Reviewing the season thus far
For the first time this season, stock cars in each of NASCAR’s three national series – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – will take a concurrent break from the race track, as the sport moves into an off-week in conjunction with the Easter holiday. It’s only the eighth time in the last 13 years that all three series have taken a respite on the same weekend.
The off-week is one of three breaks from points racing in the Monster Energy Series schedule where drivers, teams and the industry can enjoy some time off from the grueling nine-month racing schedule to spend with family, get some rest and maybe even take a mini-vacation. The next pause in points racing comes in the third week of May when NASCAR goes to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race, and the third gap in the schedule occurs during the fourth week of August, immediately preceding race weekend at Darlington Raceway and three weeks prior to the Monster Energy Series Playoffs in Chicago.
So far through the first seven races in the 26-race regular season there have been many unpredictable occurrences and some major storylines that have developed. So with there being a brief hiatus in racing action this weekend, it’s a good time to review the NASCAR season thus far.
Resurgence of Chip Ganassi Racing
At the beginning of the season, many around the industry didn’t have the two-car team of Chip Ganassi Racing on their radar following a modest 2016 campaign, where both Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson made the Monster Energy Series Playoffs, but neither had the push to make it out of the Round of 16. The 2017 season, however, has started off in rewarding fashion for Chip Ganassi and his Chevy team.
Both of Ganassi’s drivers currently sit in the top-8 of the Monster Energy Series points standings, joining Team Penske as the only other team to have at least two drivers in the top 8. Yet, what’s been most surprising for the team has been the remarkable performance of 24-year-old Kyle Larson, who, seven races into the season, sits in first place of the points standings.
Larson’s thrust to the top has been a work in progress since he entered the Monster Energy Series full time in 2014. But his determination, matched with his skill, has finally paid off, as Larson has accumulated an unprecedented five top-2 showings this year, which includes his victory at Auto Club Speedway in March. The resurgence of Chip Ganassi Racing has become a great storyline thus far and is something that deserves a lot of attention as the season progresses.
JGR Victory Drought
Though 2017 has been great to Chip Ganassi Racing, the season hasn’t been as kind to some of the other racing teams in the Monster Energy Series. After a stellar 2016 where they won a
total of 12 races, including three of the first seven races of the season, Joe Gibbs Racing is experiencing a drought in 2017.
The team is winless through the first seven races this year and only has a combined three top-5 finishes (Kyle Busch-2, Matt Kenseth-1). Kyle Busch (seventh) is the only JGR driver in the top 10 in the current points standings. The slow start for JGR has certainly come as a surprise, as many predicted the team would continue to be a powerhouse this season. There is still plenty of time to get things on track, and the team will look for a jump start during their week off before heading to Bristol Motor Speedway next weekend.
Searching for Win #1
Also heading to Bristol will be two second-year drivers who have been on the cusp of victories and are both looking for their first career wins in the Monster Energy Series. Chase Elliott, who finished in the runner-up position twice last season, has been close to taking the checkered flag this year with a pair of third place finishes. The driver of the No. 24 car has shown his strength under the new stage format as well, compiling a pair of stage wins on the season.
Ryan Blaney is also coming into his own in 2017 and has been displaying that since the first race of the season where he finished second in the Daytona 500. Since then, the Ford driver for Wood Brothers Racing has posted two more top-10 finishes (Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway). Arguably, however, Blaney’s best performance of the season came last week at Texas Motor Speedway, where he led a race-high 148 laps and won Stage 1 and 2 of the race.
Currently, Elliott (second) and Blaney (sixth) are both in the top-10 of the points standings, and watching their performances so far this season, a win seems to be in the foreseeable future for both of these drivers.
With a week off, drivers and their teams will find time to rest, but will also be using the time off to prepare for the next stretch of races. It will be interesting to see which drivers and teams capitalize the most from this small intermission as they head to Thunder Valley and Bristol Motor Speedway next weekend.
NASCAR ACTION NEXT WEEKEND
Sunday, April 23
at 2:00 PM (ET)
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway
Tune In: FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90
Saturday, April 22
at 1:00 PM (ET)
NASCAR XFINITY Series Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway
Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90
*The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is off and will return May 12*
UPCOMING EVENTS AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY
Fast Lane Friday Presented by the Ticket Clinic
Miami Grand Prix Remote Control Car Racing
Sports Car Club of America
High Performance Driving Experience
Porsche Club of America
May 6-7 Championship Cup Series Motorcycle Racing
2017 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES
Ford EcoBoost 200 Camping World Truck Series Championship Race
Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series Championship Race
Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race