Thursday, February 6, 2020

PREVIEW: It's back to the beach as the Cup Series kicks off the action in Daytona

PHOTO: @StarcomRacing
Sunday, February 9, 2020
CUP Exhibition Race
The Busch Clash
2019 Last-Place Finisher: Erik Jones

On December 18, Busch Beer announced they would return as title sponsor of the event for the first time since 1997. The starting lineup will consist of 18 drivers, excluding two eligible drivers from last season: Daniel Hemric, who was replaced by Tyler Reddick in the Richard Childress Racing #8, and Daniel Suarez, replaced by Cole Custer at Stewart-Haas Racing. As of this writing, Hemric is not entered in the Daytona 500 while Suarez will drive for Gaunt Brothers Racing (see below).

#1-Kurt Busch
#2-Brad Keselowski
#3-Austin Dillon
#4-Kevin Harvick
#6-Ryan Newman
#9-Chase Elliott
#10-Aric Almirola
#11-Denny Hamlin
#12-Ryan Blaney
#14-Clint Bowyer
#18-Kyle Busch
#19-Martin Truex, Jr.
#20-Erik Jones
#22-Joey Logano
#24-William Byron
#42-Kyle Larson
#48-Jimmie Johnson
#88-Alex Bowman

Thursday, February 13, 2020
CUP Exhibition Races
Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona, Races 1 and 2
2019 Last-Place Finishers: Cody Ware, B.J. McLeod

This year’s Daytona 500 will see 43 drivers attempt to make the 40-car field. After Sunday’s qualifying session, five drivers will compete for the final two spots.

CREW CHIEF SWAP: #2-Penske Racing
CREW CHIEF SWAP: #12-Penske Racing
CREW CHIEF SWAP: #22-Penske Racing
On January 6 came news that Roger Penske would swap crew chiefs among all three of his Cup teams. Paul Wolfe will now helm Joey Logano’s crew while Todd Gordon, Logano’s crew chief, moves to Ryan Blaney’s team. Brad Keselowski will now work with Jeremy Bullins. On the sponsor side, Blaney welcomes new backing from Advance Auto Parts, the previous sponsor of what is now the Busch Clash, running it as primary sponsor for four races in addition to a full-time associate. For Keselowski, however, his Miller Lite sponsor will only be the primary for the Coca-Cola 600 and remain an associate the rest of the year. This is the smallest NASCAR presence by the Miller brand in years, not only with Penske dating back to 1991, but previously with DiGard Racing and Blue Max Racing.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #6-Roush-Fenway Racing
For Ryan Newman’s second season in the #6, Castrol has joined the team as one of their sponsors, running as a full-time sponsor in select races. Koch Industries joined on for other races, starting with the Busch Clash and the Daytona 500. And after a close contest between three different fan designs, Oscar Meyer will run the winner in the spring race at Phoenix.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-Richard Childress Racing
This year sees all of last year’s XFINITY Series standouts advance to Cup at the same time, each in top-flite equipment. Leading the charge is two-time and defending XFINITY champion Tyler Reddick, who stays with Richard Childress Racing and Chevrolet. Reddick takes the place of Daniel Hemric, who secured last year’s Rookie of the Year title after it was announced he would be leaving the team. Hemric will return to the XFINITY Series, driving part-time for JR Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
On December 11 came word that Brennan Poole will not only make his Cup debut in the Daytona 500, but run the full season in Jay Robinson’s primary #15 car. Spartan Mosquito was revealed as the team’s Daytona 500 sponsor in a recent announcement at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Poole has never made a Cup Series start but earned several strong runs in last year’s Truck Series season with All Out Motorsports, highlighted by a runner-up to Kyle Busch in Charlotte. Poole takes the place of Joe Nemechek, who ran the car at Homestead, as Joe will focus on both the Truck and XFINITY Series races next week.

NEW TEAM: #16-Kaulig Racing
Justin Haley was elusive about his Cup Series plans for 2020, but that changed on January 10 with news that the Coke Zero 400 winner would attempt his first Daytona 500 start – and the first Cup attempt for Kaulig Racing. Fraternal Order of Eagles returns as sponsor on his Chevrolet as the youngster looks to score the “reverse double” at the track.

