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(Photo: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2017 – The Year of Martin Truex Jr. and Toyota

Who’s in the headline Martin Truex Jr. capped off his dream season with a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In a year when the points were overhauled to reward people with a successful regular season, Truex dominated the first 26 races and then rode the benefits of those playoff points to Homestead after winning his way out of the first two rounds of the playoffs. He set a record for most wins on 1.5-mile tracks in a season (seven) and won the most races in a year since Denny Hamlin in 2010 (eight).

Toyota is the 2017 manufacturer champion in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. This is the second consecutive year that Toyota has claimed the honor after Chevrolet had won it the previous 13 seasons.

What happenedKurt Busch won the Daytona 500 to continue the dominance of Fords on restrictor plate tracks. The blue oval won all four plate races in 2017 and has won the last seven going back to 2016. Brad Keselowski won at Atlanta to give Ford two wins in a row to start the season. Truex’s first win was at Las Vegas before Ryan Newman had a strategy win at Phoenix. Kyle Larson grabbed the trophy at Auto Club Speedway to cap off the West Coast swing. Keselowski took the victory at Martinsville before Jimmie Johnson managed back-to-back triumphs at Texas and Bristol. Joey Logano won at Richmond, but the victory was encumbered due to a post-race infraction that, for all intents and purposes, derailed Logano’s entire season. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scored the first win of his career with a plate triumph at Talladega. Truex notched his second Intermediate win at Kansas before Austin Dillon scored his first career triumph at Charlotte, returning the No. 3 car to Victory Lane in the Cup series since 2000 at Talladega.

Johnson continued to show his dominance at Dover with his third win of the season that ultimately turned out to be the end of his success for the year. Ryan Blaney joined the ranks of Cup winners knocking out his first victory at Pocono Raceway. Larson continued his strong runs at two mile tracks with a trophy at Michigan before Kevin Harvick guaranteed his spot in the playoffs thanks to crossing the strip first at Sonoma. Stenhouse started the second half of the season with his second plate win, before Truex logged another Intermediate victory at Kentucky. Denny Hamlin put his hat in the playoff ring by taking New Hampshire’s first race of the year before Kasey Kahne logged the last win of the season for Hendrick Motorsports in the 20th race of the year.

Kyle Busch knocked another race track off of his list of winless tracks by grabbing the second race of the year at Pocono. Truex proved he could win on a track that wasn’t an Intermediate, snaring the trophy at Watkins Glen. Larson then went three-for-three at two-milers, snagging a win at Michigan followed by Kyle Busch with the victory at Bristol, where he is always a huge threat to win.

The final third of the season kicked off with Hamlin taking a win at Darlington that was ultimately encumbered thanks to his second post-race tech failure in two days. The regular season wrapped up with Larson winning at Richmond.

Truex wrapped up the regular season with 53 playoff points. Larson had 33, while Kyle Busch had 29. The playoffs began with Truex drawing first blood at Chicago thanks to a pit road miscue for Kyle Busch. Busch finished off the first round of the playoffs with back-to-back wins at Loudon and Dover.

Truex kicked off the second round with yet another Intermediate win, and finished the round with his second win of the year at Kansas. Keselowski was sandwiched in the middle with a Talladega triumph. The final round of the playoffs before Homestead saw Kyle Busch win at Martinsville to advance to Homestead. Harvick assured his spot in Homestead with a win at Texas, while Truex was locked in after that race on points. Matt Kenseth possibly wrapped up his career with a victory at Phoenix.

Why you should care – Toyota was the dominant manufacturer for most of the season, although Chevrolet was competitive with them early. As the year progressed, the bow-tie of Larson was the only one that could challenge the Toyotas and, eventually Ford. The Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Harvick was strong over the last month of the season and could signal strength for 2018, contrary to the bemoaning of Keselowski who trumpeted the inferiority of Fords all season. The biggest surprise through the second half of the year and especially the playoffs was the failure of Hendrick Motorsports to contend. Chase Elliott was the shining star for the organization, but he failed to capitalize on his chances for victory. With the entry for Chevrolet switching over to Camaros for 2018, it could be very good or very bad for General Motors next year.

What your friends are talking about – The big news since the end of the year is the limit on team members coming to the track for 2018, including reduced numbers going over the wall. The pit crews that perform the stops will be reduced by one and the gas man will be limited to only fueling the car. The first few months of the season will be interesting to watch the teams figure out how they will choreograph their pit stops to be most efficient. The idea is to save teams money, we’ll see if it does in the long run.

Speaking of pit stops, the crews are no longer going to have the screaming fast pit guns that have been developed over the past few seasons. NASCAR is adopting a stock gun that will be given to the teams the morning of the races and returned at the end of the race. For crew members with lightning fast hand speed, the equipment will most likely not be able to keep up. Expect to see a lot of lug nut violations the first few weeks of the year along with complaints about guns that are not truly equal. Crews will also wear names and numbers on their uniforms to help fans better identify the teams. Not sure what that will accomplish but at least people can point and laugh by name and number when pit guys make stupid mistakes.

