NASCAR season’s end offered thrills, spills

The 2017 NASCAR season has come to a close and I’m sure the teams are already preparing for Speedweeks in Daytona. Drivers get a much-deserved few weeks off to enjoy families and the holidays and reflect on this past year.

A few of the teams give crews some time off also before action ramps up in preparation for action at Daytona. This year’s Daytona 500 will be the first race in which only one driver will have started the 2001 500 and raced against Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Kurt Busch is that driver and he still is yet to confirm his ride for 2018.

Danica Patrick has announced her semi- retirement and will compete in next year’s 500 and the Indy 500 but will not race full-time anywhere.

Matt Kenseth is without a ride for 2018 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is trading his helmet for a microphone and will be a broadcaster for NBC sports.

There is definitely a changing of the guard in racing. Many young up-and-coming drivers are finding opportunities due to talent and corporate dollars. I might add it’s not necessarily in that order. Today’s NASCAR is so money driven that talent will not get you in a car. I’m pretty sure that bothers me!

It’s a shame that talent gets overlooked in favor of sponsor potential. Let’s take a look at the way the final Playoff races played out. There were new winners and new Champions crowned and these youngsters show that it really works when talent and dollars come together.

First up, the Camping World Truck Series took to the mile-and-a-half Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday evening for the Ford EcoBoost 200 race. Four drivers started the event with an equal chance to win the Championship. Stage points didn’t matter to these drivers; all that mattered was the final finishing order versus the other contenders.

Christopher Bell, Austin Cindric, Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton were those drivers. This race was the final event for Brad Keselowski Racing’s two-truck team. Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe are both shopping for rides for next season. These Ford trucks were very strong and Cindric had a real shot at the Championship.

It was his teammate, Chase Briscoe, who upstaged the title contenders and grabbed his first truck series win and Rookie of the Year honors. Christopher Bell finished in second place and that was good enough to give this 22-year-old the 2017 Camping World Truck series Championship. He literally finished seconds ahead of veteran Johnny Sauter, who came in third place in the race and second in the points.

Bell also gave his truck owner, Kyle Bush, the Owners Championship in the JBL-sponsored KBR Toyota Tundra. Ryan Truex finished fourth. Austin Cindric fought his way to a fifth-place finish and third place in the points.

Matt Crafton fought an ill-handling truck and was never a factor in the points battle. He did finish sixth in the race. Seventh through tenth were Canadian Stewart Friesen, Grant Enfinger, Justin Haley and Timothy Peters. I mention these competitors because you will be seeing and hearing more from them in the coming seasons.

On Saturday afternoon it was the Xfinity Series’ turn to decide the Ford EcoBoost 300 and, most of all, the series title. Cole Custer had missed the cut for the Championship but he totally dominated this final race. He swept both stages and was more than 10 seconds ahead of the pack as the checkered flag fell. His Stewart-Haas Racing Mustang was truly the class of the field.

Sam Hornish Jr. finished second. Nineteen-year-old William Byron gave himself and car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. the 2017 Xfinity Points Championship by passing veteran Elliott Sadler in the closing laps and finishing third. Tyler Reddick and Ryan Preece rounded out the top five.

Preece, driving the JGR Toyota Camry, was racing to win his owners the title for car owner and manufactures title also. He held his line at the end and Elliott Sadler attempted to pass him several times but just could not get it done, and eventually Byron ran them down and passed both of them for the title and position.

Elliott scraped the wall and lost a tire on the final lap, finishing eighth in the race and second in the points. He confronted Preece after the race but I feel Preece did nothing wrong and if Sadler was so good he should have just passed Preece the way Byron did.

Playoff contender Justin Allgaier finished 12th in the race and third in the points. The biggest disappointment of the race was playoff driver Daniel Hemric’s performance.

Daniel put his RCR Chevrolet on the pole and drove out to the early lead and appeared ready to dominate; however, electrical problems developed and he spent several laps in the pits making repairs and was never able to overcome this problem, finishing up 34th.

On Sunday it was time for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams to shine and decide the Ford EcoBoost 400 and the Championship. There were very few caution flags and Martin Truex Jr. worked his way to the front and passed Kyle Busch to win the race and the Championship.

This was a very popular victory for this Colorado-based team, which has faced so much adversity throughout the season.

Just before the Kansas race a team fabricator, James Watson, passed away with a heart attack. Martin’s longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollax has been in a fight for her life as she has battled ovarian cancer.

Also, two weeks ago team owner Barney Visser suffered a heart attack and was recovering from bypass surgery in the hospital. His doctors would not let him watch the event.

Martin has dominated the mile-and-a-half speedways and was unstoppable Sunday. Kyle Busch whined about Joey Logano holding him up as he attempted to run down Truex and finished second in the race and the points. Kyle Larson had the lead late but couldn’t hold off Truex and Busch, finishing third.

Kevin Harvick stated after the race that his car fought a push all day, and finished fourth in the race and third in the points. Chase Elliott had another strong run, finishing fifth. The final Playoff driver was Brad Keselowski, and he finished up seventh in the race.

2017 is in the record books and it will be a few weeks until the celebration moves to the awards banquet in Las Vegas.

Hope everyone enjoys a great Thanksgiving meal with family and friends, looking forward to 2018 when at the end of the straightaway there’s Another Left Turn

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