Change is inevitable in this business, and unfortunately it’s not always performance based in today’s world. The NASCAR offseason featured several faces moving to new places, some in much better spots than before, and some taking big steps backwards.
Here’s who won and lost the offseason, across all three major divisions.
Winners: Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Christopher Bell
The big three from the NASCAR Xfinity Series each landed Cup Series rides for the 2020 season. Reddick and Custer stayed in house, moving up with RCR and SHR, while Bell moved over to Leavine Family Racing in a satellite operation with JGR.
There was some doubt about Custer as talks between Daniel Suarez and Stewart-Haas went late into the season, but the decision was eventually made to go with the youth movement. This is the strongest rookie class we’ve seen in sometime, perhaps the best of the modern era.
Winners: Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Noah Gragson, Brandon Jones, Justin Haley, Ross Chastain, Harrison Burton, Riley Herbst
Yes, literally everyone in the NASCAR Xfinity Series is a winner with the big three moving on to the Cup Series. Custer, Reddick and Bell dominated to the tune of 21 combined wins last season, hogging the spotlight away from those listed above. With them gone, you can expect to see a much more competitive series in 2020.
Loser: Xfinity Series
While the big three may be gone, two of their cars will not return to the series. Harrison Burton will take over Bell’s vacated No. 20 for Gibbs, but the No. 00 will be shut down by Stewart-Haas Racing and RCR doesn’t currently have plans to run the No. 2 full time. Adding to that, GMS Racing has also shut down the No. 23 car to focus more on the Truck Series — more on that below.
That’s three more top-tier teams that won’t be competing in 2020. Add them to the list already featuring Roush-Fenway, Ganassi and Turner over the last few seasons. This series that once featured 20-25 potential race winning cars just several years ago now has about ten, give or take.
Maybe it’s time to rethink the Cup driver restriction? That’s a conversation for a different day.
Loser: Daniel Suarez
One driver that was reportedly in talks with RCR about driving that likely shut down No. 2 Xfinity car was Daniel Suarez. The now fourth-year Cup Series driver ended up being the odd man out at SHR after just one season, clearing the way for Custer to take over the No. 41.
Suarez lands with Gaunt Brothers Racing, set to attempt a full season with a car that has backmarker speed. The Mexico native reportedly had funding, but that backing wanted him in the Cup Series rather than the Xfinity Series. The move to me is puzzling, seeing that Suarez could go potentially dominate and rebound with RCR in NASCAR’s second-tier series.
He’s now tasked with helping to build up Gaunt Brothers Racing, which will be a monumental task.
Winner: Corey Lajoie
Someone who knows what Suarez is about to face is Corey Lajoie.
Lajoie is hoping to take a big step forward in 2020 with GoFas Racing, who will now partner with Stewart-Haas Racing. Lajoie was able to keep his ride through the silly season, even though it seemed like a logical landing spot for Suarez or even Cole Custer.
With Lajoie hanging around, he’s now got a chance to really cash in, depending on how strong the technical alliance is. If it’s anything in the same ballpark as the Gibb-Leavine Family Racing deal, Lajoie could take a big step forward.
This move makes sense with a new car coming in 2021. Stewart-Haas likely has too much inventory right now, why not make some money off of it and partner with a smaller team?
Loser: John Hunter Nemechek
With GMS shutting his ride down in the Xfinity Series, John Hunter Nemechek suddenly was out of a job. But an opportunity presented itself late in 2019 with Front Row Motorsports after Matt Tifft was forced to step out of the car after having a seizure.
Nemechek performed admirably in the final three races of the year, registering finishes of 21st, 23rd and 27th — above average for the No. 36 ride. Nemechek will move over to the No. 38 seat, which David Ragan vacated after retiring.
While a move to Cup sounds great on the surface, you have to wonder if John Hunter can elevate this ride enough to keep it long term. We’ve seen several drivers flame out running 26th every week, eventually getting replaced without a chance to compete in competitive equipment.
While this certainly was a move out of necessity for Nemechek, it will be interesting to see how this affects his long term stock as a prospect.
Winner: Matt DiBenedetto
If there’s a path for John Hunter Nemechek to try and replicate, it’s this one.
After betting on himself and leaving GoFas Racing, Matt DiBenedetto put together a successful 2019 season with Leavine Family Racing. He nearly won Bristol and really flexed some muscle during the 750 horsepower races. DiBenedetto was able to turn that into another ride, landing with the Wood Brothers after it was announced that Christopher Bell would take over the No. 95.
While this may not be a long term solution, it’s another opportunity for DiBenedetto to showcase his talents in a satellite operation with top-tier backing from Penske Racing.
