2017 is already seven races old, and so far we’ve been treated to six different winners and some new faces. And the drivers at the top aren’t the only thing that sets 2017 apart from the last few seasons. And there’s a lot to like. There are some concepts fans aren’t sold on and we’ll take a look at what might not be to like as well, but this week, here’s what has been enjoyable so far this season.
- New faces
I’m not just talking about rookies, though there is a strong rookie class this year with Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez in particular standing out, but in general about having some different drivers in the spotlight. Kyle Larson is beginning to live up to the expectations heaped on him, leading the points and making himself a threat nearly every week. Chase Elliott is second in points in his sophomore season, and like fellow second-year driver Ryan Blaney, it looks like just a matter of time until Victory Lane is a regular stop.
Jamie McMurray isn’t new by any means, but he’s having a great year so far, and Clint Bowyer is back in the mix after a dismal 2016. It’s refreshing to see a top 10 that’s not the same old, same old, and it’s good for the sport as well.
- … and old ones
At the same time, there are some familiar faces in the mix, including 2012 champ Brad Keselowski, 2014 and 2015 titlists KevinHarvick and Kyle Busch, respectively and, yes, now seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson after finding his footing at Texas. Having to fight for every position with a slew of old and new rivals only elevates everyone’s performance and makes the racing better.
Johnson is chasing history, approaching the sport’s legends with each win, and in an era where wins just might be more indicative of a driver’s talent than titles, each one he ticks off puts him closer to the best ever. Talent only elevates talent, so the young guns boost the veterans, and they return the favor. There’s truly someone for every fan to pull for every Sunday.
- Looking ahead?
NASCAR has already said that it will look at some changes for 2018, even though 2017 is just seven races old. One of these potential tweaks is something fans have asked for already this year, which is having the laps spent under caution at the end of a stage not count toward the race total. I like that the sanctioning body is willing to listen to fans in some areas, because that’s a departure from the past, and a positive for the sport overall.
This year’s All-Star event will feature a choice of tire compounds: a harder, more durable but slower tire or a softer, faster one. For that race, teams who opt for the harder tire will have a starting advantage, whereas the ones who take the faster option will start in the back.
So… is that a harbinger of things to come? I’ve said for years that a choice of tires would make for great strategy and good racing. Will it become reality? It’s certainly worth a second look if it works in May.
- Changes that don’t sacrifice integrity
I understand why many NASCAR fans don’t like a lot of the changes they’ve seen, in particular surrounding the championship format, because they feel like it cheapens the championship. What I like about this year’s changes, including stage racing and the lower downforce package, is that they are an honest attempt to improve the racing fans see every Sunday with the least amount of impact on the end result.
While the stages do bring planned cautions, are they really worse than debris cautions that were a too-late attempt to inject some closer racing? They give drivers a real incentive to race hard and create strategy at a point in the race where there was no reason to do so previously. Yes, it seems like there are way too many caution laps as it should really be a quickie yellow where everyone pits and the race restarts in five laps of fewer, but NASCAR is willing to readdress that for next year.
If the sport had to change, and that is certainly debatable, considering the “pre-Chase” era was arguably the most popular the sport has ever been, then this kind of change is the right one.
What should be next? I’d like to see NASCAR back off the rules in some areas, like gear and suspension choice. I don’t like the look of the over-skewed cars and neither did many fans, so I don’t think letting it get out of hand would be beneficial. Giving teams room to work -and to make mistakes – would only strengthen the racing every week.
- These commercials
You’ve seen the one where Kevin Harvick is three inches tall and hanging out in some poor guy’s car engine. When asked why he’s three inches tall (fair question), the reply, in true Harvick fashion, is “why aren’t you three inches tall?”
While looking for that commercial, I found this series, with three-inch Harvick and approximately-four-inch NBA player Dikembe Motumbo have apparently set up house under the guy’s hood.
They’re not quite as good as the original, but still worth a look. Because it’s not good to take racing too seriously…
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