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Notes: NASCAR Fetes 2020 Champs

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 18 2020

Chase Elliott emerged as the NASCAR Cup Series champion in 2020. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller)

NASCAR’s 2020 Awards will be presented during a 90-minute special airing Wednesday at 8 p.m. (EST) on NBC Sports Network. The virtual program will honor Cup Series champion Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports, Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric of Team Penske and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series champ Sheldon Creed of GMS Racing.

The program also will include a tribute to seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who completed his final fulltime season for Hendrick Motorsports in 2020.

The show also will reveal the Bill France Award of Excellence recipient, crown the 2020 Most Popular Drivers, highlight this year’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award finalists, honor the Sunoco Rookie of the Year in each national series and recognize additional award winners.

Cole Custer, driver of the No. 41 Ford Mustang fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing, has been selected Rookie of the Year in Cup after his win at Kentucky Speedway clinched a spot in the Playoffs.  

Meanwhile, despite scheduling and limited fan attendance issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic, NBC Sports’ 2020 coverage of the Cup Series matched its viewership numbers from the 2019 campaign. Included was a 3 percent viewership gain for races airing on the NBC broadcast network.

Cup viewership (19 races) across NBC and NBCSN produced a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 2.597-million viewers, according to Nielsen and digital data from Adobe Analytics, matching viewership for the comparable 19 races on NBC and NBCSN in 2019. This season’s viewership included the Kansas Speedway weeknight race but excluded the weather-impacted race at Texas Motor Speedway in October. That event in Fort Worth began on Sunday afternoon and ended on Wednesday evening.

Season-long viewership on NBC (eight races) averaged a TAD of 3.234-million viewers, up 3 percent vs. last season (seven races/3.147-million). The season was capped by Elliott’s first-career Cup championship on Nov. 8, which produced a TAD of 3.093-million viewers (1.87 HH rating/3.063-million TV-only), up 18 percent from last season’s Phoenix Playoff race on NBC (2.588-million viewers). Viewership peaked at more than 4-million viewers (4.087-million; 6-6:15 p.m.) as Elliott crossed the finish line.

Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., led all markets for the 2020 Cup Series on NBC and NBCSN with a 4.2 local rating, followed by Charlotte, N.C., and Knoxville, Tenn. (4.0).

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Crew chief Adams Stevens, a two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, will be paired with Christopher Bell on the No. 20 Toyota Camry in 2021 at Joe Gibbs Racing, which confirmed its Cup and Xfinity team assignments Tuesday in Huntersville, N.C.

Bell is the newest fulltime addition to JGR’s veteran lineup, replacing Erik Jones.

In other pairings, Ben Beshore returns to the Cup Series as crew chief on the No. 18 Toyota driven by two-time champion Kyle Busch. Beshore previously served as engineer on the No. 18 team prior to moving to JGR’s Xfinity Series program as crew chief in 2019.

Meanwhile, Chris Gabehart and James Small will continue to serve as crew chiefs for the No. 11 Toyota driven by Denny Hamlin and the No. 19 Camry driven by 2017 Cup champ Martin Truex Jr., respectively.

“We go through a process at the conclusion of every season that includes evaluating each of our teams,” team-owner Joe Gibbs said in a statement. “We believe our crew chief lineup for 2021 will best position each team and driver for success across both series.”

In addition, JGR has announced changes to its Xfinity Series program.  Jason Ratcliff will return to the organization as crew chief for the No. 20 Toyota Supra driven by rising star Harrison Burton.

Dave Rogers will work with newly-named JGR driver Daniel Hemric on the No. 18 Supra. Hemric competed in the Xfinity Series on a part-time basis in a JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro in 2020. In 21 starts, he earned seven top-fives and 12 top-10s and ended with four top-fives in his last five events _ all during the Xfinity Series Playoffs.

Hemric was named 2019 Cup Series Rookie of the Year driving the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Camaro. Hemric has logged 175 career starts across NASCAR’s three national series. Hemric’s Xfinity Series resume includes 30 top-five finishes and 51 top-10s in 87 starts, as well as Championship 4 appearances in 2017 and 2018.

