DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After one of many shortest offseasons in sports activities, it is Daytona 500 time once more, and the race kicks off the 2020 NASCAR Cup Collection season.
Kyle Busch is the defending collection champion after profitable his second title in November, and the highest three Xfinity Collection drivers, together with 2019 champion Tyler Reddick, have moved as much as the premier collection.
Oh, and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is retiring on the finish of the yr.
There are a number of storylines to maintain monitor of this season, so listed here are the highest 5 questions we have now going into the primary race of the yr.
1. Will Jimmie Johnson win a race in his last season?
This may absolutely be one of many dominant tales of the 2020 season. Johnson’s 19th full-time season will probably be his final, and regardless of his 83 wins, the Hendrick Motorsports driver is in the course of the worst stretch of his profession. He hasn’t been to victory lane since 2017, when he gained three races, and did not make the playoffs in 2019.
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However that is his first full season with crew chief Cliff Daniels, who took over in the course of final season, and Johnson advised NBC Sports activities on the time he brings “a spark there that I am undecided we had been conscious we had been lacking.”
When USA TODAY Sports asked Johnson on Wednesday at Daytona Worldwide Speedway if he could be OK with out profitable a minimum of yet one more, he mentioned merely: “I wouldn’t have a alternative.”
Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet had some velocity throughout qualifying for the Daytona 500 final Sunday, coming in fourth behind pole winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Hendrick teammates Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott. (Nonetheless, since he wasn’t within the high two, his spot within the beginning lineup will not be decided till Thursday’s duel races.)
So possibly that is the primary signal of hope for Johnson and his crew. Whether or not you are a 48 fan or not, it is arduous to disclaim the poetic end of Johnson profitable a minimum of yet one more race and qualifying for the playoffs. However we can’t know if his automotive has lasting and versatile velocity for a number of extra weeks.
2. Will Joe Gibbs Racing proceed its ridiculous dominance?
Joe Gibbs Racing opened the 2019 season with Denny Hamlin profitable the Daytona 500 and closed it with Kyle Busch profitable his second championship, beating out teammates Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., together with Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick. Together with Erik Jones, the JGR drivers mixed to win 19 of 36 races final season. However can they stick with it?
“It is nearly inconceivable,” mentioned Hamlin. “I benefit from the problem of us going on the market. I like our possibilities any time there are modifications, that our group adapts faster than anybody.”
Final season was unprecedented for a crew’s dominance, in order that’s a excessive bar to clear. Nonetheless, there isn’t any cause to suppose Busch’s and Hamlin’s groups will not choose up proper the place they left off. Truex might want to regulate to a brand new crew chief in James Small, previously the crew’s lead engineer, after the usually sensible Cole Pearn introduced his shock retirement on the finish of final yr.
And in his third season with the powerhouse crew, Jones, who gained the Busch Conflict exhibition race Sunday, appears poised to start out pulling his weight with a couple of win a season.
three. How will the 2020 Cup Collection schedule modifications impression the competitors?
Homestead-Miami Speedway is in March, Pocono Raceway has two races in two days, Daytona’s summer time race is the regular-season finale, Darlington Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway are on the playoff schedule – with Bristol internet hosting the primary elimination race — and Phoenix Raceway is internet hosting championship weekend in November.
NASCAR spiced up the 36-race schedule a bit of, drivers dig it and issues might get wild, particularly within the latter half.
four. Will Foolish Season begin early?
Virtually definitely, and it virtually already has with NASCAR’s potential future free brokers and their contracts being a well-liked subject going into the Daytona 500. A number of of the game’s greatest names might find yourself switching groups on the finish of the 2020 season, together with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, Workforce Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, Hendrick’s Bowman, JGR’s Jones and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer.
Plus, with Johnson retiring, there is a assured opening with Hendrick, and lots of potential for motion ought to these guys, and extra, turn out to be free brokers.
“There are at all times rides out there, however there are often restricted quantities of superb rides, and this yr there are a number of of them,” Bowyer mentioned Wednesday at Daytona Worldwide Speedway.
“Everyone knows that you’re solely nearly as good as your final race. You’ll be able to’t go on a swing of unhealthy races or have a foul yr or no matter else. It’s important to be the entire package deal and that’s in all probability extra so right now’s day in age than ever. It’s important to be the entire package deal in that race automotive and out of it as nicely.”
5. Which driver will win his first race?
I’d wager on William Byron, who’s in his third season with Hendrick Motorsports. He and crew chief Chad Knaus have one yr collectively beneath their belts, and it wouldn’t shock anybody in the event that they make it to victory lane a minimum of as soon as.
An alternative choice is Matt DiBenedetto, who got here shut at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2019 earlier than ending second and is now in his first season within the No. 21 Wooden Brothers Racing Ford.
Or possibly it is Cole Custer, a rookie who’s taking on the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.