Review of the 2020 NASCAR Silly Season

CREDIT: JARED C. TILTON/GETTY IMAGES

Were you confused by some drivers in the Busch Clash or the Bluegreen Vacation Duels? You’re not alone. That’s why the team at Kickin’ the Tires is helping you get ready for today’s Daytona 500 with a quick review of all the NASCAR Cup Series driver changes.

Quin Houff to StarCom Racing Racing No. 00 Chevrolet

Quin Hour gets a promotion from a part-time 2019 season with Spire Motorsports to a full-time ride with StarCom Racing for the 2020 Cup Series season. The 22-year old Virginia native signed a two-year contract with the team to drive their No. 00 Chevrolet.

“I’m very excited to become a part of the StarCom Racing family,” said 00 Driver Quin Houff in a team press release. “This is the chance of a lifetime to be able to become a full-time NASCAR cup driver and to turn my childhood dream into a reality. I can’t thank those that were involved throughout my career enough; especially my family and sponsors! I also would like to thank StarCom Racing for this opportunity. I am looking forward to building a reputation and experience alongside this young fast-growing team at the top level of motorsports.”

Houff’s best career finish in the Cup Series came in the Coca-Cola 600 with a 28th place finish. In 10 previous NASCAR Xfinity Series starts between 2017 and 2018, Houff’s best finish in the NXS came at Iowa Speedway in 2017 when he finished 12th. It was announced in November of last year that Houff would move to his new team.

Tyler Reddick to Richard Childress Racing No. 8 Chevrolet

In October of last year, Richard Childress Racing announced they would keep the 2018 and 2019 NXS champion with the organization by promoting him to the Cup Series for 2020. In a wild turn of events, this came a month after the team announced that Daniel Hemric would not return in the No. 8 Chevrolet in 2020.

For Reddick, his 2018 NXS championship came with Jr Motorsports, and the switch to RCR made many consider him an underdog. Reddick proved the fans and the field wrong by winning at Homestead-Miami Speedway for his second consecutive championship.

Reddick was locked into the Daytona 500 per owner points of the No. 8 machine.

Brennan Poole to Premium Motorsports No. 15 Chevrolet

Premium Motorsports announced in December that NXS driver Brennan Poole will pilot the No. 15 Chevrolet in NASCAR’s top touring series.

“I’ve been working towards this moment since I was 5 and feel blessed to have the caliber of people surrounding me that I have in this next chapter of my racing career,” Poole said in a team release. “I look forward to the opportunity to showcase our sponsor partners, both new and existing, who are supporting me at the highest level of NASCAR competition.”

Previously, Poole drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2016 and 2017 Xfinity Series seasons, where he earned four top fives and 17 top 10s. The Texas native shifted focus to the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck series racing the following two years with 15 starts in total, including a second place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Poole has six career victories in the ARCA Menards Series spanning five years and 35 starts.

Justin Haley to Race Daytona 500 in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevrolet

In a one-time occurance, Justin Haley will return to Daytona International Speedway with Kaulig Racing to race in the Daytona 500. It was this track in the summer of last year where he shocked the world by winning the rain-shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400.

“I am super excited to attempt not only our first NASCAR Cup Series race, but our first Daytona 500!” exclaimed team owner, Matt Kaulig, last month. “To be competing at the World Center of Racing on the main stage is incredible, especially for our team that began just four years ago. I have all the confidence in the world that Justin Haley will make everyone at Kaulig Racing proud and truly let everyone know that Kaulig Racing is here to compete.”

Haley has one career win in the Cup Series, but will primarily focus in the No. 11 car in the Xfinity Series.

Chris Buescher to Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford

In a surprise announcement, Roush Fenway announced in September that Chris Buescher would pilot the No. 17 Ford for 2020, and that the team would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Buescher returns to the team where he first began his development driver training, and where he won his 2012 ARCA Series championship. In four years in the Xfinity Series, the 27-year old earned three victories, 36 top-10 finishes and the 2015 championship.

“We are certainly excited to have Chris back in the fold at Roush Fenway Racing,” said Roush in a press release. “He has a long history with our organization and we’ve always been a big fan of Chris and his racing style. We have watched his progress with great interest over the last couple of seasons and we are looking forward to having him in the No. 17 as we continue to grow our program next season.”

Buescher has one career victory in the Cup Series, which came at a rain-shortened Pocono race in 2016.

Matt DiBenedetto to Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford

Probably one of the most treasured stories by the fans, the Wood Brothers Racing organization announced that Matt DiBenedetto would continue his Cup Series efforts with their team in 2020. The announcement was shortly after Paul Menard shared he would retire from racing following the conclusion of the 2019 season.