Ratings took a beating in 2018. There is constant debate over the viewing habits of fans and how to capture those people who are viewing races through unconventional means. Until they figure out how to capture that, the ratings are the measuring stick. In 2017, ratings fell for 35 of 36 races. Viewership for 2017 was down 11 perfcent from 2016, 18 percent from 2015 and 22 percent from the last year under the previous television deal. Limit pit crews, give team members numbers, standardize splitters and anything else you want to do. Until you get these cars off of the ground and make the racing better, people are not going to want to watch the product.

With Erik Jones heading to the No. 20 team for 2018, Furniture Row Racing had stated they were selling their charter for the No. 77 car to an unnamed team. Well that team has been named and it is JTG Daugherty Racing.

Christopher Bell claimed the coveted Turkey Night GP at Ventura Raceway by the slimmest of margins over Larson. Less than a week after claiming the Camping World Truck Series Title at Homestead, Bell held off Larson in a fantastic race to score his second career win in the famous Midget race. Bell had a stellar year with wins in the Truck Series, XFINITY, ARCA, the Chili Bowl and Turkey Night to accompany his Truck championship. He won in winged sprint cars, on iRacing and probably grabbed wins in grocery carts and lawnmowers.

Who is mad – Rick Hendrick has to be mad. The big dog in the Chevy camp doesn’t invest millions of dollars a year to race in these events to win four races and be shut out of Homestead. With the influx of the Camaro, Mr. H. is going to be spending dump trucks full of money in the off-season to develop the new car. Bet he won’t take kindly to having his butt handed to him on the track two years in a row.

Who is happy – Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser has gone against the grain since he started his team and based it out of Colorado. While he’s conformed on a few things, he still is doing it his own way. After a heart attack a couple of weeks before Homestead, it had to feel good to get to watch the victory celebration on TV.

When the checkered flag flew:

2017 Champion – Martin Truex Jr.

2017 Manufacturer Champion – Toyota

2017 Rookie of the Year – Erik Jones

2017 Most Popular Driver – Odds on favorite is Dale Earnhardt Jr. but don’t be shocked if Chase Elliott picks up the mantle a year early.

2017 Race winners:

Martin Truex Jr. – 8

Kyle Busch – 5

Kyle Larson – 4

Brad Keselowski – 3

Jimmie Johnson – 3

Kevin Harvick – 2

Denny Hamlin – 2

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 2

Ryan Blaney – 1

Austin Dillon – 1

Kurt Busch – 1

Matt Kenseth – 1

Kasey Kahne – 1

Ryan Newman – 1

Joey Logano – 1

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

The 2017 season was fun to watch if you’ve missed a regular season making a difference. It was enjoyable to watch a good ‘ole fashioned butt whipping from one team dominating the majority of the season. If you wanted to see racecars that were fastest able to get to the front no matter where they were, you probably tuned out after Charlotte in May. There was some drama and some good racing, but the product was boring by the time the playoffs arrived. As a result, we’ll give the year three cold Budweisers thanks to Martin Truex Jr. for being a good story.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The annual awards banquet is Thursday. The Snowball Derby is coming up next weekend. The Chili Bowl is in January. Icebreakers and dirt racing in Florida starts up in early February. There are indoor races all winter. There are tracks in the south that have races all winter. Don’t stop watching racing just because the Cup Series has packed up for the winter.

About Mike Neff

Mike Neff

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike works as track announcer and does Sales and Marketing for Myrtle Beach Speedway. He announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He’s also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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3 comments

  1. I thought it was a pretty good season. I would have liked to see Chase get a win, but the last 4 races of the season were pretty exciting. I was really skeptical of “stage” racing at the beginning, but it has really won me over. It’s put renewed emphasis on season long performance and it rewards qualifying well. It also makes point cushions a bit less safe, for example, at Phoenix the 2 came in 19 points up on the 11. In previous years, the 2 could have a bad day, run top-15 and be safe. This year, by the end of stage 2, that points cushion was no more. I know some have complained about “winners” earning less points than others, but winning a race pays a lot more than points now, so who cares. Looking forward to next season, with the new schedule and a chance for the young drivers to step up.

  2. I’ll have to get my hot wheels cars out and get my inner child going for the next couple of months. Can’t wait til speedweeks @ Daytona. Everybody have a Merry Christmas and the New Year will bring us the 60th running of the Daytona 500. Drop the rag! 🙂

  3. Well I guess it’s official, the 2017 season is over with the final recap of the entire season. Thanks for the weekly recaps Mike!