Jeff Meendering will continue to serve as crew chief with Brandon Jones, who returns behind the wheel of the No. 19 Supra. In 2020, Burton and Jones combined to score seven of the team’s eight Xfinity victories.

Riley Herbst has exited JGR to pursue other career opportunities.

JGR also plans to field a fourth Xfinity entry in 2021, appointing Chris Gayle to lead the No. 54 Supra team which will be driven by a lineup of all-star-caliber drivers. The 2021 driver lineup and race schedule for the No. 54 Supra will be announced soon.

“We take a lot of pride in our depth of talent across our entire organization,” Gibbs said. “All of our crew chiefs are proven winners.  We are also looking forward to bringing the No. 54 Toyota Supra back to the track in 2021 with an exciting team of drivers.”

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Roush Fenway Racing has appointed Jimmy Fennig executive vice president in charge of competition. Fennig, who joined the organization in 1997 and played a major role in several of the team’s greatest moments, will oversee all aspects of competition for RFR’s operations currently fielding two entries in the NASCAR Cup Series.

A native of Milwaukee, Fennig has served as a crew chief for almost two decades, working with a parade of all-star drivers including NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin, 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth, 2004 Cup champ Kurt Busch and fan favorite Carl Edwards. Fennig most recently oversaw the team’s superspeedway racing program for Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

“I’m certainly humbled at the opportunity provided to me by Jack and everyone at Roush Fenway Racing,” said Fennig, 67, who received the prestigious Smokey Yunick Award in 2018 for his lifetime impact on the motorsports industry.  “I’ve been a part of this organization for a long time and during that time we’ve experienced a lot of highs and lows. But I believe in the team, I believe in Jack and I believe in the people we have here to help us get back to the top.

“Make no mistake, our goal is to get these Roush Fenway Fords to the front. We know we have a lot of work in front of us, but I believe we owe that to Jack and we owe that to ourselves as racers, and I know the entire team embraces that challenge.”

Fennig has guided his lineup of drivers to 40 wins, 192 top-five and 255 top-10 finishes, while watching his race cars lead over 10,200 laps in Cup action. He cut his teeth atop the pit box with a young Martin in 1986 before moving to lead Bobby Allison’s Stavola Brothers Racing team the following year _ guiding the NASCAR Hall of Famer to victory in the 1988 Daytona 500 in a Buick.

“Jimmy is a real racer and his record and accolades as a championship-level crew chief speak for themselves,” said Roush, another NASCAR Hall of Famer. “His passion and drive have played an important role in our success as a race team. He is one of the most loyal and dedicated people I’ve ever known and I’m confident that he is the right man for the job. I’m certainly excited to work with him as we continue to build our program back to the level that will see us compete on the track each week for wins and championships.”

Both Tommy Wheeler and Kevin Kidd will continue in their current roles under Fennig as director of operations and director of competition, respectively.

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Teammates Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher will compete for Roush Fenway Racing in the 2021 Busch Clash exhibition event on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course as part of Daytona Speedweeks. The field was announced Tuesday, as NASCAR detailed new eligibility requirements for the event at “The World Center of Racing.”

Newman, who will make his 17th start in the Clash, is eligible by way of his victory in the 2008 Daytona 500. Buescher, who will make his second appearance in the Clash, is eligible by way of his stage win at Talladega Superspeedway in October, one of the new eligibility requirements for the 2021 event.

The new eligibility requirements for the 2021 Clash are: 2020 pole-winners, past Clash winners who competed fulltime in 2020, Daytona 500 champions who competed fulltime in 2020, former Daytona 500 pole-winners who competed fulltime in 2020 and 2020 NASCAR Playoff drivers, race-winners and stage winners.

New to the Clash in 2021 is the Daytona Road Course, a departure from the tradition 2.5-mile superspeedway. As part of the schedule changes in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cup Series made a rare third visit to DIS, hitting the road course in August for the first time. Buescher, a polished road-racer, drove to a fifth-place result while Newman finished 19th.

RFR has one win in the Clash format courtesy of NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin in 1999. Newman _ entering his 21st season in the Cup Series _ sat on-pole for the 2020 Clash after a random draw. Roush Fenway drivers have compiled six poles in the event.

