It is once again time for a new NASCAR season, and with that always comes some excitement and anticipation as to what the new year will bring. There are so many new things happening in the next few years, and 2020 is just the beginning of it.
With a few changes to the cars and schedules, as well as minor changes to the rules, they are just building blocks for what we will have to look forward to for years to come.
What will NASCAR have to learn this year to keep the sport headed in the right direction? Are the changes major? What should we expect from leadership in 2020? Listening to fans? Listening to drivers more?
Every year begins with championship picks and who everyone believes will be the best for that given season. One driver who is poised to have another great season and quite possibly pick up that all elusive first title is Denny Hamlin. After the disappointment at Homestead to end 2019, Hamlin will be on the comeback trail to get back to the Championship 4 and have a chance once again at winning a title at Phoenix.
Who can be another contender? Is this going to finally be Hamlin’s year? What could Hamlin do different to avoid another championship loss if he happens to make it there again?
Q: With 2021 on the horizon next year, what are the key things NASCAR needs to learn this year to avoid backlash? Terry M., Boca Raton, FL
A: Before we even talk about 2021, it is fair to say that 2020 is going to be a good year for the sport. There are so many positive things we have to look forward to this year that we did not have in 2019.
Let’s start with the main changes, such as the new short track package and the new changes to the schedule. After the backlash from fans, drivers and some media, NASCAR finally listened and went back to the old short track package, and now we have low downforce once again. The lesson here? Low downforce equals good racing, and I believe the executives see that on the short tracks at least. It was safe to say the short track racing digressed in a huge way last season. This will be one of the biggest and most positive changes for the year. That is one lesson for 2021: Do whatever produces the best racing. This is a step in the right direction.
The number two lesson to learn is to make the schedule favorable for everyone. The schedule is great how it is for 2020. With a two-week break in the summer for the Olympics and the season also ending a week earlier than normal, it is a good direction to be heading for the future. Not to mention, three cutoff races in the playoffs this year are three of the best we can have with Bristol, the Charlotte ROVAL, and then Martinsville. Whether it’s starting the season earlier to end earlier or shortening it, NASCAR will make the right call when it comes to this aspect. They just need to make it best for everyone involved.
The final lesson to learn this season is what is most cost effective and what will make this sport more competitive than ever before. We have seen so many comparisons to two or three decades ago with the racing and competition and people saying how it was so much better back then than it is now. This year, the competition should be great with the amount of rookies and veterans we have in the Cup Series. Can the bottom of the series be better? Of course. It is going to be a slow work in progress but it will get to the point it needs to be at. This year will just be a stepping stone towards that goal.
No matter what, 2020 is going to produce some great racing for us. It is going to be fantastic and exciting to watch the young drivers of the series battle the veterans throughout the year. Forget 2021 for now, we still have a whole season of NASCAR racing ahead of us and there is so much to be excited about.
Q: Which driver has the best chance to win their first Cup title this season? A favorite or a sleeper? Derek S., Rock Hill, SC
A: There are so many good choices for this question, it’s hard to pick just one. Guys who haven’t won a title like Chase Elliott, Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, William Byron and Ryan Blaney are all expected to make some serious noise this season. However, if I had to pick one driver to capture their first Cup, I’m going with Hamlin.
This seems to be the obvious choice because of how strong he ran in 2019, but it goes way beyond just one season. He is a very experienced veteran compared to some of these guys going for their first title, and he has now lost three times in his three chances to win a championship at Homestead. Losing always builds a stronger character out of someone, and Hamlin will be that perfect example of it.
Between his losses in 2010 and 2014, he was a different driver both of those seasons. Yes, he was a veteran, but he was up against all odds in those two seasons. Last season, it seemed like he had nothing to lose except go for it and he did down to the very end of the race. Even though he still lost, it was arguably his best Cup season ever. I expect no different this year from him, and maybe even a better season. He has so much going for him with the same team coming back, having some of his best tracks appear in the playoffs for the first time, and having three great teammates to feed off of.
So many believed 2019 was Hamlin’s year for success and a championship. He is at a stage in his career where he has won so many big races, that all that is left is that coveted championship. Whether he gets one in his career is yet to be seen, but he will be a contender every year, that is for certain.
Look for 2020 to be just as successful for Hamlin and his team. If and when he makes the playoffs, he will be one of the favorites just because of so many short tracks in the playoffs, including a one-mile track as the finale now with Phoenix. These have historically always been his best, and he will be dangerous come September through November. He will be a fun driver to watch every week, though.
A confident Denny Hamlin will equal trouble for the rest of the field. That is what we will see this season.