With the 2017 season firmly in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to reflect on what happened. What else are we going to talk about?
Previously: Front Row Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Germain Racing and Leavine Family Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and the Wood Brothers, Stewart-Haas Racing
Points Position: 20th
Stage Points: 25
Top 5s: 1
Top 10s: 12
Average Starting Position: 13.9
Average Finish: 16.2
Highlight: Suarez had a nice run over the summer that put him on the periphery of the playoff discussion. He finished sixth at Loudon, seventh at Indianapolis, seventh at Pocono and then got his first top five with a third-place finish at Watkins Glen.
Lowlight: But any mojo from that run disappeared over the next three weeks. Suarez crashed out at Michigan and finished 37th. He was 15th at Bristol and then 38th after crashing at Darlington. Any small chance of making the playoffs was gone after those three races.
While Suarez publicly said he had expectations of making the playoffs, 20th was about right given his hasty rise to the Cup Series ranks.
Points Position: 7th
Stage Points: 255
Top 5s: 10
Top 10s: 18
Average Starting Position: 10.4
Average Finish: 14.2
Highlight: This is pretty easy. Kenseth got the send-off he deserved with a win at Phoenix in the next-to-last race of the season. While the 2003 Cup champion was likely fine with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement party overshadowing (likely) his own departure from the Cup Series, his drive at Phoenix to chase down and pass Chase Elliott was a great way for Kenseth’s run in NASCAR to end.
Lowlight: Kenseth’s playoff run ended at Kansas thanks to an extra crew member over the wall. Kenseth was caught up in the massive crash on the backstretch and one more crew member than allowed by NASCAR rules came over the wall to work on Kenseth’s car. It was yet another bizarre pit penalty for Kenseth, who lost a lap in 2016 at Atlanta after crew miscommunication during a black flag.
Points Position: 6th
Stage Points: 251
Top 5s: 15
Top 10s: 22
Average Starting Position: 8.4
Average Finish: 11.6
Highlight: Hamlin got his first win of the season at Loudon in July, a win that locked him in the playoffs. His second win at Darlington was impressive as he led the last three laps after Martin Truex Jr. hit the wall. But that didn’t count for the playoffs because of a post-race inspection failure.
Lowlight: This one is pretty damn obvious too. Two weeks after Elliott went spinning off Hamlin’s bumper at Martinsville, the driver of the No. 24 car got revenge at Phoenix. Elliott nudged Hamlin into the wall, which cut Hamlin’s tire and ended his playoff hopes.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it’s easy to see that Hamlin should have pulled over for Elliott. He was still in playoff position with Elliott ahead of him. But that’s knowing Elliott doesn’t win the race. Had Hamlin let Elliott by and Elliott wins, Hamlin’s out of the final four and Elliott’s in.
Points Position: 2
Stage Points: 360
Top 5s: 14
Top 10s: 22
Average Starting Position: 7.2
Average Finish: 11.5
Highlight: Busch won three playoff races but his win at Martinsville was the most important. It moved him into the final four and allowed the team to race stress-free over the final two races of the third round.
The win at Martinsville was a bit of redemption for Busch, who felt he lost an opportunity earlier in the season at the track when he finished second to Brad Keselowski.
Lowlight: We’ll go with Busch’s crash with Martin Truex Jr. at Indianapolis. The two had raced well together on restarts and appeared to have the two best cars through the first half of the race. But the first restart where they didn’t cooperate … chaos.
Given the standards Joe Gibbs Racing has set for itself over the past few seasons, a year without a title isn’t a rousing success. And there has to be just a tad bit of bitterness that satellite team Furniture Row Racing and Truex were so dominant, even relative to the four JGR cars.
It took a little bit for the Toyota/JGR/FRR dominance to happen in 2017, but the cars were unstoppable over the second half of the season. Toyota-driven cars won 14 of the last 19 races, including eight of 10 playoff races.
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