A new season is officially upon us. After a wild off-season, the 2017 Daytona 500 is just three days away.
Despite some of the changes that NASCAR has made, especially to the points and championship formats, as a fan of NASCAR for sixteen years, I have decided that I am going to at least give this new format a chance.
I do not like the new changes at all, most notably the fact that races are broken up into segments instead of being decided naturally, basically ensuring that NASCAR will never have a caution-free race for the rest of its history. NASCAR is a sport that has never needed “quarters” or “periods” for any reason, but evidently the “powers that be” know what is best for the fans…
Also not a fan of the new points system (I’m an old school guy and think they should go back to the system from 1974-2003). I can understand part of where they were going with rewarding the top 10 drivers with points after each segment, but in my mind, it’s a lot easier to reward the points after the race.
It’s nice that the regular season matters again, and that the regular season points winner will have an advantage going into the MENCS playoffs, but it makes no sense to reset the final four in points after the fall Phoenix race. Why not let the points leader go into Homestead-Miami with the advantage that he gained over the course of the season? At least the first few Chase iterations let the points leader enjoy his advantage, even if it was over the course of nine races.
Here are just a few predictions I have for the season:
Chase Elliott will win not have a sophomore slump. After an incredible rookie season, his sophomore year will be even better, as he will multiple races this year and contend for the championship. (Winning the pole for the Daytona 500 Sunday will definitely go a long way towards helping those chances) He has stepped up in a big way as a replacement for four-time champion Jeff Gordon.
Clint Bowyer will have better results than he did last season. This goes without saying. Is he going to get a victory? No. He likely won’t make the Chase playoffs either, but he will have at least one top five and multiple top tens this season.
Daniel Suarez, last year’s Xfinity Series champion, has some big shoes to fill, replacing the suddenly retired Carl Edwards. He will have some good finishes, and will make the Playoffs. It will be a dogfight between him and Erik Jones for the Rookie of The Year.
Both Roush Fenway Racing drivers will win this year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Bristol and Trevor Bayne at either Talladega or the Coke Zero 400. Their results will continue to improve, and Stenhouse Jr. will make it to the second round of the Chase. Darrell Wallace Jr. and Ryan Reed will be called up to Cup for a few races at some point during the season.
Martin Truex Jr. will make it to the final four, including grabbing a victory in a must-win situation in one of the early rounds of the playoffs.
Erik Jones will win a race this season. This guy’s got a lot of talent, as evidenced in being the youngest Camping World Trucks champion in 2015, and narrowly missing out on the Xfinity Series title the year after. Even if he doesn’t, with a teammate like Martin Truex Jr. (who has risen as a contender for the championship the past couple years) the sky is the limit for this 21-year-old Michigan native.
Joey Logano will make the final four for the third time in four seasons. At 26 years old, this guy has just been getting it done lately. He won the Daytona 500 a couple years ago, and ever since he moved to Penske Racing, he has finished no further than eighth in the points standings. I see him winning multiple races (including the Brickyard) and being in contention for the title throughout the season.
Jimmie Johnson will qualify for the final four this season and contend to win his eighth championship. Say what you will about the Cup points formats and his crew chief, they have just been getting things done when it matters. He has finished no worse than 11th in Cup points his ENTIRE career.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will retire after the 2017 season. But he will win at least one race during the season. I hope I’m wrong about his retirement, but the man has taken quite a few hits during his career. Either way, 25+ wins (two of them Daytona 500s) is nothing to be ashamed of.
*Drivers who will win this season
MENCS Playoff Drivers: *Ricky Stenhouse Jr., *Trevor Bayne, *Dale Earnhardt Jr., *Kurt Busch, *Chase Elliott, *Jimmie Johnson, *Kevin Harvick, *Erik Jones, *Martin Truex Jr., *Joey Logano, *Brad Keselowski, *Matt Kenseth, *Kyle Busch, *Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Kyle Larson
Eliminated In Round 1: Trevor Bayne, Daniel Suarez, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones
Eliminated In Round 2: Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Eliminated In Round 3: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott
Final Four: Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin
Champion: Jimmie Johnson
Rookie of The Year: Erik Jones
Even when all is said and done, as I said before, I’ve been a fan of NASCAR for sixteen years and I can’t just up and divorce the sport cold turkey. No matter what, I will always watch at worst, the Daytona 500, the Coke Zero 400, the holiday races, and the season finale.
Will the racing be as exciting as it was last year? Will the sport recover from its recent downspiral, I don’t know, and so far, things are not trending in the right direction with some of the decisions that have been made. But we’ll just have to sit back and see what happens through the first few races.