Superlatives for the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series season:
Driver of the Year
Martin Truex Jr.: Who else? Truex had the most wins, the most laps led, the most stage points, the most everything en route to his first Cup Series championship. He was the fastest all season long, and even when other drivers had their moments, Truex was always the championship favorite.
Race of the Year
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Daytona 500: The first race of the season was just about everything fans could have hoped for. There were wrecks (35 of 40 cars were involved in one), intrigue (Chase Elliott winning the pole and putting himself in position to get his first win), and of course, drama (a last lap pass by Kurt Busch over Kyle Larson). Plus it was the first race that implemented stage racing (more on that later), so the best race of this season was actually the first.
Car of the Year
Truex’s No. 78 Toyota: No contest here. Every driver this season talked about Truex’s speed as much like they wanted to be him as they wanted to beat him. Other cars, such as Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota and Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevy, had their moments, but none were as consistently dominant or imposing as the 78.
Team of the Year
Joe Gibbs Racing: JGR was the most competitive team in 2017 even without a championship. Kyle Busch finished second at Homestead and had a shot to unseat Truex at the end had there been a few more laps. Other than Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth both qualified for the playoffs, with Hamlin nearly making it to Homestead and Kenseth winning at Phoenix in his second-to-last race.
Story of the Year (on track)
Stage racing: NASCAR’s plan to make races more exciting and meaningful for drivers and fans was ... actually a huge success. Truex understood how best to utilize the format from the get-go, and that proved to be decisive in helping him to his first Cup Series championship. Not only that, but for fans, having stage points up for grabs throughout the race meant it was worth tuning in for more than the first and last 50 laps. After seeing how the season played out with stage points this inaugural run, expect much more competition for those stage points next year.
Story of the Year (off track)
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement: When Earnhardt announced midway through the season that he was retiring at the end of 2017, it marked a giant shift for fans for the rest of the year. Every track from that point on presented Earnhardt with gifts and donations to commemorate his impact on the sport, and fans flocked to tracks to wish goodbye to NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver. Earnhardt had one of his worst full seasons in the Cup Series, but for him to return from last season’s concussion troubles at all was huge.
Wreck of the Year (unintentional)
Aric Almirola (Kansas): When Joey Logano got loose and wrecked Danica Patrick at Kansas, it looked initially like Patrick might be the one who caught the worst of the wreck. But then Almirola couldn’t avoid the pileup and ran into them both from behind, popping his front tires off the track before slamming back down and catching fire. He was cut out of the car and air-lifted to a nearby hospital, and ultimately he missed several races with a compression fracture in his back.
Wreck of the Year (intentional)
TIE: Joey Logano-Kyle Busch (Las Vegas) AND Chase Elliott-Denny Hamlin (Martinsville): This may be cheating, but there’s no picking between these two. First, Logano and Busch, where Busch accused Logano of spinning him out late; after the race, he approached Logano on pit road and punched him before their crews had to intervene. Epic. Then at Martinsville in the playoffs, Hamlin threw Elliott into the wall and cost the young star his first career win, which deservedly upset Elliott. Elliott retaliated at Phoenix two races later, crashing Hamlin right back – neither of them ended up qualifying for Homestead.