5 NASCAR drivers to watch in 2017
The 2017 NASCAR season begins with the Clash on Feb. 18. Check out five drivers to watch throughout the action throughout the season.
It was a memorable 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Many drivers impressed, while others disappointed. In the end, Jimmie Johnson came away with his seventh title in the Cup Series.
With Monster Energy now holding naming rights for the top NASCAR series, there will be some changes in 2017. Among them is a modified points system that includes stages during each races. Some fan favorites are no longer racing while there are some new faces to the NASCAR racing teams.
Despite these changes, many things remain the same. Daytona 500 officially kicks off the 2017 season on Feb. 26 at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. There’s a lot to watch during the race as each driver looks to begin their 2017 season on a solid foundation.
Check out five drivers to watch in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season.
5. Denny Hamlin
Across Denny Hamlin’s time in NASCAR’s Cup Series, there has been a lot of consistency. Hamlin has always driven the No. 11 car for Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s been a full-time driver for JGR since the 2006 season.
Since then, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in the Chase for the Cup standings in nine of the 11 seasons as a full-time driver. In 2016, Hamlin placed sixth overall. Hamlin won last year’s Daytona 500 before winning two more races later in the year.
Hamlin needs to get off to another quick start if he hopes to repeat his successes from 2016. He had three top-five finishes in the season’s first five races of 2016, yet he wasn’t able to sustain that type of performance over the next six races. The veteran driver only placed in the top 10 in one of those races.
While Hamlin should be proud of his finish in the final standings, he needs to be more consistent in 2017. Consistency is the name of the game across all sports, and Hamlin and his crew must focus on finding it in 2017.
4. The Busch Brothers
It’s an interesting dynamic in NASCAR when both Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch race against each other each week. While it’s competitive between all drivers on the track, there’s an even bigger battle between the Busch brothers on a regular basis.
Each brother did well last season, with both finishing in the top 10 of the NASCAR point standings. Kyle was one of four drivers to win four races as he finished third. On the other hand, Kurt placed seventh overall with one race win and nine top-five finishes.
While NASCAR has its share of rivalries in the Cup Series, the Busch brothers provide a unique twist. It isn’t filled with hatred or crossing the line post-race. Yet the love for racing by the Busch brothers cause them to want to beat each other on a continual basis.
This makes for even better and more entertaining racing each week. It’s also special seeing two brothers duke it out for two separate teams against each other every week. It’s just another unique part of NASCAR.
Both are among the most talented drivers in the top NASCAR circuit. These two brothers are worth watching as the Clash, Can-Am Duel and Daytona 500 take place over the next two weeks from Daytona International Speedway.
3. Kevin Harvick
Since joining the Cup Series in 2001, Kevin Harvick has won four or more races in a season four times. Three of those four times came in the last four campaigns, including the 2016 season. NASCAR fans can recognize Harvick’s car from a mile away despite the veteran switching teams before the 2014 season.
In 2017, Harvick enters his fourth season with Stewart-Haas Racing. Last season Harvick earned a top-seven finish in the first five races of the year. He will look for that consistency and success to continue as he further gels with the SHR crew and his fellow drivers.
Overall, Harvick is one of the most experienced drivers in the Cup Series. Likewise, SHR has a great group of drivers that make this team one of the best in NASCAR. The team as a whole is competitive every week even if certain individual drivers have some bad luck at the track.
After winning the Cup Series in 2014 and finishing runner-up in 2015, Harvick placed eighth overall in 2016. It was the seventh year in a row where Harvick earned a top-eight finish in the Chase standings. This year shouldn’t be any different as Harvick continues to lean on his past racing experience in an attempt to win his second Cup Series title.
2. Chase Elliott
It was a banner rookie season for Chase Elliott in the Sprint Cup Series during 2016. Despite not earning a victory on the season, Elliott finished in the top five or top 10 in 27 of 36 Sprint Cup races.
Elliott’s career at the top NASCAR circuit is just taking off. His 2016 season was an appetizer for what NASCAR fans can expect from Elliott in 2017, and he’s one of the NASCAR drivers with the most potential as the new season approaches.
Hendrick Motorsports and Elliott are hoping that there is no sophomore slump for the young driver. Elliott learned a lot during his first full-time season with Hendrick Motorsports. He earned two poles and 2016 and will be aiming to win the pole more often, starting with the Daytona 500 later in February.
His performances during the three opening events at Daytona International Speedway will help fans see if 2016 was a fluke or if he’s one of the up and coming stars that will take the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series by storm.
1. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson won his seventh NASCAR title in the top circuit in 2016. His experience and poise help the veteran driver through tough situations on the track, and Johnson his crew (including ace crew chief Chad Knaus) look like a well-oiled machine week in and week out. As a result, he’s one of the most consistent drivers on the track.
In 2016, Johnson won five races for the second straight season. Johnson had 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in 36 races last season. Overall, the No. 48 car led 737 laps. If he can keep that up in 2017, this will bode well for Johnson with NASCAR’s introduction of stages and points being awarded for finishing in the top 10 at a stage’s conclusion.
Despite winning his seventh Sprint Cup Series championship last year, Johnson is already eyeing up a record eighth title. Johnson’s success over the years shouldn’t change in 2017, even with rules changes and a new title sponsor. He’ll be competitive in most races as the other teams and drivers try to figure out a way to beat out the No. 48 car.