2020 NASCAR season superlatives
A series-best five wins to go with the 2020 championship gave the 23-year-old driver the nod. The GMS Racing driver grabbed his first series win in July and then stayed hot, including a frantic charge to the front in the final two laps of the season at Phoenix. He'll be back to defend his championship in 2021.
Similar to Kevin Harvick's nine-win Cup Series season, it's hard to overlook Chase Briscoe's nine-win season in the Xfinity Series that helped propel him to a Cup ride for 2021, even if Austin Cindric nabbed the 2020 championship. Briscoe's nine wins were the most in a single season by a Xfinity Series regular.
Honorable mention: Austin Cindric.
He did not win the title or reach the Championship 4, which seemed like a lock for him at the start of the playoffs, but Kevin Harvick had a whale of a season. Nine wins at a variety of tracks -- 1.5-milers, 2-milers, short tracks -- and the regular-season title were the highlights of one of the 45-year-old's strongest seasons.
Honorable mention: Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin.
Where to begin? NASCAR was the first sport to return safely in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was the only professional sport to complete its full season. And it was a season unlike any other, with Bubba Wallace leading the push for social change and open dialogue about racism and NASCAR banning the Confederate flag from its events. Protocols put in place to keep personnel safe, such as one-day shows, all culminated in the season being completed as planned in Phoenix.
The NASCAR Cup Series garage came together to support Bubba Wallace at Talladega after a noose was found in his garage stall. Drivers pushed his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet to the front of the grid, walked and embraced with Wallace before the start of the rain-delayed race on a Monday afternoon in June. There were plenty of lasting images from that day, but the biggest was a selfie Wallace took with the entire garage behind him before the race. It's an image that remains etched into our brains.
Honorable mention: Ryan Newman walking out with his two daughters after leaving a Daytona-area hospital in Florida, Chase Elliott embracing his dad and then Jimmie Johnson and Rick Hendrick at Phoenix after winning the 2020 Cup Series championship.
The classy seven-time champion said goodbye to full-time NASCAR racing in his final campaign in the No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. While he didn't nab one more win, he went out with a fifth-place finish at Phoenix and an enduring mark as one of the greatest ever in the sport.
Honorable mention: Clint Bowyer's final full-time Cup Series season, Chad Knaus' final season atop the pit box.
The Richard Childress Racing driver was seemingly the most consistent of a highly regarded Cup Series rookie class that saw one of those rookies (Cole Custer) make the playoffs by way of a victory. But Reddick had the most top fives (three), top 10s (nine) and best average finish among the Cup rookies. His runs at Miami and Texas in particular are strong building blocks for a solid sophomore campaign.
Honorable mention: Cole Custer, Zane Smith, Harrison Burton.
Three months after a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500 left him in the hospital for a few days and walking out with his two daughters by his side, the veteran driver was back at the track and racing his No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford around "The Lady In Black." Newman's crash at Daytona had everyone holding their breath, and to see him back at Darlington was a welcome sight.
Honorable mention: AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Gordon (in the iRacing eNASCAR Pro Series Invitational), Matt Kenseth.
Rodney Childers continued his winning ways with Kevin Harvick, with their nine wins in 2020 giving them 35 victories together over the past seven years. Childers led the No. 4 team to wins in a multitude of ways -- sometimes the team and driver were simply dominating (Darlington and Atlanta in the spring or the second Dover race). Other times, it was strategy plays to put his driver out in front (see the first Pocono win or Indianapolis). In an unprecedented year, Childers was a difference maker atop the box.
Honorable mention: Chris Gabehart, Alan Gustafson.
The moving pre-race ceremonies that saw the drivers roll Bubba Wallace's No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet to the front of the grid was the beginning. The race itself produced a dramatic overtime finish with Ryan Blaney edging Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by .007 seconds for the win as Aric Almirola finished third while coming across the line sideways in a race with 57 lead changes.
Honorable mention: Bristol Cup Series spring race, Darlington Xfinity Series spring race, Indianapolis Road Course Xfinity Series race, Talladega Cup Series playoff race, Martinsville Cup Series playoff race.
With a treasure trove of playoff points entering the playoffs -- 57 to be exact and then 67 at the start of the Round of 12 -- it was hard to imagine a scenario where Kevin Harvick was not part of the Championship 4 for the sixth time in seven years, but finishes of 16th and 17th in the final two races of the Round of 8 stunningly left him on the outside looking in -- even more shocking when you factor in two of the Championship 4 spots went to drivers on points. Harvick not reaching the Championship 4 showcased the unpredictable nature of the elimination format NASCAR has and how nothing can be assumed.
Honorable mention: Kyle Busch's one-win season, Cole Custer wins/makes the playoffs in his Cup rookie year, Zane Smith reaches Truck Series Championship 4 in rookie year, Austin Dillon's Cup playoff run.
The Chase Elliott-Kyle Busch rivalry touched off at Darlington in the sport's second race back when late contact by Busch in a battle for second place sent Elliott into the wall. The eventual 2020 champion expressed his displeasure by flipping the bird. Elliott then took on the Kevin Harvick-issued challenge of the "Busch bounty" and beat the Camping World Truck Series all-time series leader in the Charlotte race for the win. After earning the victory, Elliott performed the trademark bow that Busch does much to the joy of the social-media world.
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin were seemingly battling for wins every week at every track. If one was not winning, the other would. On the season, they totaled 16 of the 36 wins. The duo combined to win all the doubleheader races at Pocono, Michigan and Dover. Harvick got the better of the regular season with the regular season championship, but Hamlin lasted longer in the playoffs.
Honorable mention: Joey Logano vs. everybody -- mainly Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch vs. 2020.
Ryan Blaney's BodyArmor paint scheme honored NBA and Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash earlier in the year. Bubba Wallace's paint scheme came on the heels of the driver becoming a leading voice in the sport around the social-justice movement in the country and came hours after the sport announced a ban on the Confederate flag at events.
Honorable mention: Chase Elliott's black Hooters car at Miami and Daytona summer race, Jimmie Johnson's Ally car designed by Noah Sweet for Texas fall race, Jimmie Johnson's Dale Earnhardt-Richard Petty tribute at Darlington summer
In a year where Hendrick Motorsports was saying goodbye to a seven-time champion, it saw another one of its drivers get crowned in a changing of the guard for the storied Cup organization. Chase Elliott gave Rick Hendrick his 13th Cup Series championship and served notice that he will be gold standard at the four-car fleet moving forward. William Byron nabbed his first Cup win in the summer with a victory at Daytona, and Alex Bowman made a deep playoff run along with scoring a victory early in the season at Auto Club.
Honorable mention: Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing.
Bubba Wallace's move to team up with the organization co-owned by Denny Hamlin and Basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan has garnered plenty of attention and rightfully so. Having a presence like "his airness" in the sport with a new team is a great thing. Wallace is also looking to take another step in his career. Armed with a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, he should be able to do just that. 23XI is one of three new teams to join the Cup garage -- Justin Marks-owned Trackhouse Racing with driver Daniel Suarez, as well as the Matt Tifft-B.J. McLeod-owned Live Fast Motorsports with McLeod driving. Having new owners invest in the sport is a great sign for the future and health of NASCAR.
Honorable mention: The 2021 schedule (seven road courses, plus new tracks including Bristol dirt race, Circuit of the Americas, Nashville, Road America and Indianapolis Road Course), Alex Bowman taking over the No. 48 from Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer in the FOX booth.