The number of laps for the 2021 Clash is yet to be determined. The race will be run on Tuesday, Feb. 9, with timing and TV coverage also TBD. The Clash is the kickoff to a week of racing at DIS, featuring the Cup Series Duels on Thursday, Feb. 11, and the 63rd Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 14.

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Jeb Burton will contest the full 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series season for Kaulig Racing. The son of former NASCAR Cup Series regular/Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton and cousin of Xfinity regular Harrison Burton, Jeb will drive the No. 10 Chevrolet Camaro with primary sponsorship from Nutrien Ag Solutions.

This will be Jeb’s first full Xfinity Series season. In his two fulltime seasons in the NASCAR Truck Series, Burton has a victory at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, 18 top-10s and seven pole awards.

“Jeb is a hard-worker on-and off-the track,” Chris Rice, president of Kaulig Racing, said in a statement. “He’s a great fit for Kaulig Racing and our partners. I’ve known the Burton family and worked with them back in the 1980’s, so it feels like everything has come full-circle. We’re going to go out and compete for wins and championships. Jeb is a guy we can build a long-term, successful program around.”

Established in 2016, Kaulig Racing advanced to the Xfinity Championship 4 round for the first time in 2020 with Justin Haley in the No. 11 Camaro.  Haley again will team with Burton, son of former Cup regular/NBC NASCAR analyst Jeff Burton, in 2021. The team also fields a part-time entry driven by A.J. Allmendinger in the No. 16 Camaro.

“It’s an honor to have this opportunity driving fulltime for Kaulig Racing and Nutrien Ag Solutions,” Jeb Burton said. “I’ve worked so hard, not only behind the wheel, to get an opportunity like this and it couldn’t be more perfect _ representing a brand with the same values and beliefs as my family. This partnership represents everything we are, and I can’t thank Matt Kaulig, Chris Rice and Nutrien Ag Solutions enough.”

The world’s leading agriculture retailer, Nutrien Ag Solutions began its partnership with Kaulig Racing in 2019 and has collaborated for five runnerup finishes and 24 top-10s in 33 Xfinity starts. “Both Jeb and his dad Ward are longtime customers of ours and have worked tirelessly on agriculture and forestry conservation and sustainability,” said Brent Smith, Nutrien’s VP of Marketing, Sustainability and Proprietary. “We can’t wait to lead the field with Jeb.”

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John Hunter Nemechek has informed Front Row Motorsports he will not be returning to the organization based in Mooresville, N.C., and its Cup Series No. 38 Ford Mustang in 2021.

“We want to thank John Hunter for being a part of Front Row Motorsports and beginning his NASCAR Cup Series career with us,” team-owner Bob Jenkins said in a statement. “He certainly helped elevate our performance this past season and brought added value to our No. 38 team. We wish him the best in the next phase in his career and he will always be a friend of ours.”

Nemechek is the son of former Cup regular “Front Row” Joe Nemechek.

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GMS Racing has confirmed that Chase Purdy will drive one of the team’s Chevrolet Silverado entries fulltime in the re-badged NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2021.

Purdy piloted a Silverado in seven events for the Statesville, N.C.-based organization in  2020 with a best finish of 10th at the second Kansas Speedway event.

Brett Moffitt informed GMS Racing President Mike Beam last Thursday he would not be returning to the organization in 2021. Moffitt won the 2018 Truck Series championship driving for Hattori Motorsports Enterprises before joining GMS in 2019. Moffitt will run a full Xfinity Series schedule in 2021 in the No. 02 Chevrolet Camaro fielded by Our Motorsports.

Purdy ran fulltime in 2018 in the ARCA Racing Series for MDM Motorsports alongside GMS Racing’s Sheldon Creed _ the 2020 Truck Series champion in the No. 2 Silverado_ and Zane Smith. Purdy compiled 10 top-five and 14 top-10s en route to a fourth-place point finish.

Purdy made his Truck Series debut in 2018, competing at Martinsville Speedway and Phoenix Raceway working with GMS crew chief Jeff Stankiewicz.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 18 2020
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