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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

5 BIGGEST STORYLINES OF 2017: Youth Movement

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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, but our second brings hope for the future – youth movement.

As fans have watched some of their superstars walk away and begin to search for a new favorite driver, the series is offering them plenty of options with youth stepping up to the plate at every given turn. These drivers have been able to captivate fans by having success on-track, but also showcasing themselves on social media with sharing a side of themselves.

Although there’s concern surrounding who could lead the sport forward, one would have to believe we’re in good hands right now with this crop. It’s just a matter of patience in waiting for their personalities to shine.

2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Erik Jones proved that he would be around for years to come, scoring 14 top-10 finishes over the course of the year. Most memorable was his battle against Kyle Busch on the high banks of Bristol, showing that he could go toe-to-toe with the best. Now shifting from Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing, comfort and a stable home could bring more success.

Ryan Blaney broke through for his first career victory at Pocono Raceway, on top of making the playoffs with 14 top-10’s. Inconsistency at times brought concerns for the sophomore, though, but that could be based on equipment driving for the single-car Wood Brothers Racing team. Now set to become the third driver at Team Penske alongside Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, getting dependable cars on a weekly basis should allow further growth. He’s also been able to grow himself a fan base, through his Glass Case of Emotion podcast.

Barry Cantrell NKP

Despite just completing his fourth year of Cup competition, Kyle Larson‘s age tends to have him considered as one of the youngsters on the grid. His success has been unmatched, scoring four victories in 2017 en route to placing eighth in the year-end standings in his breakout campaign. As he solidifies himself as a championship contender, while staying connected with his dirt roots, he could quickly rise above the others.

Another fourth-year driver Austin Dillon made his impact known as he scored his first career Cup victory at Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Outside of the win, though, he struggled with only four top-10’s, something that may need to grow if he is to find the level of recognition seen by others mentioned here.

When Darrell Wallace Jr. did not have a ride, fans rallied behind him with support to try and get him behind the wheel of something in one of NASCAR’s top series. His success in the NASCAR XFINITY Series allotted him an opportunity with Richard Petty Motorsports, which he turned into three top-20’s in four starts. As a result, he is set to run the full 2018 campaign now for RPM, which will further support his popularity as he continues to bring in a diverse group of fans. 

Chase Elliott became the definition of ‘what if?’ in 2017 as there were numerous times a single moment would have landed him in victory lane – from leading on a late-race restart at Michigan, to leading with 10 laps to go at Phoenix. He scored five runner-ups for a total of 21 top-10’s while making the playoffs for a second straight campaign. He also proved he could garner fan attention, as evident by the loud cheers received at Martinsville Speedway.

The next biggest storyline discussed in the series touches upon that as a rivalry was sparked on a chilly Sunday evening.

 

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.