2017 was an unforgettable season from start to finish, and is one that will stand out in the NASCAR history books.
Of course, so much happened on and off the track, and these ten moments were perhaps the most memorable for when looking back on the season.
10. New Year, New Look
It actually started in 2016, when Sprint’s title sponsorship ended with NASCAR’s premier series, and Monster Energy picked that sponsorship up. Along with the new sponsor came the new series title, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, as well as a new format of racing. NASCAR decided to split races into three stages each, awarding bonus and playoff points to certain drivers at the end of each stage.
9. Joey Logano’s Encumbered Win Keeps Him Out of the Playoffs
Joey Logano is one of the best in the playoffs – he’s made the final four twice in the three seasons prior to 2017 which have used the elimination-style format. This year, fans expected to see Joey Logano and his no. 22 Shell/Pennzoil team be a threat. The 22 team was very competitive at the beginning of the year, and capped it off with a win at Richmond. However, after failing post-race inspection, Logano’s win was deemed as encumbered by NASCAR, which nullified the power of that win to count as an automatic playoff position. Logano was unable to find victory lane after Richmond, and struggled to keep out of trouble. Without the win, Logano was unable to qualify for the playoffs, leaving him with no chance at a championship.
8. Jimmie Johnson ties Legendary Record
It is certain that Jimmie Johnson will go down in NASCAR history as one of the greatest drivers ever, and he further solidified that when he won at Dover International Speedway in June. Not only was it his 11th career win at the Monster Mile, but it was also his 83rd career win, tying him for sixth on NASCAR’s all-time wins list with Cale Yarborough. Johnson had to start from the rear of the field due to an unapproved adjustment, making his win even more spectacular for fans to watch.
7. Ryan Blaney Scores First Career Win
A week after veteran Jimmie Johnson scored his milestone win, Ryan Blaney recorded a milestone of his own. The June race at Pocono was one that was dominated by Toyota, and one that ran under the green flag for over 90 percent of its entirety. Kyle Busch seemed to have the race win within reach, but with 19 laps remaining, one of the few cautions that occurred that day came out. Every driver came down pit road to refuel and change tires – all except one, which was leader Kyle Busch. On the Restart, Ryan Blaney muscled his Wood Brothers Ford around Kyle Busch, and battled Kevin Harvick until the very last lap. Blaney scored his first career win, as well as Wood Brothers Racing’s 99th Monster Energy Cup Series win.
6. Car No. 3 Returns to Victory Lane
Until the 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, no one had driven a number 3 car since Dale Earnhardt passed away. Austin Dillon changed that in 2014 by beginning to drive the no. 3, and in one of the biggest races this year, The famed car returned to victory lane.
At the Coca-Cola 600 in May, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. dominated, but Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus had plans to spoil the Toyota drivers’ party. Johnson and Dillon stayed out, conserving fuel, as Truex and Busch tried to catch up. With 2 laps left, it seemed that Johnson would be the race winner, but he ran out of fuel on the backstretch. Austin Dillon seized the lead and coasted back around on fumes to win his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event, and with him, the famous no. 3 car.
5. Kyle Busch vs. Team Penske
We’ve known for years now about the rivalry between Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski and driver of the no. 18 Toyota Camry, Kyle Busch. 2017 brought more light to the rivalry, as well as a few unforgettable moments.
It started on the last lap of the third race of the year with a fistfight between Logano and Busch after Logano claimed he was loose on the inside of Busch. Busch and Logano made contact and Busch was sent spinning into the infield.
After their scuffle, Brad Keselowski and Busch found each other on the track a number of times between NASCAR’s Xfinity and Monster Energy Cup Series. In the Xfinity Series at Michigan, Keselowski accidentally turned Kyle Busch into the wall on lap one of the race. At Watkins Glen in the Cup Series, the two collided going into the inner loop. Then, as the playoffs got underway, Keselowski made comments of Toyota having a big advantage, to which Kyle Busch replied using an explicit acronym. Both drivers made the final four at Homestead and both lost the championship.
4. Silly Season Chaos
Silly season is always expected to shake things up, but no one anticipated how different the sport might become. In 2017, the silly season started extremely early, with the announcement of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s retirement from full-time NASCAR racing. It wasn’t long after that other drivers found themselves without a ride, like Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch, Landon Cassill, Aric Almirola, and others. As these announcements came out, it seemed (and it is still possible) that the 2018 roster of drivers and team would look very different from the year prior.
3. Denny Hamlin vs. Chase Elliott
Chase Elliott has come close to winning a few times now – very, very close, in fact. Elliott was able to secure a playoff position on points, and drove all the way into the third of four rounds of the playoffs. In the Round of 8 opener at Martinsville Speedway, Elliott found himself ahead of a hungry pack with just 3 short laps left. Fighting for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win and a chance to race for a championship, Elliott drove hard, but Denny Hamlin spun him with just a few laps remaining. Elliott went from the lead to finishing outside of the top 20, and after the race, he confronted Hamlin. Two weeks later at Phoenix, Chase Elliott was making a hard charge to the front and slipped up the track, once again colliding with Denny Hamlin. Hamlin appeared to have a small, harmless tire rub, but just laps late, Hamlin’s tire blew to pieces, ending his hopes of advancing into the Championship Round.
2. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Retires From Full-Time Driving
April 25, 2017 is a day that will live forever for NASCAR fans. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the sport’s most popular driver for 14 consecutive years, announced his retirement from full-time driving in NASCAR. He made it clear that he was happy with his accomplishments in his career and that stepping away from driving was his own choice. His long season ended with a party on pit road just a few short weeks ago, and every man and woman on every crew gave Earnhardt a high-five. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is not leaving NASCAR, though. He will continue his role as team owner at Jr Motorsports and will join NBC’s broadcasting team next season. Earnhardt has also said that he’s not done driving for good, leaving the possibility open to run a full NASCAR Xfinity Series season for his own team.
1. Martin Truex, Jr.’s Dominance Ends With a Championship
Martin Truex, Jr. took 2017 by storm, winning eight races, including seven at 1.5-mile tracks. He won the regular season championship as well. Truex’s season also consisted of 19 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes, a whopping 2,253 laps led, 6.8 average starting position and a 9.4 average finishing position. Truex’s dominance was second to none this season, and is something that drivers will have to be prepared to see again in 2018.