The Austin Cindric situation is one to monitor here going forward.
Which leads us to….
Loser: Brad Keselowski
After nine seasons with crew chief Paul Wolfe, Penske decided to change things up entering 2020. The stout combo produced 29 wins and a 2012 title together, but now Wolfe will move to Joey Logano.
Keselowski will get the crew chief with the least amount of Cup results in Jeremy Bullins, who was working with Ryan Blaney. Both Blaney and Keselowski are entering contract years, which makes this changeup even more interesting for 2020.
How will Keselowski perform without Wolfe — who was a total mastermind in contrarian strategy on the pitbox? How many times did you see the No. 2 car come out of nowhere to steal a win that he didn’t have the speed for?
Keselowski is proven, but Bullins isn’t just yet. Brad could certainly prove us wrong, but on the surface, this seems like a downgrade in a crucial year.
Winner: Ryan Blaney
On the flipside, Ryan Blaney will add Todd Gordon to the pitbox. Gordon moves over from Logano’s team to guide Blaney after racking up 21 Cup wins since 2013.
It’s now up to Blaney to capitalize and build off of three one-win seasons in a row under Bullins. With Gordon now calling the shots, Blaney might just be set to finally break through that ceiling and win multiple races in 2020. As we mentioned above, it’s contract year for Blaney, and Austin Cindric could be a threat for this ride, the No. 2 or the No. 21 Wood Brothers car.
It’s time for Blaney to win big, now he’s got the crew chief to do it.
Winner: Christian Eckes
Speaking of crew chiefs, dipping down to the Truck Series level, there’s nobody better than Rudy Fugle. After leading the No. 51 for Kyle Busch and several others last year, Fugle will move over to the No. 18 in 2020, which will feature Eckes in a full-time effort.
Eckes registered three top fives in eight races last season, running with Fugle. He’ll now get him for the full schedule, attempting to make a run at a title. Doing so could set his career in motion, allowing him to climb the strongest development ladder in all of NASCAR.
Winner: Ty Majeski
One threat to Eckes could be Majeski, who bounces from the Ford camp to the Chevy camp, joining Niece Motorsports. Niece proved they could win big last season, backing Ross Chastain’s title run all the way to Miami. Chastain came up short, but took home three wins in the Truck Series — the first three ever for Niece.
Majeski is set up to be the beneficiary here. He lost his ride with Roush in the Xfinity Series after the team shut down, but rebounded with three ARCA wins last season. Can he keep the No. 45 up front in 2020?
Winner: The Truck Series
For as bad as the offseason was to the Xfinity Series, it was nearly equally as good to the Truck Series. GMS is set to run four full time entries in 2020, adding Zane Smith in the No. 21 and Tyler Ankrum in the No. 26. They will join Brett Moffitt (#23) and Sheldon Creed (#2) on the team. Additionally, the team will run a part time team, the No. 24, for David Gravel and Sam Mayer.
Kyle Busch Motorsports returns with all three trucks, and will provide equipment for Stewart Friesen this season. Thorsport returns all four trucks full time as well, and Hattori Racing’s Austin Hill will also be back. Todd Gilliland will also remain in the series, bringing Front Row Motorsports into the fold. Derek Kraus will make the jump this year, pulling Bill McAnally Racing into full-time ownership in partnership with Hattori.
DGR and Young’s Motorsports will also continue, though their plans are yet to be totally announced just yet.
The Truck Series is extremely healthy right now, running circles around the Xfinity Series in terms of competitiveness throughout the field. It’s been trending that way for a couple of years now, but it’s never been as obvious as it is today.
Too early to tell: Daniel Hemric
Maybe this is a hot take, but I truly believe Hemric will benefit long term from taking a step back down to the Xfinity Series. His 2019 rookie Cup season was worse on paper than it actually was, as Hemric just couldn’t get anything to go his way. The decision to go with Tyler Reddick instead of Hemric was quite honestly a no-brainer for Richard Childress, it was just unfortunate for Daniel after only one season.
But Hemric has landed on his feet at JR Motorsports, set to drive 21 races in Dale Jr’s No. 8 car. In a series that just lost three top competitors, Hemric should have plenty of chances to win — something he was unable to with RCR. Getting that taste of victory and actually closing out a few races could do wonders for his confidence going forward.
Maybe Hemric is just an Xfinity lifer. That’s okay too. But I’m always for a guy taking the more competitive ride, regardless of what series it’s in. Comparing the career arcs of Daniel Suarez and Daniel Hemric from this point on will be fascinating.