In with the New

Erik Jones

Erik Jones is part of the 2017 rookie class in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. (Photo: Getty Images)

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The 2017 NASCAR season is about to begin and it’s all about new beginnings.

New sponsors, formats, rules and driver-team alignments will greet fans this year after a whirlwind off-season that saw a multitude of changes across the sport’s landscape. Ready or not, it all goes into play starting this weekend at Daytona International Speedway with the kick-off of Speedweeks.

Here’s a handy reminder of just a few of the biggest changes that lie ahead in NASCAR 2017:

Title Sponsor
NASCAR welcomes Monster Energy in as only the third title sponsor for the premier series. The energy drink company follows Winston/RJ Reynolds and Nextel/Sprint and takes on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title beginning this season. The partnership is expected to bring (no pun intended) a new energy to the sport with Monster’s deep background in motorsports promotion while targeting a younger demographic as well. 

Race Format
Stages are coming to all three of NASCAR’s top divisions with the Cup Series, XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series debuting the concept during Speedweeks at Daytona. Every race will feature two opening stages with regular season points distributed to the top ten finishers. Each stage leader will also earn one playoff point to be used should that driver advance to the championship portion of the season. The final stage will pay regular season points as in the past with five playoff points also earned. And the regular season point leader can carry an additional 15 points into the playoffs as well. The idea was created to infuse more intensity into every race on the schedule and so far has been nearly universally accepted by competitors. The proof will be in the pudding once cars and trucks hit the track.

Aerodynamic Rules
Last season NASCAR took a significant amount of downforce off Cup cars in hopes of improving competition. While it appeared to make an impact early in the season, by the time mid-summer rolled around engineers had worked to get back most of it and suddenly dreaded terms such as “clean air” and “aero push” returned. This year will see an even greater amount of aerodynamic adjustment to both Cup and NXS cars. Smaller spoilers and shorter splitters along with other aero modifications will once again in theory make cars more difficult to drive, put control more in drivers’ hands and in turn create a better on track product.

Body Damage Policy
Teams will have just five minutes to make body damage repairs on pit road. Should the car (or truck) not be able to return to the track and maintain minimum speed in that allotted time the team is done for the race. The rule does not include mechanical issues like engine or transmission repair, which can still be worked on in the garage area.

Traveling Medical Team
NASCAR will have a dedicated medical staff that will travel the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and work in concert with at-track personnel. A traveling doctor and paramedic will now be at every race in addition to the professionals staffing the infield care center. It’s another announcement that was met with overwhelming positive feedback by competitors.

New Faces in New Places
You’ll need a program to follow along the many changes in personnel across all three of NASCAR’s national divisions. Some numerical in the Cup Series significant moves include:

13 – Ty Dillon replace Casey Mears to drive the Germain Racing Chevrolet

14 – Clint Bowyer takes the seat of the retired Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing with the entire organization also switching from Chevrolet to Ford

19 – The sudden departure of Carl Edwards from NASCAR competition opened up the Joe Gibbs Racing seat for reigning XFINITY Series champion Daniel Suarez

23 - Gray Gaulding will drive the No. 23 Toyota for BK Racing starting at Atlanta

37 – Chris Buescher is on loan from Roush Fenway Racing to drive JTG Daugherty Racing’s brand new second entry

38 – David Ragan makes a homecoming with Front Row Motorsports

77 – Erik Jones graduates from the XFINITY Series to pilot a new second car at Furniture Row Racing

The XFINITY Series also has some new looks in 2017:

Cole Custer moves from the Truck Series to a new NXS entry fielded by SHR...Ben Kennedy has a nine race deal at Richard Childress Racing...William Byron and Michael Annett join JR Motorsports which blossoms to four full-time cars this season…Matt Tifft has a full year deal in the JGR No. 19 ride vacated by Suarez...Daniel Hemric drives a full season for RCR...Spencer Gallagher and GMS Racing will run the complete series schedule...Tyler Reddick moves from the Truck Series to a partial program at Chip Ganassi Racing.

As for the NCWTS:

Cody Coughlin takes over the No. 13 ThorSport Toyota with Grant Enfinger also on board at the team for a full campaign…Ryan Truex landed a full season ride for team owner Shigeaki Hattori…Noah Gragson moves to Kyle Busch Motorsports for a full season….Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe are the new tandem at Brad Keselowski Racing….Kaz Grala joins championship winning GMS Racing….Stewart Friesen will campaign Halmar Racing’s full season ride.

Also a new rule limits full-time Cup Series regulars in the series to just 10 races for drivers with five or more year experience at NASCAR’s top level.

There’s a lot to keep an eye on to be sure as the first green flag of NASCAR 2017 gets ready to fly.

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