With less than a month until the Daytona 500, NASCAR fans are eagerly awaiting the start of the 2017 season. Following an exciting conclusion to last year’s Chase for the Cup, this year promises to be just as exciting. Some big off season news stories both excited and shocked fans as events unfolded during the series downtime.
NASCAR announced a major change in the format of races for the upcoming year, events in the three premier series will now be split into what is essentially three heats during the course of the race. Points will be awarded after each of the segments giving drivers the opportunity to charge hard at various times during the race in an effort to bank more points for the playoffs. Race segments will be concluded with a caution period, as crew chiefs learn the new system fans can count on the format producing some interesting pit strategies.
Our roots deepen. Our ride continues. pic.twitter.com/i8pxfqUJJU
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) December 19, 2016
For just the fourth time in NASCAR history the series title sponsor has changed, as Sprint bows out Monster Energy drink takes their place as NASCAR’s premier series will now be called the “Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series™” officially as of January 1, 2017. Gone is the slanted oval design associated with Sprint in favor of a rectangular moniker with Monster Energy’s distinctive claw mark logo teamed with a new version of NASCAR’s inline logo that has been in use since 1976. “Our new NASCAR mark is modern, timeless, and embraces the heritage of our sport,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “It was important for us to recognize our history and implement a piece of each previous mark in the new design. Our goal was to evolve the sport’s visual identity to make it concise, relevant and functional, while respecting and maintaining the unique qualities of the original mark.”
A new era.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) December 19, 2016
In an announcement that shocked the racing community Carl Edwards announced his retirement January 11 of this year, citing the desire to spend more time with his family and avoid the inherent risks associated with the sport. The surprising announcement came just weeks before the start of the new season and took most avid observers of the sport unawares, especially considering how close Edwards cane to winning his first championship last year. If not for an accident with Joey Logano 10 laps from the finish at Homestead, it’s likely Edwards would have claimed the crown as NASCAR Champion. In his career, Edwards started 445 races, posted 28 wins, 124 top five finishes, 220 top 10’s and started from the pole 22 times. Add to that 38 wins in the Xfinity Series and another 6 wins in the Camping World Truck Series. NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France praised Edwards saying “Carl Edwards has made an indelible mark on NASCAR. His hard-charging driving style has led to memorable moments that will live forever in the history of our sport. Carl’s passion and personality will greatly be missed – as will the signature backflips that NASCAR fans have come to expect following his victories. We wish Carl nothing but the best as he enters this next phase in life.” 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez has been named by Joe Gibbs Racing to fill Edwards’ seat in the number 19 car for 2017.
Last year Stewart Haas Racing announced they were switching from Chevrolet to Ford. The change adds popular drivers Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer, and Kurt Busch to the stable of Fusion drivers. When asked about the move Tony Stewart responded: “Honestly, it started out as casual conversation in passing and then the conversations got more serious obviously. The more we talked to the group at Ford, the more we realized that our passion and desire to win races and championships, and their approach, is very much in line with how we approach it at Stewart-Haas Racing. There wasn’t anything in this deal that was a disappointment from the Chevy side. We weren’t disappointed with what we were doing with Chevy, but we felt like when we got in conversations with the Ford group that it just really seemed like a partnership that made a lot of sense the further that we went into it. The longer the conversations went, the more excited that both sides were about making this a reality. That’s really how it all evolved and came to where we are today.”
In other team news, Richard Petty Motorsports announced they will only field one team for 2017 with Aric Almirola piloting the 43 Ford Fusion again this year. Brian Scott announced his retirement at the end of the 2016 season and the 44 team will cease operations allowing RPM to concentrate on Almirola’s entry while they try and get Aric back in the playoffs after a disappoint drop to 26th in the final standings last year. RPM holds two franchise charters and will lease one to Go FAS Racing next season with the hopes of returning to two teams in 2018.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is adding five new members this year as Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks, and Benny Parsons join the exclusive club as owners and former drivers. Induction ceremonies are scheduled for January 20 at the Hall in Charlotte.
Racing action starts in Daytona on Saturday night February 18th with the Advance Auto Parts Clash, pole winners from last year along with former Clash winners and Chase qualified drivers will start the action in what amounts to an all-star exhibition on the two-and-a-half-mile tri-oval. Daytona 500 pole qualifying is Sunday the 19th with the Can-Am Duel races set to fill out the 500 field on Thursday evening the 23rd. The Camping World Truck Series runs on Friday evening followed by the Xfinity Series on Saturday afternoon. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for 2017 begins with the 59th running of The Great American Race, the Daytona 500 gets things rolling on Sunday afternoon, February 26th at 2:00 pm.
Look to the Lasco Press again this year for weekly coverage of the NASCAR series as we bring you more in-depth feature articles and track-side reporting from select venues throughout the 2017 season.