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NASCAR.com’s 2020 staff predictions – NASCAR

NASCAR.com’s 2020 staff predictions – NASCAR
06 Jan
3:25

New Year’s Day has come and gone, so it’s time to look forward to the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. The editorial staff at NASCAR.com has come up with its best predictions for the upcoming 36-race stretch, which starts Feb. 16 at Daytona International Speedway with annual season-opening Daytona 500. Here’s what each member had to predict:

— Bold 2020 prediction on anything.
— Best candidate for first career win in 2020.
— Expectations for how Jimmie Johnson’s last season unfolds.
— Who will be the ultimate season champion.

Answers are below.

RELATED: 2020 schedule | Jayski: Driver-team chart | Opening odds for 2020 Daytona 500

2020 Nascar2
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

ZACK ALBERT

Bold prediction: Cole Custer wins a closely contested Sunoco Rookie of the Year contest, but both he and Christopher Bell push their way into the postseason. For good measure, Chris Buescher wills himself into a playoff berth as his overachieving trend continues at Roush Fenway Racing.

First win: William Byron

No. 48: The seven-time champ ends his long winless drought with a return to form at a favorable track (looking at you, Martinsville Speedway and Dover International Speedway). Jimmie Johnson’s postseason miss last year turns out to be a blip, but the No. 48’s road should end in the Round of 12, where Talladega Superspeedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval loom.

Season champ: Denny Hamlin

PAT DeCOLA

Bold prediction: Jimmie Johnson quickly quiets the doubters by winning the 2020 Daytona 500 … but then doesn’t find Victory Lane again the rest of the way in his final season in the Cup Series. It gives Johnson a fittingly high-profile moment in the spotlight on NASCAR’s biggest stage before he rides off into the sunset, but I’m not sure there’s much left in the tank otherwise.

First win: William Byron

No. 48: See above, but to be honest, it’s a tough call and I hope I’m wrong. New crew chief Cliff Daniels did seem to give a late-season spark to the No. 48 group and Johnson, who appears to be more motivated than ever. He’s also Jimmie Johnson, so we can’t even fully rule out a record-breaking eighth title in 2020, but missing the playoffs for the first time in his career on top of a two-year winless drought doesn’t offer much hope.

Season champ: Kevin Harvick

RJ KRAFT

Bold prediction: William Byron scores more wins than Chase Elliott in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season and goes further in the postseason than his slightly older teammate. However, Byron will not be the first driver to get his first premier series win. That will go to …

First win: Matt DiBenedetto

No. 48: Jimmie Johnson will win one race in his final full-time season — thinking the spring Dover International Speedway race — and reach the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Playoffs. He will finish the season as the third-highest Hendrick Motorsports driver in the standings.

Season champ: Kyle Larson

STEVE LUVENDER

Bold prediction: The replacement driver for Jimmie Johnson will surprise everyone. It’s not every day there’s an opportunity for somebody to succeed the GOAT.

First win: Cole Custer

No. 48: Jimmie Johnson’s a seven-time champ, so I’m not too worried about his performance in 2020. What really piques my curiosity is the types of gifts he’ll receive throughout his retirement tour. The bar is high.

Season champ: James Dennis Alan Hamlin

JONATHAN MERRYMAN

Bold prediction: Chris Buescher makes the playoffs. Using the guidance of Ryan Newman, Buescher makes strides and finishes races to point his way into the playoffs. Back with Jack Roush, Buescher picks up where the two left off after winning an Xfinity Series title in 2015.

First win: William Byron

No. 48: Has to win. No bones about it. This guy has 83 wins at NASCAR’s highest level. He has to get one more to complete his legendary career.

Season champ: Denny Hamlin

BRAD NORMAN

Bold prediction: The Championship 4, dominated by a handful of names since its inception in 2014, will have at least one first-timer to the title field. Meanwhile, the talk of the playoffs will be which veteran (Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano) will join Kyle Busch as a two-time champion, but we’ll ultimately crown a first-time champ for the third time in four years.

First win: Matt DiBenedetto

No. 48: This won’t be a lame-duck season. The No. 48 team fully expects to compete for both wins and a championship in 2020. Given the speed Hendrick Motorsports found late in 2019, I expect they’ll do both and Johnson will find Victory Lane at least once in 2020 as he concludes his legendary NASCAR career.

Season champ: Denny Hamlin

TERRIN WAACK

Bold prediction: Going big here … The driver who wins the season finale at ISM Raceway will not be playoff eligible and therefore will not be the 2020 champion. A new venue will shake things up and test the postseason format. The Championship 4 better be ready to battle it out, and not necessarily for the checkered flag.

First win: Bubba Wallace

No. 48: Oh, JJ. Still hard to believe this is Jimmie Johnson’s final season. He’ll win at least one race. But to be more specific, he’ll win at least one playoff race. Johnson will go winless through the regular season but point his way into the NASCAR Playoffs. Then, knowing the end is in sight, he’ll return to Victory Lane.

Season champ: Martin Truex Jr.

ALEX WEAVER

Bold prediction: The Championship 4 is completely different this upcoming season. We may see some of the same drivers as last season. But the final four will be a different mashup.

First win: William Byron

No. 48: Jimmie Johnson has a successful year. With this being his last year racing full time, he is a competitor who wants to go out on top of his game. Three-plus wins for the driver of the No. 48. I love a storybook ending!

Season champ:Jimmie Johnson

CHASE WILHELM

Bold prediction: William Byron wins the 2020 Daytona 500. The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports driver will start off his third NASCAR Cup Series season with a bang, earning his first career victory on NASCAR’s biggest stage. He was close at Daytona International Speedway last July after finishing second, but this time around he’ll get the job done.

First win: William Byron

No. 48: Of course we’d all be lying if we didn’t want Jimmie Johnson’s final Cup Series season to end like a fairy tale by capturing his eighth title. But I just don’t see it unless the No. 48 squad makes a major overhaul from last season. He’ll get back in Victory Lane a couple of times at least, but I need to see more proof that his team is ready to battle for a title.

Season champ: Kevin Harvick

GEORGE WINKLER

Bold prediction: Matt DiBenedetto gets his first NASCAR Cup Series win during his first season with Wood Brothers Racing, providing the milestone 100th victory for the team. Having affiliate Team Penske and its superspeedway program in his corner should help DiBenedetto, possibly leading to an upset win at one of those unpredictable tracks.

First win: William Byron

No. 48: Lots of tears and tributes and great memories are in store for Johnson and his fans in his final season, but I don’t expect a ton of on-track success. I’d be happy to see one more win (preferably at his home track at Auto Club Speedway) and a berth in the playoffs.

Season champ: Chase Elliott

@NASCARCASM

Bold prediction: Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Christopher Bell will ALL make the playoffs. You heard it here first. And if it’s wrong, you did not hear this. At least not from me.

First win: William Byron

No. 48: In his final year in Cup, Jimmie Johnson will win at least two races and make it to the Round of 8. He will also be handed a bunch of retirement gifts like Jeff Gordon was given and Paul Menard wasn’t, which I still don’t understand. WHY DID YOU IGNORE OUR DEAR PAUL, TRACKS?

Season champ: Denny Hamlin

Source: https://www.nascar.com/news-media/2020/01/06/nascar-coms-2020-staff-predictions/

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