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5 BIGGEST STORYLINES OF 2017: Sparking a Rivalry

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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.

The first of those touched upon was retirement, followed by the youth movement. But now, we bring you something that made headlines – sparking a rivalry.

While the crisp air made for a chilly afternoon for fans at Martinsville Speedway, the action on-track was full of intensity and heat, courtesy of two drivers – Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott.

With a spot in the final four of the playoffs on the line, the pair came to a head with contact between them seeing Elliott eliminated from the event, and losing another race victory in the late stages of an event. Arguably, the sophomore was frustrated, and also had words for Hamlin post-race on the backstretch.

The contact and words exchanged became a talking point for the next couple of weeks, with fans wondering whether Elliott would retaliate against Hamlin in the weeks to come, and whether either driver would make the final four of the playoffs. Everything came to a head once again at Phoenix Raceway when contact occured, taking Hamlin out of contention.

The contact resulted in critical comments in response from Hamlin.

“Each person has their own opinion of how they do things,” said Hamlin. “It just proves to people who thought I was the bad guy that he would do the exact same thing under the same circumstances. That’s part of racing. I got into him and he retaliates, so I’m in the garage and that’s the way it is.”

He’d go on further, giving off the idea that another chapter could still be written by stating the incident will change how the pair compete against each other in the future.

Whether you agreed with Elliott, fell in the middle, or agreed with Hamlin, all fans can recognize this – it gave us something to talk about. From fan wars across social media, to media commentary via TV shows and online articles, there were lots of opinions offered about what happened. Rather than being focused on penalties, races flat out being dominated and sometimes boring with a lack of passing, the discussion became riveting.

John K Harrelson / NKP

Hamlin and Elliott weren’t the only two contributing to the fun either, though. Kyle Busch had a fight with Joey Logano which included some blood being spread, before writing another chapter in his rivalry against Brad Keselowski that has been going on for at least 10 years now.

The pair feuded back and forth on Twitter in relation to Toyota possibly having an advantage, before more pointed comments were made in the final two weeks of the season.

“Sometimes you just don’t like a guy,” Busch said at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “Fact of the matter. I never ran into Matt Kenseth. I don’t think Matt Kenseth ever ran into me. There is a respect factor out there on the racetrack, and you can certainly do a better job sometimes when you’re around some of those guys that you may or may not necessarily like, but as once a wise man told me, I think it was Chase Elliott, I race those how they race me.”

Busch then went on to add during the NASCAR After the Lap discussion in Las Vegas that he wasn’t buying Keselowski a Christmas present because, “He’s already going to hell. So, it’s not like I gotta buy him a trip there.” 

Creating buzz for the sport and generating popularity comes with dominating media headlines. What better way to do that then with a bit of controversy and feuding?

NASCAR was built on that, as evident by the famous fight at the end of the 1979 Daytona 500, and fans who famously recall the Dale Earnhardt vs. Jeff Gordon debates which happened during the 90’s. Besides, when you look back to the playoffs over the years, what do you recall most about Gordon’s final season? The rivalry with Keselowski, and fight on pit road at Texas Motor Speedway.

While we’ve seen sparks lit and potential for feuds to grow and just dye off, we may be entering a time where one of them takes off and really gets fans talking on a weekly basis once again.

Though if you’re not talking about angry drivers, you were probably discussing something else – stage racing, which will be our next chapter.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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.