Excuse me if I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating as we are now into a new year. One of my favorite things, not just as a writer but as a sports fan, is when there is a bit of unpredictability going into a new season.
We’ve reached that point in NASCAR, and not just because the coronavirus continues to affect everyday operations. There have been numerous driver and team changes, a shakeup in the schedule, and the continued wait on a new car that keeps the excitement high for what’s to come and the new stories to tell.
There are a few things that still need to be nailed down, such as who will replace John Hunter Nemechek at Front Row Motorsports, and Gaunt Brothers Racing’s plans. But for the most part, the table is set for the 2021 racing season.
With so much going on, everyone needs a cheat sheet to keep up. And so, just as I did last year, here is one with 21 useful nuggets for the 2021 season:
* There is practice and qualifying this season, but only for about eight races. As indicated by Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer, those will be the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the title race at Phoenix, as well as the five new tracks/configurations on the schedule. Those venues are dirt at Bristol and visits to Nashville, Circuit of the Americas, Road America, and Indianapolis’s road course.
* The emphasis is on road course preparation, with a total of seven on the schedule. Six will come during the regular season.
* Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin own a race team, 23XI Racing. The correct pronunciation of the team is 23-11. Bubba Wallace is the driver, and he’s brought many of the partners that signed with him last year. Michael ‘Wheels’ Wheeler is the crew chief.
* Justin Marks is also a new team owner with Trackhouse Racing Team. Daniel Suarez is the No. 99 Chevrolet driver, Travis Mack (who was most recently with Michael Annett in the Xfinity Series), the crew chief, and the team is an alliance partner of Richard Childress Racing operating on the Childress campus.
* Making it three for three in new teams debuting this season is Live Fast Racing from B.J. McLeod and Matt Tifft. It’ll be McLeod behind the wheel of the No. 78 Ford Mustang.
* Kyle Larson returns to the Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports. The car has been rebranded the No. 5 Chevrolet. Cliff Daniels remains the crew chief of a team that had been the No. 48 group with Jimmie Johnson.
* Chase Briscoe moves into the series with Stewart-Haas Racing, taking over the No. 14 Ford Mustang. Briscoe, thus far, looks to be the only Rookie of the Year contender.
* Christopher Bell takes over the No. 20 Toyota Camry at Joe Gibbs Racing, and Adam Stevens moves over to be his crew chief. Bell also recently clarified that all of Kyle Busch’s team mechanics moved over with Stevens to the No. 20, shaking up the group.
* With Stevens now overseeing Bell’s efforts, Kyle Busch also has a new voice in his ear. Busch is now paired with crew chief Ben Beshore after Gibbs shuffled personnel in both the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series.
* Erik Jones is the new driver of the No. 43 Chevrolet for Richard Petty Motorsports.
* Ross Chastain is the new driver for Chip Ganassi in the No. 42 Chevrolet.
* Before moving into the series full-time in ’22 with Wood Brothers Racing, newly-crowned Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric will run select Cup Series races this year to get his feet wet.
* Go Fas Racing has scaled back its operation to run on a limited basis, about six races.
* Ryan “Rudy” Fugle is the new crew chief for William Byron and the No. 24 Chevrolet team at Hendrick Motorsports. The move follows seven-time champion crew chief Chad Knaus, who had worked with Byron, becoming the man in charge of all four Hendrick teams’ competition aspects.
* NASCAR officials will use the low downforce, high horsepower aero package in three additional races this season. Steve O’Donnell revealed the decision on Twitter after the ’21 schedule was announced, saying they will revert to the package for both Darlington races and the inaugural race at Nashville.
* Corey LaJoie now drives for Spire Motorsports in the No. 7 Chevrolet, giving the team one full-time driver. He remains paired with crew chief Ryan Sparks, who also joins the organization following Go Fas Racing’s downsizing.
* Clint Bowyer joins Jeff Gordon and Mike Joy at Fox Sports, giving the network three broadcasters in the booth. However, viewers will notice a difference on pit road. This offseason, long-time pit reporter Matt Yocum and Alan Cavanna (who worked the Truck Series) announced they were no longer with the company.
* Jamie Little will become the first woman to call play-by-play for a national racing series by taking over the role this year for the ARCA Racing Series.
Here are some faces in new places in the Xfinity Series:
* Brett Moffitt is full-time in the No. 02 Chevrolet for Our Motorsports.
* Myatt Snider is full-time in the No. 2 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.
* Josh Berry will run 12 races in the No. 8 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports before Sam Mayer takes over the ride in the second half of the season upon turning 18.
* Jeb Burton is full-time in the No. 10 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing.
* AJ Allmendinger is full-time in the No. 16 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing.
* Daniel Hemric takes over the No. 18 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing.
* Jesse Little is full-time in the No. 78 for B.J. McLeod Motorsports.
* Riley Herbst takes over the No. 98 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing.
* Jeffrey Earnhardt is full-time in the No. 0 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports.
* Jason Ratcliff is now the crew chief Harrison Burton at Joe Gibbs Racing.
* Marcus Lemonis is back to using the Camping World brand for the Truck Series entitlement sponsor, once again making it the Camping World Truck Series.
Here are some faces in new places in the Truck Series:
* John Hunter Nemechek is full-time in the No. 4 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Eric Phillips returns to the team to serve as his crew chief.
* Hailie Deegan is full-time in the No. 17 Ford for DGR-Crosley.
* Chandler Smith is full-time in the No. 18 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Danny Stockman moves from the No. 51 team to serve as his crew chief.
* Raphael Lessard has 12 races scheduled in the No. 24 Chevrolet for GMS Racing with the hope of adding more.
* Chase Purdy is full-time in the No. 23 Chevrolet for GMS Racing.
* Carson Hocevar is full-time in the No. 42 Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports.
* Brett Moffitt is full-time in the No. 45 Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports.