Top 10 Stories of 2017

NASCAR

Motor Racing Network looks at the top 10 stories of the 2017 NASCAR season. (Photos: Getty Images)

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Motor Racing Network looks at the top 10 stories of the 2017 NASCAR season, which will be featured on the Jan. 2 airing of "NASCAR Live."

Truex Jr. Wins Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship

Furniture Row racing’s Martin Truex Jr. turned in one of the most impressive seasons in NASCAR history on his way to a first career Cup Series title. The New Jersey native won eight times in 2017, including the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to beat Kyle Busch for the title. It gave Truex Jr. a Cup crown to go with his pair of XFINITY Series titles earlier in his career.

Earnhardt Jr. Announces Retirement

After missing the second half of the 2016 season recovering from concussion injuries, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. returned to the sport in a full-time capacity to start the year. But only a few months after the year began with the Daytona 500, Earnhardt Jr. announced his plans to step away from a full-time driving career. He leaves behind a huge legacy and a void in the sport that now must be filled with the lost of the 15-time Most Popular Driver winner.

Playoff Surprises
Once the ten-race playoff schedule rolled around a number of upsets and surprise stories unfolded. Kyle Larson, who was one of the strongest drivers in the regular season, was eliminated from title contention by a string of poor performances and DNFs. Jimmie Johnson, who won three times in the regular season, was never able to rise to the level of success as expected from a seven-time champion and he failed to make the Championship 4 finale. Kenseth was the victim of a NASCAR new rule when too many crew members went over the wall to service his car after an accident in Kansas and he was eliminated. And a new rivalry may have been born when Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin tangled first at Martinsville and then at Phoenix before both were knocked out of title contention.

Matt Kenseth’s Last Ride?
Veteran Matt Kenseth drove what could be his final Cup Series race as he ended his career with Joe Gibbs Racing. Erik Jones will move over from affiliate Furniture Row Racing to take the wheel of the JGR entry leaving Kenseth without a seat for the 2018 campaign. The 2003 champion has won 39 times in NASCAR’s top division but without a sponsor for a competitive ride appears to be a victim of the economic challenges facing the sport and its teams.

“Silly Season” – New Driver Plans for 2018
Kenseth’s departure and Jones taking his JGR seat was just one of a number of driver line-up changes on tap for the 2018 season. Aric Almirola moves from Richard Petty Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 ride, replacing Danica Patrick who will hang up her full-time racing helmet. Bubba Wallace takes the RPM No. 43 seat. Ryan Blaney migrates from the Wood Brothers to a new entry at Team Penske while Paul Menard comes from Richard Childress Racing to drive the Woods’ No. 21 Ford. Youngsters Alex Bowman and William Byron come to Hendrick Motorsports to replace Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne respectively, with the latter moving to Leavine Family Racing.

New Points System/Stage Racing
NASCAR announced a radical change to the racing format across its top[ tiers with the introduction of stage racing in 2017. Races were broken into three stages with additional regular season and playoff points awarded at various points of the race. The result was a raised intensity during otherwise slower intervals inside races and the creation of new strategies as teams tried to accumulate as many points as were available to help their championship aspirations.

Truex Jr. First Regular Season Championship
For the first time since introducing a playoff format, NASCAR awarded a regular season championship after the year’s first 26 races. Truex Jr., who dominated the campaign, easily was crowned the first-ever regular season champ and earned a 15-point playoff bonus for the achievement.

New Generation of Young Stars
The departure of many veterans opened the door for an influx of younger drivers to take center stage. Blaney scored his first career Cup win when he held off Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick to win at Pocono in June. Elliott came close to winning his first Cup race several times but solidified his spot as an heir apparent to the Most Popular Driver award. Jones improved greatly in his rookie season. And Daniel Suarez, who was thrown into the Cup Series unexpectedly after Carl Edwards’ surprise announcement to step away from the sport just before the season began, blossomed in his freshman campaign.

Officiating "Case and Effect"
Rules and regulations garnered a great deal of attention this year and played a major impact in the season. Joey Logano’s encumbered spring race finish at Richmond negated his win from being eligible for the playoffs and the Team Penske driver missed the post-season. Other encumbered race winners included Denny Hamlin in both the Cup Series and XFINITY Series at Darlington as well as an NXS Michigan win. Bubba Wallace also had an encumbered finish in his Michigan Truck Series win. Multiple race weekends saw teams fail LIS inspection causing drivers to miss qualifying and/or sit out time in the next week’s practice sessions as punishment.

JR Motorsports NXS Championship
The powerhouse JR Motorsports organization put three of its drivers in the Championship 4 race at Homestead with Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and William Byron qualifying. In the end it was the 19-year-old Byron outdueling the veteran Sadler for the championship.

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