DRIVER SWAP: #17-Roush-Fenway Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #37-JTG-Daugherty Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #47-JTG-Daugherty Racing
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was first released from the #17 for Chris Buescher to take over in 2020, reuniting Buescher with the organization that earned him the XFINITY Series title in 2015. It wasn’t until sometime later that Stenhouse then was invited to drive for JTG-Daugherty Racing, filling the open seat. JTG added another wrinkle on December 2 when it was revealed Stenhouse would drive the team’s flagship #47 instead of the vacated #37, sliding last year’s rookie Ryan Preece to Buescher’s old ride.

TEAM UPDATE: #19-Joe Gibbs Racing
Martin Truex, Jr. will be without his crew chief Cole Pearn, who retired over the holidays in order to spend more time with his family. James Small leads the #19 team, as Truex looks to extend his streak of making the Championship Four.

DRIVER SWAP: #21-Wood Brothers Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #95-Leavine Family Racing
The controversial decision to replace the popular Matt DiBenedetto with XFINITY standout Christopher Bell will take effect this season. Bell will make his first start for Leavine Family Racing in the race where DiBenedetto led the most laps last year before he was eliminated in a late crash. DiBenedetto will make his debut with the Wood Brothers, taking the place of Paul Menard, who retired from full-time competition at the end of last season to make way for Matt.

DRIVER SWAP: #27-Premium Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #77-Spire Motorsports
After a sterling top-ten finish with Premium Motorsports in last year’s Daytona 500, Ross Chastain will this year run for Spire, who for the second-straight 500 will partner with Chip Ganassi Racing. As revealed on January 9, Chastain’s #77 Chevrolet will carry sponsorship from AdventHealth, the same sponsor Kyle Larson will run in the race. Chastain swaps rides with Reed Sorenson, who will take Chastain’s place in Premium’s #27.

TEAM UPDATE: #32-Go FAS Racing
Despite rumors that another driver, perhaps Daniel Suarez, would be replacing him as driver in 2020, it was confirmed on December 3 that Corey LaJoie will return as driver of the #32 Ford for a second season. The team already has another “throwback” scheme in mind for Darlington, plus a special paint job at Martinsville this fall. signed as their sponsor for the Daytona 500.

DRIVER SWAP: #36-Front Row Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #38-Front Row Motorsports
Matt Tifft, who suffered a second seizure over the offseason, agreed to part ways with Front Row this season. As Tifft continues his recovery, John Hunter Nemechek closed out the 2019 campaign for him but on December 12 revealed a move to the #38 previously driven by David Ragan. Fire Alarm Services, Inc., a longtime Nemechek sponsor, will back four of John Hunter’s Cup races this season. Ragan wasn’t originally listed to drive in this year’s Daytona 500 as he retired from full-time competition at the end of last season. But on January 10 came news Ragan will run the #36 in the 500 with Select Blinds as sponsor. Ragan will be guaranteed a starting spot thanks to Tifft’s Charter, which will go to Rick Ware Racing the following week (see below).

DRIVER CHANGE: #41-Stewart-Haas Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Parker Kligerman reported he has no plans to run any of NASCAR’s top three series this season. Most significantly, this includes his ride with the Gaunt Brothers in the Cup Series, which will have a new driver. After several rumors, it was finally confirmed on January 28 that Daniel Suarez, released from Stewart-Haas Racing for XFINITY graduate Cole Custer, will reunite with Toyota and run full-time in the #96. Suarez takes the place of Drew Herring, who made his Cup debut with the Gaunt Brothers last fall at Homestead. Suarez will do so without a Charter, though the team is now first in line to bid on one. Coca-Cola and CommScope join Suarez as sponsors.

TEAM UPDATE: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
Felix Sabates called it a career on December 12 when he ended three decades of team ownership in NASCAR. The majority of Sabates’ own Team Sabco operation was sold during the 2000 season to current owner Chip Ganassi. The team remains otherwise virtually unchanged with Kyle Larson remaining as driver of the Credit One Bank Chevrolet.

CREW CHIEF CHANGE: #43-Richard Petty Motorsports
Bubba Wallace reunites with Jerry Baxter, who comes on board as crew chief of the #43. Baxter previously was the crew chief for Wallace in the Truck Series during his successful time racing for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2014.

