Turn 2 Blog: What does the future hold for NASCAR in 2020?

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.

Richard: The Busch Clash held this past Sunday at Daytona International Speedway is now over and the only thing I think we can say we learned from that race is the so-called “greatest drivers in the world” in the NASCAR Cup Series are more than capable of destroying lots of equipment. But now that the exhibition race is over, it’s time to focus on the event that truly matters and the season as a whole.

The Daytona 500 will be run this coming Sunday with events for the NASCAR Xfinity Series (Saturday) and the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series (Friday) being held in the days preceding the ‘Great American Race’. It will be a full week of action at the ‘World Center of Racing’ with those events taking place along with the Bluegreen Vacations Duel races slated on Thursday night.

We go from albeit a short off-season with no NASCAR to an introduction to the new campaign with a flood of action taking place over a relatively short period of time.

With that said, it was been widely circulated that there will be some sort of schedule changes coming in 2021 for the NASCAR Cup Series as well as its support divisions. One of the rumors that has floated around is that of the possibility for the Daytona 500 to be run at some other time of year, or at least in another position on the schedule other than first.

Of course, years ago NASCAR used to kick off its season in January with a race in Riverside, CA before moving to Daytona in February. But since 1982, each season has kicked off in Florida with the running of the sport’s marquee event.

What are your thoughts on the possibility of some other race leading off the NASCAR season?

Michael: I don’t have a problem with another race starting off the season as long as the Daytona 500 is in February. It would be a big mistake to move it to another month or even the last race of the season, as some have suggested.

Either way, Daytona and NASCAR have to be careful with its scheduling for the 500 in 2021. There are already reports the speedway has announced next year’s race will be held on Feb. 14. What makes that interesting is that is only a week after the Super Bowl, which will be held in Tampa on Feb. 7. There are usually two weeks between those events. With both being in Florida and only a week apart, it is going to cause a scheduling nightmare for the other racing action on asphalt and dirt in the state leading up to the 500. This bears close watching.

Will JGR continue to dominate with driver Denny Hamlin and others?

Richard: I’m going to disagree a bit regarding the placement of the Daytona 500. I do believe it should be the first race of the season for multiple reasons, but most of all, because the buildup leading into this race exceeds all other races on the schedule. Having this race first sets up the rest of the season like no other event could.

I agree, however, that there needs to be two weeks between the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500 due to all of the other racing that takes place in Florida in the weeks preceding the 500. Both dirt and pavement short tracks depend on that time frame to start their seasons.

But to completely shift gears from that topic, last year we saw domination that has almost been unmatched in the modern era of NASCAR as the four drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing won more than half of the races on the schedule. Of course, that organization claimed the championship as well having Kyle Busch take the title.

For the 2020 season, the sanctioning body has essentially put a freeze on the development of new parts as they want the focus to be placed on the next generation car that is to be introduced at the beginning of the 2021 season. With that in mind, is there any reason to believe that JGR won’t again rule over the NASCAR Cup Series?

Michael: I don’t think they will have any challengers in the win department in 2020. They have three drivers that can win almost any week and a fourth driver who is slowly coming into his own in Erik Jones. Not to mention they have Christopher Bell waiting in the wings with the Leavine Family Racing team.

Penske has two drivers that are capable of winning most anywhere. But it just looks as if Keselowski is starting to fade a bit. Stewart-Haas has Kevin Harvick, but Bowyer is inconsistent, Almirola is a good racer but just a notch below the top tier drivers, and Cole Custer is a rookie. Hendrick has a bunch of young drivers and a retiring Jimmie Johnson. With those mentioned only have one or two winning drivers and the other unmentioned teams being hit or miss, I look for another Gibbs dominated season.

Richard: If anyone is to challenge JGR I would think the two organizations you pointed out are the most likely.

Team Penske made some major personnel moves within their company during the off-season that, from the outside looking in, seems to have been motivated by a desire to close the gap on their biggest rival but perhaps also to help with bringing the new car into being. Obviously, the shuffling of team members could work in either of two directions. It could serve to re-energize the three teams or it could backfire and have a negative effect.

Stewart-Haas Racing also played some crew member musical chairs but not quite as involved as Penske.

One thing I see as an interesting factor going into this season is that a number of drivers find themselves in the final years of their contracts. A recent trend has been for teams to look at replacing veteran drivers who command more money with younger and more affordable up-and-comers. Do you think we might see considerable turnover at the end of 2020 and how do you foresee that impacting the level of competition?

Can Ryan Blaney and the other Team Penske drivers catch up to JGR?

Michael: The 2021 silly season is bound to be one of the more topsy-turvy eras in NASCAR in some time. As you said, the trend is to get young drivers with lesser salaries because teams are making more of an effort to cut costs (more on that later). But there are also some young-ish drivers, like Kyle Larson, who have deals coming to an end. I think what Larson does will dictate what happens to a lot of other drivers. While teams don’t discuss driver salaries, Larson will be in demand and it’s a matter of what teams are willing to give to sign him.

NASCAR has been promising a revamped schedule for 2021. If the number of races is reduced, as has been discussed, will that prompt older drivers to stick around like Harvick has chosen to do or will the trend of those drivers retiring continue?

As teams continue to look at cutting more costs, will there be any changes made to exhibition races? If I’m an owner and I saw the carnage that took place Sunday in the Busch Clash, I’m beginning to think that race is no longer needed. We’ll see if the Clash and/or the All-Star race hit the chopping block in 2021.

Kyle Larson ‘s contact could set the tone for others

Richard: Something that will be interesting to watch going forward will be what drivers might demand should their pay start getting cut. Granted, none of them are going have to start bagging groceries at Kroger to make ends meet. But still, if they are going to make less money there may be other benefits teams will have to concede in order to get who they want in the driver’s seat.

A guy like Larson who loves to race outside of NASCAR is going to demand that be part of his next contract. And if/when Christopher Bell gets in the position where he can make demands, he will want that as well. Some drivers may start to ask for a week or two off during the “regular” season once they have won a race and guaranteed themselves a spot in the NASCAR Playoffs or they might demand fewer sponsor related appearances, etc…

It will be interesting to see how much longer guys like Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex, Jr., and Denny Hamlin choose to(or are allowed to) hang around.

Now with all of that said, let’s look into the old InsideCircleTrack.com crystal ball.

I’m going to pick Joey Logano to win his second Daytona 500 with Ryan Preece being the driver everyone is pointing to at the end of the day and asking “where did he come from?”.

And more, I’m picking Kyle Busch to go back-to-back as the NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Michael: I usually like to make a pick on the 500 after the Thursday races. I’ll make one and pick Chase Elliott to win the Daytona 500 with Matt DiBenedetto being the sleeper pick.

For the championship, I’m picking Joey Logano to win as long as he doesn’t continue to make enemies on the track.

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