For 2017, NASCAR has several changes in the news. First, and foremost, it is no longer the “Sprint Cup” series. It is now the “Monster Energy NASCAR Cup” series. There have also been some changes made to the championship points earned at each event. Most of these point changes have been made to increase the on-track racing excitement for the fans. In the last several years, most events simply came down to fuel mileage strategies and not much on track competitive racing activities. Typically, most of the exciting racing occurred in the last 10 to 30 laps of any event. Now, with the new changes, each race is divided into stages. Each of the stages occurs at a set time frame (about every 30-40 percent progress point). For more details, it is best to visit the NASCAR.com web site, for a clear description. There is not enough space, here, to adequately describe it, other than it is to help improve the on-track competitive racing excitement for the fans.
Several driver changes have occurred during the off-season as well. Tony Stewart has retired as a driver, but remains as one of the team owners of Stewart-Haas Racing. Clint Boyer will take over those driving duties. In a surprise move, popular driver Carl Edwards announced his retirement. Though he never won a season championship, Edwards was always a strong contender for the championship each season. He was also very popular for performing reverse back flips from the roof of his race car, anytime he won a race. The season should be very interesting and competitive this year. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson and his Lowe’s Chevrolet team will need to be on their game if they hope to win their eighth title in 2017.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series will be in the Wine Country of Sonoma Raceway over the weekend of June 23 through 25. The season starts with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26 and will also be the last race that Michael Waltrip will compete in. He will drive the #15 Aarons Toyota. He won the event in 2001 (his first career Cup win), the same event where Dale Earnhardt lost his life on the final lap. Three of Waltrip’s four NASCAR Cup wins have been at Daytona. His fourth win was at Talladega in 2003.
The Verizon Indy Car series had a relatively quiet off-season, with minor aero and engine changes to better equalize the competition. Last season was a very competitive season for Indy Car, with nine different winners for the 16 events. The Indy 500 was won by a rookie, Alexander Rossi. The double-points set up for the final race of the season (at Sonoma Raceway) added to the championship excitement for the fans. The two powerhouse teams are Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon -2008 Indy 500 winner, 2015 Champion, Tony Kanaan - 2013 Indy 500 Winner, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton) and Team Penske (Josef Newgarden - who finished fourth in the championship last season, Will Power - 2014 Champion, Juan Pablo Montoya - 2000 and 2016 Indy 500 Winner, Simon Pagenaud - 2016 Season Champion and Helio Castroneves a three-time Indy 500 Winner). Pagenaud, who won the championship last season, will have his hands full, as nearly every team has made some strong improvements. Graham Rahal (married to Drag Racing star, Courtney Force and son of two-time Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal) has improved each year and should be a strong contender this season. The championship should be a wide open battle, providing some great racing for the fans.
The Verizon Indy Car Series visits Sonoma Raceway for the final event (double-points race) on the weekend of September 17 for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. The season opener is on March 12 at St. Petersburg, Florida. All the races can be seen on either NBCSN or ABC.