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2020 primer: All the offseason changes you need to know ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series season

With the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season nearly upon us it’s time to start thinking about racing season. I know, the offseason flew by.

There are big changes on the NASCAR horizon in 2021. The schedule could look a lot different. A new car is set to debut. Hendrick Motorsports needs to find a replacement for Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 car and its decision could set off a domino effect among other teams and drivers.

While those changes loom in the distance, there were still plenty that took place in the leadup to the 2020 season. Here’s your one-stop refresher course on everything that will be different in the Cup Series this season.

[Full Daytona 500 and Speedweeks schedule]

Driver changes

  • Daniel Suarez was one and done in the No. 41 car at Stewart-Haas Racing. Suarez will be in the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota this season and was replaced at SHR by Xfinity Series standout Cole Custer.

  • Two-time defending Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick takes over for Daniel Hemric at Richard Childress Racing. Hemric was also one and done at RCR and will drive a partial Xfinity Series schedule for JR Motorsports.

  • Paul Menard retired at the end of the 2019 season. His spot in the No. 21 car has been taken by Matt DiBenedetto, who joins the team from Leavine Family Racing.

  • LFR parted ways with DiBenedetto after a season to make way for Christopher Bell. The Toyota development driver has excelled for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series but JGR’s Cup roster is full. So he’s spending at least the 2020 season with LFR.

  • JTG-Daugherty Racing and Roush Fenway Racing had a driver swap of sorts. Roush let go of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and signed Chris Buescher from JTG. Buescher previously won an Xfinity Series title for Roush. JTG then signed Stenhouse to replace Buescher. Stenhouse will drive the No. 47 car for JTG as Ryan Preece’s number switches from No. 47 to No. 37.

Crew chief changes

  • Cole Pearn surprisingly stepped down from his position as Martin Truex Jr.’s crew chief at the end of the season. The Pearn and Truex pairing has been one of the best in NASCAR over the last five years as the two have won 24 races since 2015. James Small, an engineer on Truex’s Joe Gibbs Racing team in 2019, will take over for Pearn as crew chief.

  • Team Penske’s three drivers are staying put for 2020. But they’ll each have new crew chiefs. Brad Keselowski’s longtime crew chief Paul Wolfe is now with Joey Logano. Todd Gordon, Logano’s crew chief when he won the 2018 Cup Series title, is now with Ryan Blaney. And Jeremy Bullins, who has been Blaney’s crew chief since he came to the Cup Series, is now with Keselowski.

  • Stewart-Haas Racing swapped Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer’s crew chiefs. Johnny Klausmeier will crew chief for Bowyer in 2020 while Mike Bugarewicz will crew chief for Almirola. Mike Shiplett, Custer’s Xfinity Series crew chief, will be Custer’s Cup Series crew chief.

Schedule changes

  • Phoenix is the site of the season finale winner-take-all championship race instead of Homestead. The Homestead race will now be run on March 22 and is the sixth race of the season.

  • Pocono’s two races will come on back-to-back days. The first race will be on June 27 and the second race will be on June 28.

  • The Cup Series is off between the July 19 race at New Hampshire and the Aug. 9 race at Michigan because of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

  • The Bristol night race is on Sept. 19 instead of its traditional August date. It’s the final race of the first round of the playoffs. 

  • The Brickyard 400 is back in the summer and takes over the July 4 weekend spot on the Cup Series schedule. That spot has traditionally been Daytona’s but the site of the Daytona 500 will now have the first and last races of the regular season. The 400-mile race at Daytona will be run on Aug. 29.

Car changes

NASCAR cut horsepower at bigger tracks and added downforce to the cars at all tracks in 2019 in an attempt to improve racing that its executives lauded as “great.” The sanctioning body claimed it liked what it saw with the higher-downforce racing in 2019 enough to keep the rules changes in place for 2020.

Until January. NASCAR abruptly changed course and admitted that the racing at shorter tracks in 2019 was less than great and announced that short tracks would have different rules in 2020. The sanctioning body has cut downforce on cars at shorter tracks in an attempt to avoid the dirty air-plagued racing that dominated the 2019 season. It’s a move that has added importance because of NASCAR’s decision to have Phoenix as the season finale in place of Homestead. The fall Phoenix race in 2019 was far from a thriller.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports

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