Not only will the NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Phoenix Raceway mark the end of the most unpredictable and chaotic year but it will also mark the end of on-track careers for multiple drivers, teams, a crew chief and a number.
One driver that everyone will be paying tribute to is seven-time champion, Jimmie Johnson.
What more can be said about the future Hall of Famer? Jimmie Johnson has earned every accolade a driver could get in NASCAR.
Johnson is a seven-time champion, which matches the most in Cup Series history alongside Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. With those seven champions, he won five in a row from 2006-2010. He is a winner of 83 races, which is tied for sixth all-time in the Cup Series alongside Cale Yarborough. He has won every major race possible as he is a two-time Daytona 500 winner, four-time Coca-Cola 600 winner, four-time Brickyard 400 winner and two-time Southern 500 winner.
With all of his success, one might think Johnson has garnered the aura and ego of a Michael Jordan or LeBron James — he hasn’t. No matter what Johnson has done on the track, he has always been a stand-up and humble human being. Nobody ever disliked Johnson because he was an aggressive driver or having a poor personality in his interviews. The only reason people disliked him was his pure dominance on the track. It didn’t matter if he had poor practice or qualifying sessions in his prime. When it came to race day, Johnson was going to be faster than everyone and there was nothing anybody can do.
It didn’t take until the wins stopped coming to Johnson that the NASCAR world finally took a step back to appreciate everything he accomplished, which is why it has been tough to watch him struggle over the last three seasons.
Regardless of recent shortcomings, Johnson is the greatest to ever get behind the wheel of a NASCAR stock car and Sunday will be a bittersweet day as it is the last time Johnson will be competing full-time in the series.
Thank You, Jimmie.
From the racetrack to the broadcasting booth, Clint Bowyer will compete in his final Cup Series race Sunday at Phoenix. Bowyer has always been known as the fun guy and the “class clown” of the NASCAR drivers. He’s always given a great interview and is one of the coolest guys to be around in the garage.
In 2012, Bowyer nearly won a championship with Michael Waltrip as his owner. I point this out because four years prior to that near-championship season, Bowyer and Waltrip got into an incident at Bristol Motor Speedway and Bowyer called Waltrip “the worst driver in NASCAR, period.”
It’s been a fun ride watching Bowyer race but he found his stride quickly in the Fox broadcast booth with his eccentric and enthusiastic energy. While he will be missed on the racetrack, there is a lot to look forward to when he joins Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon in the booth next season.
After the 2017 season, we weren’t expecting to see Matt Kenseth anymore. His final win in the Cup Series came at Phoenix after he out-dueled Chase Elliott in the closing laps. However, Kenseth returned in 2018 to run half of the season in the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing.
Following Kyle Larson’s suspension from NASCAR, Kenseth filled in for the No. 42 Chevy at Chip Ganassi Racing. While this season wasn’t one Kenseth will remember from a success standpoint, it was nice to see the driver hop back behind the wheel for nostalgic purposes.
Kenseth will be missed by the NASCAR world on the track.
Germain Racing & Leavine Family Racing
From 2004 to now, Germain Racing had been an overlooked staple in NASCAR. Many people will only associate the team with the No. 13 car in the Cup Series, but the team has a legacy that mixes into the Xfinity and truck series.
In 2006 and 2010, Germain won two truck series championships with driver Todd Bodine. This included 21 race wins with Bodine, who took over the truck midway through the 2005 season.
While the team was never able to win in Cup, they were important to filling the field and giving fans another driver to cheer for. From Max Papis, Casey Mears to Ty Dillon, there was a driver for everyone to enjoy.
Bob Leavine and his racing team have left a mark in the Cup Series as well. The single-car team has fielded drivers from a truck veteran in David Starr, a rising star in Matt DiBenedetto to the upbringing of a rookie in Christopher Bell.
The team became a fan-favorite after DiBenedetto nearly won the Bristol Night Race in 2019, but came up short to Denny Hamlin.
While neither team was able to win a championship or race in the Cup Series, they mattered and the NASCAR community should show appreciation for their hard-work and effort in the Cup Series.
The man behind Johnson’s seven championships — Chad Knaus is one of the great crew chiefs ever in NASCAR. From Johnson’s rookie season in 2002 to their final year together in 2018, Knaus helmed it all atop the pit box. In the last two years, Knaus has been bringing up a youngster in William Byron. They were able to earn a win together this season at the regular-season finale race in Daytona.
If people underestimate the importance of a crew chief, then their minds will be changed when they see what Knaus has done for this drivers and for the sport.
The No. 88
Since 1996, the number 88 has been a staple in the Cup Series. Prior to that, it was dawned by legends Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker and Darrell Waltrip.
If you are around my age, then Dale Jarrett will be the first you remember in the brown No. 88 UPS car. If you are just younger than me, then you may only recognize Dale Earnhardt Jr. in that number. As a child, Dale Jr. was my favorite driver in NASCAR, so the 88 holds a special place in my heart for personal reasons.
Alex Bowman took over the car full-time in 2018 and became a likable driver among the fans. Bowman will now replace Johnson in the 48 car and Kyle Larson will return to the NASCAR Cup Series in the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports.
So many aspects of NASCAR come to an end Sunday, and while we are relived that the 2020 season will be behind us, we are saddened by the on-track loss of so many great people who have made a huge impact for many years.
It was the deepest admiration that I say thank you to all that will be leaving the Cup Series after Sunday.