The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was the year that saw the completion of a long journey for both a driver and team. It was the final hurdle vaulted for a combination that has long been considered underdogs, but now they are NASCAR champions and have made it to the top of the pile. Of course, we are referring to Martin Truex Jr and Furniture Row Racing.
The season started, as NASCAR does uniquely every year, with it’s biggest race. The Daytona 500 threw up an incredible last few laps that saw multiple drivers fall out of contention, with Kurt Busch picking up a surprise victory for Stewart-Haas Racing to secure his spot in the playoffs straight away. Brad Keselowski would earn his spot at the next race at Atlanta, with Martin Truex Jr joining him a week later after winning in Vegas.
2017 would be a season where a number of drivers picked up somewhat surprising victories. Of course, in this format, wins earn you a spot in the playoffs for the championship. Ryan Newman was one of the first underdogs to get to victory lane after winning Phoenix on a late-race restart. Normality would resume for the next few races, with Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson earning their first wins of the season. Joey Logano would also manage to get a race win under his belt at Richmond, but his win would be ruled illegal after post-race technical inspection. This ultimately would prove very costly for Joey.
The mid-season saw a number of other surprise results, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney all picking up their first wins to secure their spots in the championship playoffs. It was evident that some big names were going to miss out, with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and even Kasey Kahne getting to victory lane as the series got closer to the championship playoffs.
Thirteen drivers had taken a victory with six races to go until the cut-off, with only sixteen eligible to advance to the ten-race playoffs. This led to a tense battle for the final three spots, with usual front-runners Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Matt Kenseth battling the likes of Jamie McMurray, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Clint Bowyer. In the end, neither of the seven drivers would get a win, but Elliott, Kenseth and McMurray would take the final three spots based on points.
With the sixteen contenders decided, ten races remained in the championship. Thanks to the addition of stage racing and playoff points, Truex Jr entered the ten race shoot-out with a big advantage over his rivals due to the number of race wins and stage wins he’d picked up over the season. He further underlined his championship potential by winning the first playoff race at Chicagoland, which would earn him a guaranteed spot in the next round of three races and would save him from falling foul of the first elimination.
The man that many thought was Truex’s greatest rival in the championship, Kyle Busch, would take the second win of the playoffs at New Hampshire and would then go back-to-back by winning at Dover after a late-race pass denied Chase Elliott of his first race win. With the first three rounds of the playoffs over, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch would be the first four drivers eliminated; bringing the contenders down from sixteen to twelve.
Truex would kick off the second round of the playoffs with a sixth victory of the season at Charlotte to once again earn him a spot in the next round. The next race took place at Talladega, which many correctly predicted could have massive title implications. Dale Earnhardt Jr would take his final pole position before retirement, but Brad Keselowski picked up the race win.
Many title contenders like Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and others left Alabama in a very tricky spot heading into the next elimination race at Kansas. It would be Truex who would go to victory lane for a seventh time despite already being locked into the next round, with Kyle Busch just hanging on to advance at the expense of Kyle Larson; who would be eliminated along with Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray.
Four races and eight competitors remained heading into Martinsville. As the race neared its end, it looked like Chase Elliott once again had a fantastic chance of winning for the first time. However, late-race contact from Denny Hamlin behind would put Elliott in the wall and would pave the way for Kyle Busch to take another win; a win that would see him through to the championship-deciding race at Homestead.
The next race at Texas looked as though it was going the way of Martin Truex Jr, but a late-race surge from Kevin Harvick would see the #4 Ford driver take the lead in the dying moments of the race. Harvick would win the race to earn a spot in the championship four, with Truex’s second-place finish also securing him a spot based on his points advantage over his rivals.
The penultimate race of the season at Phoenix saw Matt Kenseth get one last race win in his full-time NASCAR Cup Series career. He caught and passed Chase Elliott for the win in the last ten laps, with Chase having earlier retaliated against Denny Hamlin for their incident back at Martinsville. Neither Elliott, Hamlin, Ryan Blaney or Jimmie Johnson would advance to the championship four, with Keselowski leaving Arizona with the final space in the championship four.
So it all came down to the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Whichever of the championship four finished the highest would be crowned the series champion. All four remained rather close together for much of the race, but as the laps ticked down, Martin Truex Jr was running in the lead of the race, with Kyle Busch hunting him down all the time. Busch would try and try and try to find a way through, but Truex was able to withstand the ever-increasing pressure to remain in the lead. By the end of the race, Truex had managed to get a small gap between him and Busch, with the gap at the chequered flag being just over a second.
Truex’s eighth race win of 2017 would unquestionably be the most emotional and important race of his year and his whole career. He stepped out of his #78 Toyota Camry with copious amounts of sweat and tears pouring down his face. Both Truex and Furniture Row Racing have risen through the ranks during their NASCAR careers to get to the point they were at following the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. They were finally Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions.
“This means the world,” Truex said post-race in Miami, “I couldn’t even talk. I was a wreck thinking about all the tough days, the bad days, the times where I thought my career was over with, the times when I didn’t think anyone believed in me. But the guys who mattered did — my fans, my family and then when I got with this team.
“They are unbelievable and they resurrected my career and made me a champion.”
For Busch, he came up just short of taking his second NASCAR Cup Series title. Truex was able to run the outside line, with Busch unable to pass him on the lower lines to take the race win and with it the championship. He would have to settle for second, but nevertheless, his 2017 effort is nothing to be sniffed at:
“We gave it all we had, we gave it our all,” Busch said. “They deserved it—probably like any other race—but today, I thought we were better. Doesn’t matter, they were out front when it mattered most.
“I feel really bad we come up a spot short, given I thought we had the best car today, and I guess that’s why it’s called racing.”
Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, the pair ended the year in similar circumstances. Both managed to outperform the average pace of their Ford Fusions. Whilst other drivers perhaps had faster cars, the pair were more consistent throughout the playoffs and were able to make it all the way to Homestead. Sadly, neither had the consistent pace to challenge Truex and Busch, but both will end the year happy to have been in contention right until the last race.
The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has been a fantastic one. With a host of new winners and many fantastic races along the way, it’s been fantastic to watch. Next year’s 2018 season has the potential to be even better, with the exciting additions of William Byron in the #24 and Alex Bowman in the #88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet’s, a number of driver movements such as Erik Jones to the #20 and Aric Almirola to the #10, as well as the much anticipated new road course race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ‘roval’ circuit; all signs are pointing toward another fantastic year of stock car racing in 2018.