The Excitement Continues - South Dade News Leader: Homestead

Welcome!
|
Not you?||
Logout|My Account

The Excitement Continues

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2017 3:01 pm

A look back at a great year of NASCAR racing

   As the calendar indicates the close to another successful year – both here at Homestead-Miami Speedway and in the world of NASCAR – I can’t help but think what 2018 has in store.   While we anticipate another season of NASCAR – one which commences in just a little more than 50 days with the 60th running of the Daytona 500 – do we really know what 2018 will encompass?

   We really don’t know at this point, and anything to the contrary, for the most part, is pure conjecture.  If you think about a year ago at this time and how much has changed in such a relatively short period, it reinforces the fact that we truly can’t envision what the 2018 season will bring.  Everyone in the industry – here at the track level, race teams, drivers and fans – have many hopes and dreams.  But while the season is less than two months away, it’s still a long way to go, and one only has to go back to last year to see this point come into focus.

   When we ushered in the 2017 calendar year, Carl Edwards had just capped a 2016 season in which he made a Championship 4 appearance for Joe Gibbs Racing, while Matt Kenseth was coming off yet another season of having qualified NASCAR’s playoffs, where he occupied a spot each year since its inception in 2004.  Edwards would announce his retirement within the first three weeks of the year, giving way to 2016 XFINITY Series champion Daniel Suarez.  Kenseth, meanwhile, despite making the playoffs again last year, found out in July that 2017 would be his final one with the Joe Gibbs team he joined in 2013 after a 14-year run (1999-2012) with Roush Fenway.

   Not only did this past year’s Ford Championship Weekend serve as the setting to once again to crown three new champions in our sport, but it is also where Danica Patrick made an emotional goodbye to the world of NASCAR.  Although she did not win a race in her six-year Cup career, her presence in the sport will have long-lasting effects, some of which are being felt today, even with her exit.

   But the most pronounced changing of the guard in our sport took place in April when Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced that 2017 would be his final season racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.   While the news didn’t necessarily send shockwaves around the industry – especially since he missed the final half of 2016 with a concussion – it did have many aftereffects.  It’s a fact that one would expect with the retirement of NASCAR’s 15-time winner of the Most Popular Driver Award.  

  

In NASCAR, and sports in general, formats and rules come and go on a yearly basis.  Some work out better than others, and as a result are a part of the sport’s landscape for elongated periods of time.  Others don’t, and are jettisoned in favor of finding a better way.  A sport is oftentimes enhanced by the establishment of a successful rule or format change, as has been the case with the revamped NASCAR playoffs and Championship 4 setup.

   Ultimately, though, it is the athlete – the driver – who really defines a particular sport.  The personality of a driver transcends any rule that appears in a press release or on a web site.  The drivers are the ones who connect with the many NASCAR fans around the world, and the fans are the ones who proudly don the attire of their favorite driver.  That is why most sports – NASCAR included – have a Hall of Fame, which recognizes the men and women who have made a sport great.

   Sure, some of the four aforementioned drivers will still have an involvement in NASCAR.  Not only will Dale Earnhardt Jr. continue to serve as a part-owner of JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series, but he will also lend his expertise in the NBC broadcast booth, beginning with that network’s schedule in July.  He will also drive in a limited number of XFINITY races.  Patrick’s plans include taking part in auto racing’s two most iconic events to close out her career – the Daytona 500 on February 18 and the Indianapolis 500 on May 27.  

   But the departure of one wave of drivers allows for the entrance of others who appear to be on the precipice of something special.  Prior to last year we talked about the young up and comers in the Monster Energy Series such as Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson.  Last year they all put that talk into action, as each of the three qualified for the playoffs.  The trio combined for five wins, including four by Larson, who if it wasn’t for engine failure in the final race of the Round of 12, was a favorite to make it to the Championship 4 here at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he now has led a total of 277 laps over the last two Cup races, finishing second and third, respectively. Blaney and Elliott both advanced to the Round of 8 before falling just shy of making it to the championship round.

   This year, 2017 rookies Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez will look to build on their successes of last year and join that group in the playoffs, while 2017 XFINITY Series champion William Byron is the most heralded of this year’s rookie class.

   Earnhardt, Kenseth, Patrick and Edwards all developed their own

distinct personalities over time, and each of their unique traits are what built their respective fan bases.

   This next group of future stars will do the same.  And while it won’t necessarily happen overnight, they have the special opportunity to expedite the process that drivers and athletes of the past did not during the early stages of their careers – connecting with fans directly through their various social media channels.   

   So while we still don’t know about how 2018 will unfold, there are already many reasons for fans to be excited about the future.

   From all of us here at Homestead-Miami Speedway, we want to wish everyone a very happy and healthy New Year!

UPCOMING EVENTS AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY

Jan. 4-7  

Sports Car Club of America

Jan. 12  

Fast Lane Friday Presented By The Ticket Clinic

Jan. 12-14 

Driving 101 (NASCAR Racing Experience and Mario Andretti Racing Experience)

Jan. 12-14 

Superkarts! USA Winter Series (Kart Track)

Jan. 19-20 

24-Hour Ultra Skate

Jan. 20  

Miami Exotic Auto Racing

Jan. 21  

Performance Driving Group

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
  • 2 Don't Threaten or Abuse. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated. AND PLEASE TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
  • 3 Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
  • 4 Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 5 Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 6 Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Welcome to the discussion.