basketball players of all-time own and operate in the auto racing industry. Officially, Denny Hamlin is a minority partner with MJ but he will continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. It wouldn’t be long for the iconic No. 48 to find it’s next driver as Alex Bowman will take over with 2 career wins and 41 top ten finishes in his first 6 seasons. In just his third season, he was promoted to Hendrick Motorsports as the successor to Dale Earnhardt Jr in the No. 88 Chevy. Kyle Larson’s suspension will be lifted on January 1st over a racial insult said during an online gaming event, he will officially sign a multi-year deal with Hendrick Motorsports with 6 wins, 56 top fives and 8 pole starts under his belt. He is fortunate to be given a second chance to remain a NASCAR member who serves as a role model for the many fans who follow this sport. Eric Jones will switch from the No. 20 Toyota to the No. 43 Chevy as he will become the next driver to ride for the legendary Richard Petty. William Byron and Aric Almirola have both earned extensions as well, Byron, a two-year deal with Hendrick Motorsports will stay in the iconic No. 24 after earning his first career win at the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. As for Almirola, he couldn’t muster a win but had a great year overall with career highs of top 5 finishes with 6 and 305 laps led.
Although Covid-19 is still spreading across the United States, NASCAR is growing strong and projected to have a regular 36 race season including practice and qualifying starting, 2021 schedule opener the Daytona 500 on February 14th all the way through to Phoenix Raceway on November 7th. In between these point-paying races, there are four new venues, Circuit of The Americas, Nashville Superspeedway, Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course and a bonus, the return of dirt-track racing in more than 50 years.
Positive news for fans, NASCAR president Steve Phelps believes the races will run with fans but attendance could be limited. NASCAR ran all 36 races during the pandemic with zero practices and limited crew despite not knowing it would return after four events. Only time will tell if the 2021 season will be a smooth ride or will it hit a brick wall with the ongoing pandemic spreading across our nation.Tags: Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR Last modified: November 22, 2020