Opinion: New Year, New Opportunity
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on January 4, 2017 | 11:00 A.M. EST
Clint Bowyer moves to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017. (Photo: Getty Images)
The 2017 NASCAR season brings a number of drivers a brand new opportunity to succeed.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The sport’s most popular driver has been medically cleared from his concussion injuries and is ready to get back behind the wheel after missing nearly half of 2016. Earnhardt Jr. has shown great determination to prove his driving days aren’t over and with a clean bill of health; he seems rejuvenated for the coming year. The Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 ride fared relatively well with Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman filling in during Earnhardt Jr.’s absence. He’ll step into a competitive team anxious to have its full-time driver back beginning with the Daytona 500.
There may not have been a driver happier to see 2016 end more than Bowyer, who spent a miserable year with HScott Motorsports. While expectations weren’t off the charts for the smaller budget team, nobody including Bowyer could have predicted just how disappointing things turned out. Bowyer was never competitive and his frustration level rose as the misery continued. But now he has a new lease on life taking over for the retired Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing. While there will be some growing pains as Bowyer becomes acclimated with the organization, which moves from Chevrolet to Ford, expectations are high for Bowyer to return to much more prominence in 2017.
One of the sport’s future stars moves up the ladder next season when Jones graduates from the XFINITY Series to Furniture Row Racing’s second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride. Jones should have no problem getting used to his surroundings with the team and new crew chief Chris Gayle as he teams up with Martin Truex Jr. FRR remains firmly in the Toyota camp with its Joe Gibbs Racing affiliation so Jones will have every tool at his disposal to turn in a stand out rookie campaign.
The former XFINITY Series champion is on the move again next year as he readies for a second season at the Cup level. Buescher migrates from Front Row Motorsports to JTG Daugherty Racing where, like Jones, he’ll get a shot with a team expanding to a two-car stable. Buescher made the Chase last year in somewhat unlikely fashion with his Pocono win and may be hard-pressed to repeat that feat with JTG, which has one Chase appearance back in 2014 with AJ Allmendinger. But he should have a shot to be a bit more competitive on a weekly basis than he did with the lower resourced Front Row operation.
Another driver moving to NASCAR’s top tier on a full-time basis is Dillon, who takes over the Germain Racing GEICO Chevrolet from the departing Casey Mears. Dillon has a great deal of Cup level experience over the last couple season while he ran a full XFINITY Series schedule. The team will remain partnered with Richard Childress Racing and some expect it to act as a de facto fourth entry from the organization. Dillon will also remain with the No. 3 XFINITY team and will partner with rookie crew chief Matt Swiderski.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.