DRIVER UPDATE: #48-Hendrick Motorsports
Certainly one of the biggest stories of the season will be Jimmie Johnson’s final full-time season as a Cup Series driver, winding down the most successful career in the Chase era. In it, Johnson will look to end a winless streak that has now lasted more than two full seasons – other than a victory in last year’s rain-shortened Clash.

RETURNING: #49-Motorsports Business Management
Chad Finchum will attempt the Daytona 500 in a second MBM car. The car will be #49 in place of the #46 the team campaigned last year. Multiple sponsors have jumped on board, including Garrison Homes, Toyota of Knoxville, Ultra Commercial Services, Inc., Tile Market of Delaware, Contract Flooring, and First State Tile & Marble. Finchum, who has run nearly full-time in the XFINITY Series for Long the last two years, has just one previous Cup start at Bristol, where he finished 33rd in 2018.

TEAM UPDATE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
TEAM UPDATE: #52-Rick Ware Racing
TEAM UPDATE: #53-Rick Ware Racing
TEAM UPDATE: #54-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware’s team will run three Chartered cars in 2020 for the #51, #52, and #53, with the #54 also set to run races as an open team. The #53’s new Charter is from Front Row Motorsports’ #36 team, which will use the spot one more time in the Daytona 500 for David Ragan, the reason why the #53 is not in the field. Driving the #51 in the Daytona 500 will be brand-new father Joey Gase, whose wife Caitlin gave birth to twins. Gase will carry sponsorship from E.F.X. Financial Services. B.J. McLeod, the defending LASTCAR Cup Series Champion, was among the last announcements as driver of the #52 Ford. J.J. Yeley will run the unchartered #54 in the Daytona 500, meaning he will have to compete for one of the remaining open spots in the field. Looking to the season ahead, Garrett Smithley and Josh Bilicki are among the other candidates to run races for the team.

DRIVER UPDATE: #62-Beard Motorsports
Brendan Gaughan reported he would end his NASCAR career after running all four plate races in 2020, citing the introduction of the Next-Gen car in 2021. This would conclude his career in the fall Talladega race, where he recorded his career-best 4th-place finish in 2004, his only full Cup season. Gaughan will look to build on his sterling performance at Talladega last fall, where he made a late bid for the lead before his car was sent airborne.

TEAM UPDATE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
On December 13 came news that Timmy Hill would attempt to make his first Daytona 500 field since he failed to make the cut driving for Rick Ware in 2017. This car will be a Ford, but the team will then switch to Toyota for the rest of the year as MBM attempts their first full-time season in Cup. has joined the team as sponsor for the Daytona 500, and will sponsor a few other races as well.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #88-Hendrick Motorsports
A full 26 races for Alex Bowman this year will be sponsored by Key Chevrolet Accessories, though Valvoline will also back the team for selected races. This appears similar to the Chevrolet Accessories sponsorship we’ve seen in years past for Richard Childress Racing, when drivers like Ryan Newman and Daniel Hemric were running with limited backing for certain races. Valvoline, which returns as sponsor this year, will be Bowman’s backer for the Daytona 500.

DRIVER CHANGE: #00-StarCom Racing
The day before Thanksgiving, StarCom Racing announced Quin Houff would drive their #00 Chevrolet full-time in 2020 and 2021. Houff, who drove 17 races for Spire Motorsports and Premium Motorsports in his first part-time Cup season in 2019, takes the place of Landon Cassill. At the time of the report, StarCom still had no plans for Cassill, who was still under contract for the 2020 season. Houff’s car for the Daytona 500 will also carry a special logo near the front of the hood celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of team manager Derrike Cope’s victory in “The Great American Race.”

MISSING DRIVERS FROM HOMESTEAD 2019: Josh Bilicki, Daniel Hemric, Drew Herring, Paul Menard, Joe Nemechek

Today in LASTCAR History (February 6): This year marks the first time in a decade the Busch Clash has been run before February 11. The last time this happened was on this day in 2010, when Derrike Cope picked up his second last-place finish in the event. Driving his own #75 Asset Protect / Dodge, Cope completed 15 laps before he fell out with engine trouble.

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