The just completed 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season will go down in the record book as the most challenging season in the history of the sport.
This is the year that will have most people forgetting what normal once looked like and for the Cup Series it turned out to be the year that some of the changes that the governing body was forced to make might become the new norm.
Like the rest of the sport’s leagues in the country, NASCAR had to shut down the Cup Series in mid-March and had to sit back and watch as race after race was either postponed or cancelled in the weeks that followed. To NASCAR’s credit as the rest of the sporting world was having trouble putting together plans to restart or in some cases start their seasons, Steve Phelps president of NASCAR and his staff at Daytona Beach put together a very bold plan to not only restart the season in May at Darlington but to complete the 36-race schedule.
It was anything but business as usual when trying restructure the schedule as some states were beginning to open things back up while others were still locked down.
Fans would not be in attendance when the schedule resumed but for a country that was starving for a live sports event, all fans had to do was turn on their TV to witness the sport that came back first.
The resumption of the schedule was a work in progress as portions of it was released as the season progressed and long gone was the usual routine of the series rolling into a track for a couple days to practice, qualify and actually take the green flag.
What was unfolding before our eyes was a glimpse of what we will be seeing in future seasons as it was no secret that the series had become stale in so many areas and a shakeup to the schedule might be one of the ways to rejuvenate the fan base.
The pledge to get the entire 26-race regular season schedule in before the playoff portion of the final ten races took place was indeed a challenge and with it came some big changes.
The new norm for the season suddenly became filled with midweek races and doubleheaders with no practice or qualifying. Some tracks lost races while others were in a position to host more than it was originally scheduled but when it was all put together, the regular season portion of the schedule created more than enough drama and story lines to set the table for the playoffs.
Once the series had made it to the playoffs, the playoff format of three rounds that eliminated four drivers after each round made everyone forget the long hard road that it took to get to that point.
Just like it has every year since the format began, every stage point and race win was hotly contested with the elimination race at the end of each round being treated like it was the final championship race of the season. This season showed that regardless of the success that a driver has during the regular season, it is no guarantee that he will advance as one of the Championship 4 drivers that advances to the final race of the year at Phoenix with the opportunity to run for the title.
Kevin Harvick was the odds on favorite to win it all when the playoffs began with the amount of bonus points that he carried over into the playoffs but he failed to advance out of the Round of 8 as one of the four drivers to run for the title. His fate will be a reminder to future playoff drivers that you can’t win the title in the regular season.
The 2020 season proved that the Cup Series is all about competition and moving forward as some of the changes that we saw this year will become the new norm.
Up to this point, the Cup Series has been the first professional sport to get its entire season completed and the first to have fans in the stands. It was not only a challenging year but in many ways a satisfying year as everyone involved had to pull together to get the sport to Phoenix where Chase Elliott was crowned champion.
Steve Mickey writes about NASCAR for HD Media.