“It’s been a dream of mine to be able to drive for one of the most legendary teams in NASCAR. It’s going to be unbelievable, it’s surreal and it’s been amazing to have the opportunity”, said DiBenedetto.

For DiBenedetto, the gears started turning when he announced he opted out of his contract extension with GoFas racing to give himself the opportunity to race for a higher tier team. It was no disrespect to GoFas – in fact, they fully supported his efforts. It led to his one-season shot with Leavine Family Racing in 2019, where he led the most laps in the Daytona 500 and the night race at Bristol leading to a career best second-place finish that many fans will not soon forget.

“This season driving for LFR, to showcase what we can do and to elevate me and get me the opportunity to come over here and drive for the Wood Brothers. It’s going to be an incredible opportunity and I’m thankful for Paul (Menard), he’s always been such a big part of this sport, and he’s a great friend of mine, I’m happy for him and his future.”

Menard stated his family as a primary reason for him stepping away from full-time competition at NASCAR’s elite level.

“It’s time spent away from family. I’ve got two young kids at home, watching them grow and missing out on things they’ve been doing as a father, as a parent.”, said Menard. “This sport takes so much dedication to run at the top level. I want what’s best for the 21 team, I want what’s best for my family, and I think this decision is based off of that primarily.”

DiBenedetto is one of the favorites to win the 2020 Daytona 500.

Ryan Preece Stays with JTG Daugherty Racing and Switches to No. 37 Ford

In one of the bigger shake-ups of the 2019 silly season, Ryan Preece would move to the No. 37 Ford but stay with JTG Daugherty Racing. This was part of the Stenhouse-Buescher driver “trade” to allow more team members to stay with JTG as Stenhouse was bringing a new crew chief to the team. Trent Owens will continue crew chiefing the No. 37 car going into 2020.

“Trent is a veteran at our organization leading the charge on the No. 37 car for the past three seasons,” Geschickter said. “He elevated a young driver in his second year in the series to consistently running in the top 15, and we have high expectations that he will be a great fit with Ryan Preece next year in his sophomore season.”

More information on Stenhouse Jr. is found below.

David Ragan to Retire from Cup Series Racing

It was announced in August that the two-time Cup Series winner would retire from full-time competition in the Cup Series after the 2019 season.

“I’ve prayed and heavily considered this decision, but for myself and my family, I believe this is the right thing to do. I am a husband and a father to two young girls first, and I am a driver second”, said Ragan.

Ragan competed with Front Row Motorsports in the No. 38 Ford, and led the team to their first career victory in 2013 at Talladega Superspeedway, the second of Ragan’s career. He also holds two NXS victories and a respectable Truck series resume.

Ragan will compete in the 62nd running of the Daytona 500 with Rick Ware Racing’s No. 36 Mustang.

John Hunter Nemechek to Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford

John Hunter Nemechek was announced as Ragan’s replacement at Front Row Motorsports, joining Michael McDowell in full-time Cup Series racing.

“I’m thrilled for the opportunity to drive for Bob Jenkins and Front Row Motorsports,” Nemechek said in a press release. “Having driven the last three races with this team in 2019, I feel like we already have a foundation to start the 2020 season. I’m looking forward to continuing to build FRM.”

Nemechek made his Cup debut at Texas motor Speedway to fill-in for Matt Tifft who suffered health issues. His 21st place finish grabbed the eyes of many competitors, fans, sponsors and team owners, so team owner Bob Jenkins knew he had quite the driver in his hands.

“We are looking to the future with a young talent like John Hunter Nemechek,” Jenkins shared. “John Hunter impressed us at the end of last season, he comes from a racing family, and he’s a winning driver. We believe that we can grow with him in the years to come.”

Nemechek had three Cup starts last season, and in the last two NXS seasons, holds one victory and 30 top-10 finishes.

Cole Custer to Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford

Although he came up one spot short in back-to-back Xfinity Series championships, Cole Custer was promoted to the Cup Series to drive the No. 41 Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing. It was announced in November that the seven-time NXS race winner would compete in the top level.

“This is the moment I’ve worked for ever since I first started racing,” said Custer, who began racing quarter midgets at age five. “I’ve learned a lot in these last three years in the Xfinity Series, and to be able to stay within Stewart-Haas Racing will make a steep learning curve a little less steep. I know the people, the culture and what’s expected of me. I’m ready for this challenge.”

Custer was the last of the “Big Three” that were promoted from the Xfinity Series.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet

As what essentially was a driver trade, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will pilot the No. 47 Chevrolet in 2020. He was released from Roush Fenway Racing, but quickly picked up by the JTG team to replace Chris Buescher who took over Stenhouse’s ride at RFR.

Brian Pattie will also move over to JTG and be Stenhouse’s crew chief for 2020.

“We’re really looking forward to welcoming Brian Pattie to JTG Daugherty Racing,” team owner Tad Geschickter said in a team release. “With Brian’s veteran experience and knowledge at NASCAR’s premier level, we know he is going to be a great asset to the organization and work well with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.”

For Stenhouse, the situation caught him off-guard, but was very pleased that his seasoned crew chief would stick by his side.

“I’m very grateful to have Brian join me at JTG Daugherty Racing next season,” Stenhouse said. “Working together the past several seasons, our relationship away from the track has really developed and I know that will speed up the process of getting familiar and plugged into the team as quick as possible. He knows what I’m looking for, and I know what he expects from me. This team is a great fit for both of us, and we’re looking forward to contributing to the success JTG Daugherty Racing has been building.”

Jimmie Johnson to Retire After 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Season

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion announced on November 20, 2019 in a video on social media that the 2020 season would be his final year racing full-time.

“I’m so thankful for 18 incredible years of racing in NASCAR,” Johnson stated in the video. “This sport has been so good to me, and has allowed me to do something I truly love. I showed up chasing a dream, and achieved more than I ever thought possible. I’m looking forward to next season and celebrating what will be my last year as a full-time NASCAR Cup driver. I know what this team is capable of, and I hope 2020 is one of the best yet.”

https://twitter.com/JimmieJohnson/status/1197208802208169984

Hendrick Motorsports stated they will announce plans for the 2021 season at a later date.

J.J. Yeley to Rick Ware Racing No. 54 Ford

Rick Ware Racing announced they will field three full-time cars in 2020, led by the veteran driver of J.J. Yeley in the No. 54 Mustang.

“I can’t thank Rick and Lisa Ware enough for the opportunity to be back behind the wheel of a NASCAR Cup Series car full-time next year,” Yeley said in a media release. “They are a family owned team, who continues to grow and build new relationships with sponsors, and expand their efforts in NASCAR. Over the past couple weeks, we’ve accumulated some pretty solid finishes and can’t wait to see what we can accomplish in 2020.”

Yeley made 14 starts with the team in 2019, and across his 290 career races, he posted a career-best finish of second in 2007 with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Yeley locked himself into the Daytona 500 after the qualifying races on Thursday.

Brendan Gaughan to Retire from NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR driver Brendan Gaughan announced in December that he will retire from NASCAR competition after 2020. He stepped away from competing full-time in NASCAR following the checkered flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2017.

Gaughan also locked himself into the Daytona 500, and has one goal in mind: keeping things fun.

“I love racing, and competing with Beard Motorsports these last few years have made for some of my most enjoyable moments in NASCAR,” said Gaughan. “We do a lot with a little, so when we run up front and lead laps, it’s very satisfying because you know all the work that went into it.

“I wouldn’t want my last races as a NASCAR driver to be with any other team.”

Christopher Bell to Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Toyota

Christopher Bell was one of the “Big Three” from the Xfinity Series to get the promotion to Cup racing full-time with Leavine Family Racing in the No. 95 Camry. Bell has amassed 16 wins, 12 poles, 41 top-five and 46 top-10 finishes in 74 career NXS starts, and it was announced in September that he would replace Matt DiBenedetto in the Joe Gibbs Racing affiliated seat.

“I’m really, really excited about making the next step here at LFR and hoping we can get kicked off on the right foot. I think having Jason along beside me, it’s going to be a really big advantage,’’ Bell said. “He’s a great crew chief. He’s got a lot of experience with veteran drivers and we got to start our communication process in the Xfinity Series together, so there’s nobody else I’d rather go with than him.’’

The newlywed Oklahoma native has quickly become one of NASCAR’s next generation favorites.

Daniel Suárez to Gaunt Brothers Racing No. 96 Toyota

In one of the latest silly season changes, Daniel Suárez announced that he will be driving for Gaunt Brothers Racing in 2020. For the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, it was simply a lack of sponsorship funds that prevented him from renewing his contract with Stewart Haas Racing.

However, it was a big scare for fans of the Mexico native as he stayed silent on social media, and whenever asked about an update, “we’re working on it” was all the public knew.

Until late January when Suarez announced his return to the Toyota Racing Development team.

“It’s great to be back with Toyota and back in the NASCAR Cup Series,” said Suárez. “My NASCAR career started off really well and Toyota was a very big part of that. To have them in my corner again gives me a lot of confidence. Gaunt Brothers Racing has something to prove and so do I. We’re committed to each other and we’re going to build each other up.”

A challenging start to the season made it difficult for Suárez, as he was forced to race his way into the Daytona 500. A crash in the qualifying race eliminated him from competing in the iconic event.

“A lot of frustration, a broken heart because I have been working my ass off to make this happen and it doesn’t work.”

Suárez at this time plans to compete full time in his fourth Cup season.

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