NBC Sports Washington is counting down big NASCAR moments leading up to the Daytona 500. Be sure to check out our other coverage below.
Silly Season, A.K.A. NASCAR’s version of free agency, is typically pretty wild. But there was something about this offseason that seemed a little extra silly. With drivers and teams more and more dependent on sponsorship than ever, most deals came together pretty late.
As NBC Sports Washington continues the countdown to the Daytona 500 (Sunday, February 16 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX), let’s break down eight of the biggest drivers who have new homes for the 2020 season and possibly beyond.
8. Hailie Deegan
2019: No. 19 Toyota in K&N Pro Series West for Bill McAnally Racing
2020: Ford’s newest development driver, No. 4 for DGR-Crosley in ARCA Menards Series
Being touted as the next big thing and a possible savior of the sport may be too big for some 18-year-olds. But not Hailie Deegan.
She’s embraced the spotlight with not only a winning personality and social media game, but also winning race cars. Following her second season in what’s now known as the ARCA Menards Series West, she scored two wins and was due for a new contract.
Ford Performance stepped in and signed Deegan, daughter of X-Games legend Brian Deegan, to a developmental deal that’ll see her compete full-time in the ARCA Menards Series this season with some possible Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series starts on the horizon.
7. John Hunter Nemechek
2019: Full-time Xfinity with GMS Racing, select Cup for Front Row and Trucks for NEMCO
2020: Full-time Cup with Front Row Motorsports in No. 38 Ford, replacing Matt Tifft
For a guy that has scratched and clawed his way through the ranks despite having a well-known and famous last name, John Hunter Nemechek has done pretty admirably thus far.
Despite not winning a race in the Xfinity Series last season, he qualified for the playoffs and wound up substituting for the ailing Matt Tifft at Front Row Motorsports. His fill-ins went so well that the organization decided to sign him on full-time for 2020 as Tifft recovers (seizures).
6. Daniel Hemric
2019: Full-time Cup with Richard Childress Racing in No. 8 Chevrolet
2020: Part-time Xfinity with JR Motorsports in No. 8 Chevrolet
I’ll say it: Daniel Hemric wasn’t ready for racing in the Cup Series. But RCR being behind the eight ball didn’t help him by any means. Only one top five and two top 10s in 36 starts is eye-popping in a negative way for a guy who was in the Xfinity Championship 4 in 2018.
But hopping back down to Xfinity in top notch equipment may be the best thing for Hemric. He hasn’t won a national series race in his career, and the reigning Cup Series Rookie of the Year will now have a better shot than ever at snapping his streak in the 21 chances afforded to him.
5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
2019: Full-time Cup with Roush Fenway Racing in No. 17 Ford
2020: Full-time Cup with JTG-Daugherty Racing in No. 47 Chevrolet
After six full-time seasons and two wins at Roush Fenway Racing, it was time for a change of scenery for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (and his mullet). He said he was blindsided by the move, and I’m sure he was blindsided by this quote from usually quiet team owner Jack Roush, too.
“I look forward to having cars that are more similar for both drivers that we can develop from race to race by not having so many wrecks,” he said. And in fairness, he’s right. Stenhouse Jr. failed to finish five races last season due to crashes, and spun in a handful more.
A move to JTG is a lateral one at best. We’ll see if RSJ can make the most of what he’s got.
4. Daniel Suarez
2019: Full-time Cup with Stewart-Haas Racing in No. 41 Ford
2020: Full-time Cup with Gaunt Brothers Racing in No. 96 Toyota
It was somewhat surprising that a driver of Daniel Suarez’s caliber was still on the market as late as the final week of January. Especially when you consider he has multiple millions of dollars in sponsorship to bring to the table, which, let’s face it, is the main factor in all of this.
Talk around the garage was that his sponsors (Coca-Cola and ARRIS) wanted to see the 2016 Xfinity Series champion in the Cup Series, where he scored five top fives and narrowly missed out on the postseason in 2019. So that’s what he did.
The move is questionable long-term, though. Gaunt Brothers Racing has never run a full schedule and is working around the clock to get things in working order for a 36-race slate. But NASCAR needs Suarez, a popular Hispanic driver, at the forefront of the sport. The sanctioning body, as well as Toyota, are working closely with GBR to ensure maximum success is achieved.
3. Chris Buescher
2019: Full-time Cup with JTG-Daugherty Racing in No. 37 Chevrolet
2020: Full-time Cup with Roush Fenway Racing in No. 17 Ford
Even Chris Buescher himself will tell you his 2016 rain-shortened win at Pocono was more luck than anything. But since then, he’s done nothing but reinforce the narrative that he may as well be the most underrated, low profile, bordering on class-A driver in NASCAR.
Originally on a loan from Roush to Front Row (and then JTG), Buescher is now back “home” and has completed an essential trade with Stenhouse Jr. with JTG and RFR. Paired with veteran Ryan Newman, Buescher and “Rocketman” may bring a much-needed jolt back to the historic organization that once put all five cars in the playoffs.
2. Christopher Bell
2019: Full-time Xfinity with Joe Gibbs Racing in No. 20 Toyota
2020: Full-time Cup with Leavine Family Racing in No. 95 Toyota
Though the aforementioned Deegan may be viewed as a possible “savior” of the sport, Christopher Bell is the future. The most highly-touted and highly invested in prospect of all-time is still under the Joe Gibbs Racing banner, though driving for Leaving Family Racing.
Following two stellar Xfinity seasons that fell short of a championship, Bell’s No. 95 camp will have increased support from JGR and Toyota, making it a distinct possibility that the rookie may wind up qualifying for the playoffs by putting the team in Victory Lane for the first time ever.
1. Matt DiBenedetto
2019: Full-time Cup with Leavine Family Racing in No. 95 Toyota
2020: Full-time Cup with Wood Brothers Racing in No. 21 Ford
The (unofficial) people’s champ, Matty D, finds himself in the best position he’s ever been in his career: with a historic team, an alliance with Team Penske and a car capable of winning.
He’s never really had a car capable of winning. Sure, we had last year’s summer race at Bristol where Denny Hamlin broke all our hearts and snatched the win from DiBenedetto, but it showed that “Guido” is a wheelman. He’ll get a legitimate chance to show that furthermore in 2020.
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