Previously on this site we posted a piece titled “Why wouldn’t Joe Gibbs Racing dominate again in 2020?” and in that article several points were made as to why the organization that won more than half of the NASCAR Cup Series races and the season championship in 2019 will again rule the roost in the upcoming season.
In this piece we will offer up a few reasons as to why those charged with opposing the JGR juggernaut might have at least some reason for optimism.
Keep in mind that NASCAR has mandated that no new parts can be developed in 2020 with the next generation of car set to come on line in 2021. So essentially, teams will be using the machines they also used last year. And more, with the lone exception of crew chief Cole Pearn leaving the No. 19 team of Martin Truex, Jr., there has been no turnover among the major players within the JGR operation. Business as usual bodes well for that company.
So if anyone is to challenge their supremacy, who might it be?
The first organization that comes to mind that might play the role of David against the mighty Goliath would be Team Penske. Considering that JGR won 19 races in 2019, there weren’t many other wins to go around. Of the remaining 17 events, Penske drivers Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney claimed six of them. However, none of those pilots made the final cut into the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But something to consider is that even with the mandate that little to nothing on the cars can change for the coming season other than the tweaks to the rules package for short tracks and road courses, Team Penske still made some moves in an attempt to shake things up a bit. The Roger Penske-owned organization appears unwilling to sit back and accept the status quo for 2020 as everyone awaits the arrival of the next generation car.
For the upcoming season, all three of the Penske teams will have a new leader atop the pit box. Even though all three experienced success last year, they failed to pose a threat to JGR on ‘Championship Sunday’. No doubt, the company hopes that changing up the crew chief lineup will provide an extra bit of energy to the drivers and crew members going into a new campaign.
If you can’t change the cars, why not change the people, right?
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Paul Wolfe will no longer call the shots for Keselowski and the No. 2 Ford, as he did during that team’s championship run of 2012. He will instead work with Logano and the No. 22 operation. Jeremy Bullins, who led Team Penske’s Xfinity Series championship efforts in 2013 and 2014 and most recently served as the guide for Blaney and the No. 12, will move over to the No. 2 ride from Blaney’s team. Todd Gordon, who pointed the way for Logano’s championship triumph in 2018, will now head up the No. 12 team for Blaney.
In all likelihood, these moves were also made with an eye toward the transition to the new car in 2021 but they could also provide some sort of impetus to challenge the dominance of JGR in one last run with the current machine as well.
Another organization in the NASCAR garage area that is relying on a crew chief shuffle in hopes of rising up against JGR is that of Stewart-Haas Racing. While not as extensive as the moves made by Team Penske, SHR is looking to the same type of formula to improve their standing in 2020.
The highly successful pairing of driver Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers will remain in place. No doubt, SHR felt that breaking up a duo that has gone to Homestead-Miami for three consecutive years and six of the last seven seasons with a chance to win the title was too risky of a move. Beyond that, however, the mix and match of drivers and crew chiefs called for a complete turn over.
Mike Bugarewicz, who has previously worked with the
But unlike both JGR and Team Penske, there has been a driver change at SHR. Cole Custer has moved up from a highly successful run in the NASCAR Xfinity Series to the No. 41 Cup Series Ford replacing Daniel Suarez in that seat. Not only did the driver move up from the second series but his crew chief, Mike Shiplett, came with him.
Harvick was the only driver to find victory lane in 2019 for Stewart-Haas Racing. The operation co-owned by former NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and businessman Gene Haas is hoping to find some magic from within their own company by moving a few pieces around prior to the move to Daytona for the Cup Series season opener.
Among the other top teams in the sport, Hendrick Motorsports is still working through a revamping of their driver lineup and it remains to be seen if William Byron and Alex Bowman will emerge as serious championship contenders. Chase Elliott looks to be reaching the level that many had expected for him. And of course, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is driving himself toward retirement from full-time racing at the end of this season.
Chip Ganassi Racing saw both of its teams win races in 2019 for drivers Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch but simple math works against CGR when it comes to challenging the top teams. There are only two of them while JGR, SHR and Penske have either three or four cars entered in each race.
Richard Childress Racing may be poised to show signs of improvement in 2020 by bringing in NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick but they would likely be better served to focus their attention on the next generation car.
Roush-Fenway Racing made some strides in the right direction last year and have brought in Chris Buescher to drive their No. 17 car but they are not ready to take on those at the very top tier in the Cup Series.
Ultimately, if any NASCAR Cup Series operation is to challenge Joe Gibbs Racing in 2020, which will be difficult, it will almost certainly be either Team Penske or Stewart-Haas Racing. Beyond this year, however, it’s a whole new ball game with the next generation car coming to the sport and what looks to be wholesale changes in driver lineups as a significant number of the sport’s biggest stars are approaching the ends of their current contracts.
JGR may be poised for another season at the top this year but there are no guarantees beyond that.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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