Four races remain in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. Eight drivers are left fighting for the championship in less than 28 days. But, for the rest of the field, should they just punt on the rest of the 2020 season and immediately turn their focuses to 2021?
I mean think about it, who knows what will be in store for the sport next season. We know that a majority of the races will feature one day shows. Practice and testing will still be few and far between. So, why not spend the last four weeks of 2020 focusing on setups that could work next season? It’s never a wrong time to get a leg up on the competition for the following year, especially without a championship to be won now.
We know Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch are thinking championship from here on out. But, for some big named drivers with realistic championship teams like Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, Aric Almirola and Cole Custer move away from 2020 focus and turn their attentions to 2021? Hendrick, JGR, Penske and SHR organizations are on top of the sport right now, so what better way for these drivers to come out good at the start of next year than some added information to fill their notebooks up with?
Then you have the Richard Childress Racing duo of Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick who can close the gap themselves and do the same.
It makes a lot of sense.
Without practice for the final 32 races of this season, it’s been hard to get setups right. Everything is done in the simulator. There’s not a ton of notebook info to base past setups off with as we only went to this racing package in 2019. Plus, with so much movement in terms of driver-crew chief tandems and them learning each other on the fly without much practice or testing time this year, why not focus on 2021 a little early?
Even if the setups go the wrong way for these final four races, you can at least know what direction not to go in for next season.
Simon Pagenaud is doing so on the NTT IndyCar Series side and it could pay dividends for his team in 2021. I can see some teams now trying to do so because something as small of this decision to make these teams a champion because of it.
With this car staying around for 2021 and the racing package not changing, plus with the likelihood of not much offseason testing allowed, the only thing to base setups off of for the 2021 races will be from 2020. With no practice for the final 32 weeks in 2020, it’s not like this notebook is very filled. So, whomever can get going in the right direction early, can be a realistic favorite next season.
It would help someone like Kyle Busch immensely. Toyota and even Busch himself have long said this year that their step back has been hindered in the lack of practice department. Give Busch and Adam Stevens just a little bit of practice and off they’ll go again. I mean, the proof is in the pudding. In the repeat races to tracks for a second time through in 2020, Busch has done much better. The results may have told a bit different story but fluke circumstances took him out in those second races. The speed department and setups made his No. 18 Toyota a better contender the second time through.
Now, imagine if they used these final four weeks as more testing for 2021. It could be the path that puts Busch back as a contender for the championship again, especially since he doesn’t think that he will win a race anyways now.
“Certainly it would be nice to do more, and to have a win for this year would be the only consolation prize for the way this year has gone,” Busch said. “But do we even have a shot to win? I don’t think we have a shot.”
Busch has won at least one race for every season of his Cup career. That’s 15 straight years. It would be hard to swallow punting away a shot at 16 straight years with at least one victory. But, if he doesn’t think that the speed is there to win, why not focus on making sure that the speed is there to end this long winless drought early in 2021?
Busch has questioned himself some this year on if this is on him for this year’s struggles. They’ve just not been competitive as they have been in the past.
Toyota won 19 races a year ago and only eight this year. With the same car back from 2019, everyone assumed Toyota’s would dominate again. Instead, it looked like they’ve taken a step back. But, if you dig deeper, it’s not that Toyota’s have taken a step back so much as everyone else has taken a step up.
Toyota’s have maintained last year’s pace. They didn’t fall. They just didn’t rise up between 2019 and 2020. The Ford’s and Chevy’s picked up more speed and improved and it took some of Toyota’s spots up front away which in turn is why Busch has been solid, but not great.
With minimal offseason prep between 2020 and 2021, focusing on 2021 now could be the difference. NASCAR has become a race what you brought model and what you brought hasn’t been good for Busch. They’ve been guessing. Why not end 2020 maybe without the finishes to be competitive but fill that notebook up for 2021 so they’re not guessing anymore?
Same for the other drivers not in the playoffs anymore too.