Can you feel it? The excitement is in the air and it will not be long before the NASCAR Cup Series kicks off their season with the 62nd running of the Great American Race at Daytona. Something happens each year that no one expects. Carl Edwards blindsided the NASCAR community when he announced his retirement before the 2017 season. Austin Dillon was the surprise winner of the 2018 Daytona 500 and Cole Pearn blindsided the Cup Garage when he announced his retirement following the 2019 season. So what will happen in 2020? Here are my BOLD predictions…
Ryan Newman Wins His 2nd Daytona 500
We all know that any driver who makes the field for the Daytona 500 has a chance to win it. It has been a long time since we have seen a long-shot go to Victory Lane (Trevor Bayne in 2011), so the likely winner will come from a well funded team. My BOLD prediction is that the winner of the Daytona 500 will be Ryan Newman. He is no stranger to Victory Lane in this race. Newman won the 2008 Daytona while driving for Team Penske Racing. Newman is a bit of a long-shot at 30-1 odds but when you look at his stats at Daytona, he should be the favorite. Newman has the best average finish 8.75 in the last six races at Daytona, the longest streak without a wreck (nine races) and he has finished four of his last five races at Daytona in the top eight (His worst finish since 2017 is 14th). Do not be surprised to see Newman as the first driver to secure a spot in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Jimmie Johnson Wins Multiple Races in 2020
Jimmie Johnson announced that the 2020 season will be his last in the Cup Series. It has been a while since we have seen the No. 48 car in Victory Lane (Dover in 2017). Let’s not forget that this seven-time champion has 83 trips to Victory Lane on his resume. I highly doubt Hendrick Motorsports is going to let Johnson end his career without another trip to Victory Lane and a spot in the playoffs. HMS will put a lot of effort into the No. 48 car this season. The new Chevy ZL1 1LE car should increase his odds of winning a race too. The car has more down-force and should race similar to what the Chevy’s had in the past. NASCAR also will go back to a similar aero-package they had in 2017 and 2018 for the short tracks races in the Cup Series. Johnson is the master at Dover and Martinsville when the car is right. My BOLD prediction is that Johnson will win two races in 2020. Do not be surprised to see him in Victory Lane at Texas and Dover this year.
Kyle Larson Signs with Joe Gibbs Racing
Kyle Larson will be the most coveted free agent at the end of the 2020 season. It is no secret that Chip Ganassi wants to keep his star driver in the No. 42 car, but it is going to be hard for him to compete with Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing for Larson’s services. My BOLD prediction is that Larson will sign with Joe Gibbs Racing and shock the NASCAR community. JGR is the New York Yankees of NASCAR. If they want a driver, they get their driver. I think Joe Gibbs is looking at the age of Martin Truex Jr. (39) and Denny Hamlin (39) and he knows he needs to plan for the future. I expect he would love to have a lineup of Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and Erik Jones for the future. I know Truex and Hamlin are two of the best drivers in the sport, but if JGR wants to secure their spot as the best team for the next decade, they may have to sacrifice the 2021 season to make it happen.
Matt DiBenedetto Signs with Hendrick Motorsports
Matt DiBenedetto loves to bet on his skills behind the wheel and it always pays off for him. He gave up his seat at GO FAS Racing in 2018 because he felt he had too much talent to be in the No. 32 car. His gamble paid off. DiBenedetto was signed to drive the No. 95 Toyota for Leavine Family Racing. DiBenedetto had a career season in his new ride and it landed him a spot behind the wheel of the famous No. 21 car for the Wood Brothers. DiBenedetto signed a one-year contract with the Wood Brothers so he could go to a new team after the 2020 season. It would not surprise me if DiBenedetto has another career year and catches the eye of Rick Hendricks. My BOLD prediction is that DiBenedetto will replace Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 car for the 2021 season. If this happens, DiBenedetto can finally stop betting on his skills behind the wheel to land a better ride.
Ryan Blaney Makes the Final Four in Phoenix
The trend in the Cup Series is for the cream to rise to the top in the playoffs. The Final Four drivers at Homestead have been the elite of the sport. The 2017 Final Four consisted of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski. 2018 had Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano. Last year the field consisted of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin. The chances of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. making the final four are high because they are in the Championship four every season. There is room for one other driver. We have seen this spot filled by Team Penske drivers in two of the last three seasons. My BOLD prediction is that a Team Penske driver will once again fill that spot and this year it will be Ryan Blaney. The pairing of crew chief Todd Gordon and Blaney could be just what the No. 12 team needs to take the step into the elite level of the sport. I doubt Blaney has the skills or experience to win the title, but he should have the car and talent to at least compete for the trophy in 2020.
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