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5 BIGGEST STORYLINES OF 2017: Changing the Game

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From the Daytona 500 in February to the last checkered flag of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, the world of left turns – with an occasional right – keeps everybody on the edge of their seats. While the on-track action keeps eyes peeled on the asphalt, the discussion, and headlines generated away from the competition result in plenty of water cooler talk.

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season was no exception, as there were lots to talk about right from the beginning. As we close a chapter on another year, POPULAR SPEED is going to reflect upon the five most significant storylines in a series of articles.

We went from retirement to the youth movement, before sparking a rivalry. But another change kept things interesting – stage racing.

Just under a year ago, NASCAR made a ground breaking announcement – their events would be broken into three stages, with a mandatory caution at the end of each and points awarded to the top-10 drivers in the running. The reveal was met with mixed reactions, from ruining tradition and creating fake drama, to excitement about the possibility. 

With 36 Cup races under the format, it is clear that there were some positives to be gained from the experience.

– Less phantom debris cautions were handled, allowing fans to offer more respect for race control. It was long thought by fans and competitors alike the sanctioning body threw a yellow flag when warranted to create drama, stating it was for debris and none would be found. Now with a pair planned mid-race, there is no need for those cautions, and the explanation towards what we see is clear.

– Just because you have a bad day, it doesn’t mean it is thrown away and worth nothing. If you gained points in the first two stages – for example, 10 for a pair of victories – and then wrecked in the last couple of laps, it would at least show you’re ability to be competitive before the mishap. 

– The benefits of earning stage victories during the season were beneficial in the playoffs, as it gave you a good buffer ahead of your competitors in points to transfer from one round to the next. Just ask Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.

– If you start off the race with your set-up slightly off, you have hope of being able to improve upon it and be better – as long as you survive that stage. It gives a reason for the driver to stay committed, and the fan to stay tuned in.

– There was another layer of strategy added to the crew chief’s job on the pit box, depending when cautions flew before the stage yellow flag, or even at the pre-planned stage competition lap. Do you pit, or stay out? Do you take two tires or four tires? There was numerous events where the running order was shuffled due to drivers staying out to make sure they got their points, whereas other set themselves up for the next run afterwards. 

– Mid-race drama came about at times, including back and forth battles for the lead at the stage’s end. There was also controversial moments, too. At Martinsville Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was doing everything he could to stay on the lead lap before the caution – while Kyle Busch was doing everything he could to get the victory. Stenhouse moved Busch in the closing laps, allowing him to accomplish his goal but cost Busch the stage win.

Now with a year under their belts, stage racing can only get stronger from here on out as drivers and teams find way to perfect it to their advantage in gaining points and strategy. While Truex may have dominated with 18 stage wins in 2018, it’d be hard pressed to see him do the same next season.

But of course, Truex’s run to a championship was extraordinary, and made a case for the small teams, despite odds seeming against them, which will be our next chapter.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.