I know January is all about the NFL’s playoff road to eventually crown this year’s Super Bowl champion but if you are a race fan you did get a glimpse of what is just around the corner over the weekend.
During FOX’s broadcast of one of the weekend’s Wild Card games, the commercial that all race fans wait on each winter appeared as the network began running promos of its upcoming telecast of the Daytona 500.
Just think we can now say that the new season starts next month and when you say it like that, it doesn’t seem nearly as long. Before we start frothing at the mouth over the beginning of what promises to be one of the more interesting seasons with the changes that will take place, let’s take one final look back at the 2019 season and the story lines that seemed to stick out.
The one headline that seemed to be on the sports page every Monday morning was the domination that Joe Gibbs Racing had over the series.
The Championship 4 field at Homestead-Miami featured Gibbs’ teammates Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin with Busch being crowned the series champion for the second time in his career. Erik Jones joined his three JGR teammates to collect 19 checkered flags.
Seven time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson continued to make news in the sport and it wasn’t for his winning but instead for going winless and failing to advance as one of the sixteen drivers to make the playoff field.
He made even bigger news when he announced that the 2020 season would be his last as a full time driver in the series. The future Hall of Famer now has one more season to break the tie he is in with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for having the most series titles.
Not all of the memorable moments happened on the track as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s plane crash on his way to broadcast a race at Bristol with his family provided one of the scariest moments of the season.
Even though he no longer crawls behind the wheel on race day, he still has one of the largest followings of anybody in the sport and has taken on the role as the sport’s ambassador.
NASCAR’s release of the 2020 schedule during the season was a loud statement by the sanctioning body that it is willing to change with the times. Bristol will now plays host to the first elimination race of the playoffs, Pocono will host its two Cup races during the same weekend and the final race of the season will now be at Phoenix. These are just a few of the changes and more are expected with the 2021 schedule as the sport has to renew its TV contracts.
The new rules package had some teams struggling while others came out of the box strong. Like all rule packages introduced in the sport, this one was intended to increase competition by cutting back on horsepower and the addition of more down force. While the new package didn’t improve the competition at every track it did improve the racing at the intermediate tracks which makes up so much of the schedule.
Denny Hamlin came up short in his bid to win his first ever championship but the driver had the kind of season that any other driver not named Kyle Busch would have loved to experience. He began the season by winning the Daytona 500.
It was the first of six trips to victory lane for the Joe Gibbs driver with one of the wins coming in the final playoff race at Phoenix that advanced him to the Championship 4. All of this success came after going winless in 2018 and working with crew chief Chris Gabehart for the first time.