We are officially a third of the way through the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. Although it’s been an unconventional season, as we had a stoppage for the Coronavirus Pandemic and we’ve since been running multiple races per week to make up for lost ground, there is a substantial amount of starts to begin looking at who has greatly improved in performance from last season.
Three drivers truly stand above the pack as far as where they are right now when compared to a year ago.
Bubba Wallace’s 2020 NASCAR Cup Series campaign through 12 races, has been a total flip of the switch from his abysmal 2019 season. Wallace scored a 13th-place finish in Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which keeps him in sole possession of the 20th-position in the Series Point Standings.
In all, Wallace, 26, has already scored two top-10 finishes and five top-15s in 2020. Through 12 races in 2019, Wallace’s best finish was a 17th-place effort at Martinsville — one of only two top-20 finishes in the first third of last year.
At this point last season, the Alabama-native was mired 29th in the championship standings. That equates to a nine-position improvement in 2020.
A change in crew chief to Jerry Baxter from Derek Stamets has seemingly helped with Wallace’s confidence at Richard Petty Motorsports so far. If Wallace can keep the momentum going, he will certainly record the best season of his three-year NASCAR Cup Series career.
However, if Wallace’s nine-position gain in the standings from 2019 to 2020 is impressive, Matt DiBenedetto is probably saying, “Hold my beer.”
DiBenedetto is off to a significantly faster start than he had in 2019 while driving for Leavine Family Racing.
Through the opening 12 races of 2020, DiBenedetto, 28, has tied his career-best finish (2nd) at Las Vegas, he has three top-10 finishes, and he has finished inside the top-15 eight times. The rock-steady performance has yielded a 14th-place ranking in the Cup Series point standings, 11 positions higher than he was ranked a season ago after 12 races.
While DiBenedetto has been running at the finish of every race in 2020, the California-native had three DNFs through the first 12 races of 2019. DiBenedetto had just one top-15 finish after 12 races a year ago.
Talk about a massive improvement. If DiBenedetto keeps chugging away, he could very well be a Playoff contender this year.
And what about Michael McDowell? McDowell, 35, is another driver who deserves praise for his incredible turn around. So far in 2020, he has scored a total of four top-15 finishes, including three of his last four starts.
After 12 races, McDowell, who hails from Arizona, sits 23rd in the championship standings.
At the 12 start point of 2019, McDowell ranked 30th in the standings. While he had a best finish of fifth, which came in the season-opening race at Daytona, he only had two total top-15s in the first 12 races of 2019 along with three DNFs (did not finish). In 2020, McDowell has been running at the end of every race so far.
Making less mistakes has been critical for McDowell, but it also seems like reducing Front Row Motorsports to two cars — instead of three — has also helped the team become faster overall in 2020.
McDowell, like Wallace and DiBenedetto, is on a pace to churn out a career-best season. McDowell’s best-ever championship points finish was 26th, which he achieved in 2017 and 2018.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.