Kyle Busch’s Winless Run to Kevin Harvick’s Elimination: Biggest Upsets of the 2020 NASCAR Season

Published 12/29/2020, 1:43 AM EST
PHOENIX, AZ – NOVEMBER 09: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light Ford, stands in the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season concluded with several unexpected surprises. This season has been hard for everyone, with lots of compromises. Somehow, the fans managed to get a proper Cup Series season.


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Truthfully speaking, so many things happened in the current campaign – Chase Elliott won his maiden Cup Series title, Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer retired, Now that the year is complete, what have been the biggest surprises so far?

Jimmie Johnson


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Without a doubt, one of the biggest surprises was not seeing Jimmie Johnson reach the NASCAR playoffs. To make matters even more heartbreaking, the 2020 season happened to be his final year in the sport. In essence, the 45-year-old was denied a swan song.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 08: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

To be precise, Johnson could only muster 18th in the championship, just missing the cut. It also did not help that his last win in the sport came in 2017 at the Dover International Speedway. Bagging a win in the 2020 season would have meant that he would be bowing out of the sport on a high.

Kyle Busch

To be perfectly honest, one should have expected the 2019 Cup Series champion to be well in the running. However, he never quite hit the ground running in 2020. Although Busch managed to get into the NASCAR playoffs, he could not defend his title successfully.

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota, stands on the grid prior to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

In fact, he was in danger of going an entire season without a win. Luckily, he managed to squeeze out a win at the Texas Motor Speedway playoff race. The bad news was that he was already out of playoff contention by then, but the win provided some form of comfort.

Kevin Harvick

This turned out to be one of the biggest shocks on the NASCAR grid. All throughout the regular season, Harvick had been dominant, racking up nine wins, only to miss out on the Championship 4. All it took was poor timing on his part to not qualify for the Championship 4.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 10: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer Car2Can Ford, looks on during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

At the race in Darlington, Harvick found himself needing just one place to make up on the final lap. Desperate times called for desperate measures, courtesy a lunge down the inside. Unfortunately, it backfired and ended up costing him the playoff spot.

Chase Elliott

At the beginning of the season, Chase Elliott did not look like an outright title favorite. The Hendrick Motorsports driver did not have the best of starts to the campaign but was always somewhere in the mix. When the playoffs commenced, he truly came to life and charged.

Avondale, Arizona, USA; NASCAR driver Chase Elliott celebrates with the checkered flag after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

During the regular season, Elliott could only muster one win but consistently placed in the Top 10. However, the sleeping giant soon awoke when the playoffs began, and he stormed to four more wins. The last win was enough to secure his maiden Cup Series title.

Cole Custer

22-year-old Cole Custer made his full-time Cup Series debut in 2020 with Stewart-Haas Racing. Safe to say, he had an impressive debut season, winning at Kentucky as a rookie driver. Without a doubt, the youngster is hugely talented and he just about managed to sneak into the playoffs.


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AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 08: Cole Custer, driver of the #41 Ford, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Even after that maiden win, Custer put in decent performances. He managed to finish in a respectable 16th place, just on the tail end of the playoff positions. Admittedly, nobody expected a rookie driver to emerge victorious.

At the end of the day, it only proves that NASCAR can be unpredictable. Besides that, it resets the status quo every season, unless the champions can defend their crowns.


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Dhruv George

11448 articles

Dhruv George is a senior Formula One and NASCAR analyst for EssentiallySports, having authored nearly 12000 articles spanning different sports like F1, NASCAR, Tennis, NFL, and eSports. He graduated with a PG Diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute of Communications. Dhruv has also conducted interviews with F1 driver Pierre Gasly and Moto2 rider Tony Arbolino.