LEMASTERS: The Excitement Of A New Season

Ron Lemasters Jr.
Ron Lemasters Jr.

CONCORD, N.C. — Every February is like Christmas all over again.

We get to unwrap the newest edition of motorsports, with new colors, new drivers, new rules and a new schedule — in the case of NASCAR.

We get to see who is fast, who is struggling and which one of the three super teams will have the advantage leaving the Sunshine state for the opposite coast.

Last year, it was a Joe Gibbs Racing kind of Speedweeks. Who will it be this year? Team Penske is always strong at Daytona Int’l Speedway, as are Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, which has been dominant at times throughout the decades.

For that matter, what will the model change for the Chevrolets do for them? The Mustang seemed to work well for the Ford camp and the Camry was its usual reliable self for the Toyota last season.

The most fascinating aspect of the new season — besides us having something to talk about for the next 10 months — is the personnel changes.

Cole Pearn, the Canadian guru who led Martin Truex Jr. to a title and top-level status, has chosen to pursue a life outside the sport in order to spend more time with his family. That is an honorable choice and one I’m surprised more folks don’t make more often.

Then again, what fun would that be, am I right?

The schedule this year will be different, too.

For the first time in 20 years, the season will not end at Florida’s Homestead-Miami Speedway. Just as the season started in Florida, it had ended in Florida, and there was a pleasant symmetry in that. This year, however, the sport will trade a trip to the Everglades for a trip to the Valley of the Sun.

That could be a blessing or a curse. The races at Homestead the past several seasons — especially in the NASCAR Xfinity Series — have been ones for the ages and a fitting battleground to decide the championships.

ISM Raceway, fresh off its reconfiguration and update, should be at least in the same ballpark as an arena for the big title fights. It’s a short track with many variations in the lines run, while Homestead was “run the top or lose the trophy.”

IndyCar will get its season started soon after NASCAR and it will be the first under the ownership of Roger Penske and Penske Corp. That in and of itself will be something to pay attention to, though I would think that the changes won’t be felt quite so quickly.

Numerous changes among the teams will be at play, however, and the arrival of McLaren with Sam Schmidt’s team is highly anticipated.

Every year has a different tone and 2020 will be no different. In each of the series, will it be one in which one team or another dominates — or more likely a couple of teams will take turns at the front of the field? Will another star be born, or will a veteran continue dominance?

Speaking of veterans, 2020 will be the last ride for Jimmie Johnson. Think about that for a moment? Seven times a champion — something only two other men (Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt) have ever done in NASCAR’s top series — he will ride off into the sunset in November at ISM Raceway.

One last time around the circuit and he will hang it up, following Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

That’s a ton of star power now outside the sport looking in, which presents NASCAR and the sport with a chance to boost another driver or drivers to that lofty role for the future. Many of the stars that are at the peak of their powers are in their 40s, too, so a youth movement was in the offing already.

So the questions — some of them at least — are lined up and ready to be answered in the 2020 season. As always, it is going to be fun watching it all unfold.