With the 2017 season firmly in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to reflect on what happened. What else are we going to talk about?
Previously: Front Row Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Germain Racing and Leavine Family Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports
Points Position: 17th
Stage Points: 160
Top 5s: 10
Top 10s: 17
Average Starting Position: 12.4
Average Finish: 15.2
Highlight: Logano led the final 17 laps at Richmond in the spring to win his first race of the year and lock himself into the playoffs … until his car failed post-race inspection. He lost points, but most importantly, he lost the playoff berth that came with the win. He didn’t win again the rest of the season.
Lowlight: By average finish, Logano had the 11th-best season of anyone in the Cup Series. But that encumbered win from Richmond loomed large and knocked him out of the playoffs. He could have gotten into the playoffs via points, but a five-race slide after Richmond was incredibly detrimental. He finished outside the top 20 in each of those five races and then had five more finishes in the bottom half of the field before the playoffs.
Points Position: 9th
Stage Points: 223
Top 5s: 4
Top 10s: 14
Average Starting Position: 10.3
Average Finish: 17.2
Highlight: Blaney got the first win of his career at Pocono, holding off Kyle Busch in a thrilling duel to the finish. Blaney passed Busch with 10 laps to go and led the final 10 laps of the race to get into the playoffs.
Lowlight: Blaney could have scored his first win a few weeks earlier at Texas. He had the fastest car — at least through the first half of the race — but his pit strategy took away his track position. That lost track position led to some damage and an extra pit stop and Blaney ended up finishing 12th. A third-round playoff exit and a top-10 finish in the standings is a pretty good season.
Points Position: 4th
Stage Points: 292
Top 5s: 15
Top 10s: 21
Average Starting Position: 8.8
Average Finish: 12.4
Highlight: Keselowski made his first appearance in the final four in the playoff elimination format. That appearance was largely made possible by a win at Talladega, which got him into the third round. Keselowski finished outside the top 10 at both Charlotte and Kansas in that round, and then had to survive a wild Phoenix race to make the final four. While Keselowski finished fourth — a deserving finish based on his team’s speed throughout the final weekend — you can’t have a shot at the title without making the final four.
Lowlight: Keselowski had five DNFs because of crashes in 2017 and four of them came in a seven-race stretch from May through July. Though it’s necessary to point out that Keselowski was simply caught up in the first two of those. At Charlotte, he ran into the back of Chase Elliott’s grenading car. He got run up the track and into the wall at Dover by Kurt Busch.
Lumping Blaney, who competed in 2017 for the Wood Brothers, with Penske drivers Logano and Keselowski made sense given the team’s status as a satellite third team. And it makes even more sense now that Blaney will officially be a third Team Penske driver in 2018. Paul Menard moves over from Richard Childress Racing to drive the No. 21, which will still have a heavy Team Penske affiliation.
We fully expect the Penske cars to be some of the best in the garage in 2018, though we’re anxiously awaiting the manufacturer wars that are certain to happen next season as Chevrolet introduces a new car, leaving Ford as the manufacturer with the oldest Cup Series car body.
Keselowski has been outspoken about Ford’s aero disadvantage, and it’s easy to think the Fords will be behind Chevrolet as the season goes on if the Camaro’s new nose is a benefit like the 2017 redesigned Toyota nose was for Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing.
Will Ford have enough horsepower to make up for any disadvantage? Does the disadvantage exist at all? Other drivers have been reluctant to take the stand Keselowski has, though it’s understandable how collective lobbying behind closed doors could be seen as a stronger tool than numerous public voices.
– – – – – – –