The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season was a classic; with first time winners, a deserving champion and the swan song of two of the sports most popular drivers.
With the help of Facebook group – NASCAR Fans UK – the UK’s largest NASCAR fan community, we have narrowed down our Top 5 NASCAR 2017 Moments.
5- Ryan Blaney’s First Career Win, Pocono June Race
A combination of pace, strategy, luck and sheer determination, took Blaney to Victory Lane. Aside from Kyle Larson winning the second stage, the race was largely dominated by a seemingly untouchable Kyle Busch. During a late (and final) caution period, the field pitted except for Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, who took the front row for the restart. Busch jumped Keselowski as racing resumed and Blaney was quick to get around the #2. Putting his fresher rubber too good use, Blaney closed in on Busch whose defence was hard but mostly fair. Ryan was alongside Kyle going into turn 1 with 10 to go, the battle for position pushing the #21 down onto the apron. Wisely, Blaney backed out and was able to take the lead when the inside was left open through turn 2.
Keeping a cool head while under immense pressure from the sports “closer” Kevin Harvick, Blaney brought the car home to claim the first cup win of his career and the 99th win for Woods Brothers Racing. There were some great images from pit lane, including the immediate Victory Lane interview being conducted by Blaney’s mentor and friend Brad Keselowski.
4 – Matt Kenseth’s Emotional Final Win at Phoenix
On 11th July 2017, JGR announced that Erik Jones would be driving their #20 for the 2018 season, leaving Kenseth without a drive. It had been a tough season for Kenseth, losing his Dollar General sponsor at the start of the year and although he came close on a couple of occasions, he had been unable to pick up a much needed win.
While most eyes were watching the developing feud between Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth was quietly going about his business, putting in a solid drive that saw him spend much of the race in the 10 top, finishing both stages in the top 5.
Starting the final stage from 2nd, Kenseth passed the #11 and dominated most of the stage, temporarily relinquishing the lead with 29 laps remaining to Chase Elliott after huge pressure from the #24, #77 and #78.
With 10 laps to go, Kenseth used the dog leg to dive under the #24 and retake the lead, where he remained until the checkered flag to claim a very well deserved and long overdue victory.
Matt Kenseth is known for his calm and dry demeanour but even he failed to contain his emotion during the post race interview. “Everybody dreams of going out a winner”, he said as he went on to thanks his family, fans and colleagues for their support during a fantastic NASCAR career.
3 – Martin Truex Jr crowned 2017 Champion
I think it’s fair to say that the career of Martin Truex Jr had been something of a slow burner. Getting his first full time drive in the cup series in 2006, Truex entered the 2017 season with 129 top 10’s and 7 wins from 405 starts. In 2017 alone, Truex scored 26 top 10’s and 8 wins, including the championship final at Homestead.
What stood out most about Truex’s early season, was how quickly he adapted to the new ‘Stages’ and the points potential from them. His domination of the stage wins throughout the season meant that a place at Homestead was almost guaranteed when the playoffs began.
Aside from winning the most stages and races of the season, it’s no secret that Truex’s personal life has been far from smooth sailing with long time girlfriend Sherry Pollex battling ovarian cancer, although I am pleased to say that Sherry has recently finished her last round of chemotherapy. Their strength and determination in the face of adversity, both on and off the track, make them an inspirational couple. It’s hard to argue that there was a more deserving champion that Martin Truex Jr.
2 – Kyle Busch Sweeps at Bristol…Again
Dominating the Camping World Trucks Series and Xfinity Series races, winning all of their stages, Kyle Busch had to work slightly harder to take the Monster Energy Cup Series win.
A hard but fair battle with Kyle Larson brought stage one to a close with Busch on top but a slow stop in the following caution dropped Rowdy from 1st to 6th. Busch regained the lead but a caution saw Matt Kenseth take the stage win with the #18 in eighth. Stage three saw Erik Jones put in the drive of his career so far, comfortably leading the race right into the closing laps. With 60 to go Busch was battling Kenseth with the pair closing in on the #77. With a handful of laps to go, Busch regained the lead and was able to make the high line work to take the win with a comfortable lead over his JGR team mates.
As with most things involving Kyle Busch, his victory was met with both cheers and jeers -which Kyle was more than happy to play up to- but love him or hate him, there’s no doubting that Kyle Busch is carving his name into NASCAR history and a second sweep at Bristol will ensure it stays there for a long time.
1 – Martinsville Playoff Race
The race that had it all. The perfect example of NASCAR what can and should be. A short circuit race under the lights, where rubbin’ was racin’. Tempers flared, fenders were bent and feuds were ignited.
Joey Logano lead the field to green and was soon in a door to door battle with his Penske team mate, Brad Keselowski. Keselowski was driving to seal his place into the next round of the playoffs, while Logano’s championship push was already over, he was racing for himself.
Kyle Busch lead the field from the beginning of the final stage with Chase Elliott catching and passing him on lap 324, leaving Busch to race archrival Keselowski.
With 30 to go Keselowski was alongside Elliott with both championship contenders determined to hold their ground, contact was made, with Brad making his way past.
13 laps to go and Kyle Busch is racing his Las Vegas sparring partner, Logano, inside the top five. Contact causes a tire rub on the #22. Logano, determined to keep track position stays out, until the tire inevitably gives up, with 9 laps to go, sending the Logano to the wall and bringing out the caution.
On the following restart, Elliott was able to run Keselowski high off the groove to take the lead. Racing hard with 3 laps to go, Hamlin gets into the back of the #24 going into turn 3, turning Elliott around and into the wall. Deliberate, maybe. Aggressive? Definitely.
The caution comes out again. On the next restart, Hamlin has the lead but is pushed up the track by team Kyle Busch who takes the lead and the win, while contact between Harvick, Blaney and Hamlin, sparks a pile up on the back straight and over the finish line, collecting the majority of the field.
There are many other moments from 2017 that could’ve made this list and depending on who you talk to, their top 5 will differ greatly I’m sure, but now, with the Daytona 500 just a few days away, I’m sure that what we’re all hoping for is that the 2018 season brings us many moments that will go down in NASCAR history and make 2018 a classic!
Images courtesy of Nascar.com, sportingnews.com and Nascar Fans Uk