As the 2020 NASCAR season approached, much of the talk focused on 2021. A robust free agent market led to questions of if there would be a dramatic shift in where drivers raced after 2020. And they would do so with the Next Gen car, which was scheduled to make its debut in 2021 before it was pushed back a year.
No one could have known that as Erik Jones won the wreck-filled Busch Clash, in a car that was involved in three accidents, that the world was changing and would impact all of society, including NASCAR.
More than 100,000 fans and President Donald Trump gathered in February at Daytona International Speedway to watch the Daytona 500, only to see the race delayed a day by rain and Denny Hamlin‘s dramatic win muted by Ryan Newman’s horrific accident that hospitalized him for two days.
There was no better sight all year than the image of Newman walking out of the Daytona Beach hospital with his daughters.
This will be a year we’ll never forget for many reasons.
Ryan Newman leaves a Daytona Beach, Florida hospital with his daughters after his Daytona 500 crash. Newman recently told NBC Sports how the accident has changed him. He said he’s “probably more spiritual than I ever was. I’m more giving than I ever was. I’m more empathetic than I ever was. I’m probably a better dad. I’m a better person because I had that moment.” (Photo: Roush Fenway Racing)
The scene before the driver/crew chief meeting March 8 at Phoenix, the last time this season there would be such a gathering. After the season resumed, COVID-19 protocols led to virtual driver/crew chief meetings and social distancing in the garage area. Among those pictured is Kyle Larson. This would be his final Cup race of 2020. After uttering a racial slur during an online racing event in April, he lost his ride at Chip Ganassi Racing. He spent the next several months “listening and learning.” NASCAR reinstated Larson, and Hendrick Motorsports hired him to drive the No. 88 car in 2021. (Photo: Dustin Long)
When the NASCAR season paused because of the coronavirus, the sport turned to iRacing with its stars to give fans their weekly fix of racing. This also brought out former stars Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. While the virtual world mimicked much about real racing, many of the crashes were out of this world, such as Gordon’s high-flying act in a race at virtual Talladega. But iRacing gave fans the chance to better appreciate a driver like Timmy Hill. Others who also benefitted from their experience on iRacing and got to showcase it were Garrett Smithley and Landon Cassill. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NASCAR returned May 17 at Darlington Raceway. It was a new world for the sport. There were no fans. The schedule was dramatically revamped multiple times. No practice. No qualifying. Everyone in the infield wore masks. Through it all, the sport ran a full season in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Two days after he and wife Marissa found out she had a miscarriage, Chase Briscoe held off Kyle Busch to win the May 21 Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway. After winning, he returned to his motorhome and FaceTimed his wife: “ S he’s still in not the best mood because of what happened, but it definitely raised her spirits up a little bit,” he said that day. “But it’s not by any means swept under the rug. This is still really serious for us, and we’re struggling right now.” Marissa would suffer a second miscarriage in October. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
NASCAR rallied around Bubba Wallace on June 22 at Talladega Superspeedway, a day after a noose was found in his team’s garage stall. An FBI investigation later determined that no federal hate crime had been committed, stating that the noose had been there since October 2019 and there was no way of knowing that Wallace and his team would occupy that garage stall in 2020. Competitors pushed Wallace’s car on the grid to the front in a show of unity. Teams followed the drivers down pit road. Car owner Richard Petty joined the group. Here, Wallace stands with close friend Ryan Blaney in front of the rest of the field. Later in the year, the new team owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin would announce that Wallace would be its driver for 2021. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
The All-Star Race was full of change this year. It was moved from Charlotte to Bristol. The date changed from May to July. More than 20,000 fans attended the event. Other changes included NASCAR moving the numbers on the side of the car back and adding lights underneath each vehicle. The race also saw the trial of the choose rule, which later was instituted for each series. Here, Brad Keselowski (2), Kevin Harvick (4) and Chase Elliott (9) race. Elliott would go on to win the event. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
After finishing a career-high sixth, NASCAR Xfinity driver Josh Williams takes a moment Oct. 17 at Kansas Speedway to mourn the loss of his friend, Tim Hayes. As Williams buried his head, he faced conflicting emotions. “Every time we’ve had a good run, we’d get back to the shop on Monday, he would talk about it,” Williams told NBC Sports of Hayes. “I was mad because he wasn’t going to be at the shop on Monday telling me how good we did.” (Photo: Parker Kligerman)
Matt Kenseth took over the No. 42 at Chip Ganassi Racing after the team fired Kyle Larson. Kenseth scored a top-10 finish at Darlington in May, but much of the season proved to be a struggle. A highlight was Kenseth’s runner-up finish at Indianapolis in July. Chip Ganassi Racing hired Ross Chastain to drive the No. 42 car in 2021. Kenseth told the Wisconsin State Journal after the season that his career as a full-time Cup driver was finished. Here, Kenseth spins in the grass at Texas in October. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Call it a passing of the torch. As Chase Elliott (9) celebrated his championship after winning the Phoenix race, Jimmie Johnson (48) took one last lap to salute the fans in what was his final race as a full-time Cup driver. The two met on track, slapped hands, and saluted each other before moving on: Elliott to a champion’s celebration and Johnson to his family on pit road. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)