NASCAR

Jimmie Johnson headlines list of final starts entering Phoenix

4 Mins read
Credit: Hendrick Motorsports

The upcoming weekend of NASCAR racing at Phoenix Raceway will mark the final week of the 2020 season. For various drivers, it will be their last chances to go out on a high note before moving elsewhere for 2021.

Truck Series

Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 will be the final race under the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series banner before reverting to the Camping World Truck Series, which was its name from 2009 to 2018. Camping World head Marcus Lemonis, a longtime investor in NASCAR who recently also took over sponsorship of the NHRA Drag Racing Series, began shuffling the Truck Series’ title sponsorship to his other brands in 2019 with the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, followed by tweaking it to include the RV division for 2020.

On the driver’s side, many teams have not disclosed their 2021 plans outside of some exceptions, so whether or not Friday’s race will be a finale for certain members of the field is unknown. On that note, the race will be the last before the beginning of new eras for Carson Hocevar and Sam Mayer; the former will run his last race as a part-time driver before moving to a full-time schedule with Niece Motorsports in 2021, while Mayer will race for the last time as just a part-time Truck driver for GMS Racing before expanding to a limited Xfinity slate the following year with JR Motorsports.

Xfinity Series

At the Xfinity Series level, Saturday’s Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 will mark the final race as full-time series drivers for Chase Briscoe and Ross Chastain before beginning their Cup careers in 2021.

Briscoe, who leads all Xfinity drivers in wins in 2020 with nine, will fight for a championship before moving to the top flight of stock car racing in 2021 with Stewart-Haas Racing. For Chastain, who just missed the cut for the Championship Round, he will run one last race as a full-time Xfinity driver for Kaulig Racing before joining Chip Ganassi Racing‘s #42 in 2021. Unlike Briscoe, who will vie for Cup Rookie of the Year honours, it is a bit of a return for Chastain, who ran much of the 2018 and 2019 Cup schedules in addition to competing for Xfinity and Truck points.

For Austin Cindric, Briscoe’s biggest championship rival throughout 2020 and the regular season champion, Phoenix will mark his last event as strictly an Xfinity driver. For 2021, he will return to Team Penske and the series but also begin racing part-time at the Cup level before fully transitioning to a premier series slate in 2022 with Wood Brothers Racing.

Credit: Germain Racing

Cup Series

The Cup SeriesSeason Finale 500 on Sunday will also be a finale for many drivers and teams.

Without a doubt, the biggest story is Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time champion, who will move to the IndyCar Series in 2021, has received a wide array of tributes during the 2020 season, including paint schemes honouring him from his Hendrick Motorsports team-mates and allies. For Phoenix, he will drive with a special silver paint scheme, while his team-mates Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, and William Byron will sport yellow numbers on their cars. Truck Series championship contender Brett Moffitt will also run a tribute livery in his series’ race.

“To win five championships back to back, it’s a very sad day to see that come to an end,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “We can’t have the celebration that we want to have with Jimmie because of the COVID-19 situation. We did the best we can and we’re going to salute him.”

With Johnson vacating the #48, Bowman will run one final race in the #88 before taking over his team-mate’s car in 2021. Similarly, Phoenix will be the final race for the #88 as a Hendrick car (assuming no other team assumes it) before becoming the #5 for Kyle Larson, set to return from his indefinite suspension. Byron’s crew chief Chad Knaus, who won seven titles with Johnson, will oversee his last race atop the pit box before moving to an executive role with Hendrick Motorsports.

Johnson is not the only veteran calling it quits after 2020. Clint Bowyer will race for the last time as a full-time driver before becoming a commentator for Fox NASCAR, with Briscoe set to take over his SGR #14 in 2021.

“It’s funny, the way the schedule has worked out, Phoenix will be the place of my first and last start,” Bowyer said. “It’s come full circle and it’s been an amazing run with everything in between.”

While not necessarily a “retirement”, Matt Kenseth is set for his final race with Ganassi’s #42, which he took over midseason as Larson’s replacement. Although Kenseth has not revealed any plans for 2021, the #42 was his first time back in the driver’s seat since 2018 and it is unlikely that he will be back in the Cup Series next season barring any developments. CGR sponsor Diecast Kings will honour the 2003 champion with a thank-you message on the decklid.

Drivers are not the only ones exiting the sport. For Germain Racing and Leavine Family Racing, Phoenix will be their final races before shutting down.

Germain, which fields the #13 for Ty Dillon and has been competing at the top level for a decade after enjoying success in the Truck Series, sold its charter to newcomer 23XI Racing and will end operations after 2020. Dillon’s future is unknown as of this article’s publishing. LFR, racing since 2011, sold off its charter to Spire Motorsports. The team is fielding the #95 for rookie Christopher Bell, who will migrate to Joe Gibbs Racing‘s #20 in 2021.

While it is not closing its doors, Go Fas Racing will race with Corey LaJoie for the last time before parting ways. LaJoie has not revealed his 2021 plans, while GFR will scale back to a part-time schedule; team owner Archie St. Hilaire also sold his share of the charter to Matt Tifft and B.J. McLeod.

Other final races come in the form of drivers running their last events for their teams before setting off elsewhere. With Bell running his last race with LFR and going to JGR, the #20’s current driver Erik Jones, who has been part of the JGR and Toyota camp for much of his NASCAR career, heads to Chevrolet and Richard Petty Motorsports‘ #43. In turn, RPM’s Bubba Wallace will have one last race in the famed car before moving to Toyota’s 23XI.

Jones is not the only Toyota-to-Chevrolet mover after 2020 as Daniel Suárez will do the same, heading from his current seat at Gaunt Brothers Racing to the newly-created Trackhouse Racing Team. GBR has not announced a 2021 driver.

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