It took long enough, but we’re finally in a new calendar year. Feels great doesn’t it?
We’re still breaking-in 2017, but for some, the year won’t really feel like it’s begun until 54 days from now, on Feb. 26. That’s when the Daytona 500 kicks off the …
*takes a deep breath*
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Yes, if you were too busy in December tailgating for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s wedding, NASCAR announced the new title sponsor of the Cup Series, its fourth since 1971. The name change became official on January 1.
The lime green of Monster Energy replaces the bright yellow of Sprint/Nextel that’s defined the series since 2004.
And no, we don’t know how long the sponsorship is for.
With the new title sponsorship also comes a new NASCAR logo, the first change in the league’s branding since 1976.
There have been plenty of other changes, the kind that will actually impact the on-track product.
STEWART-HAAS RACING PRESENTED BY FORD
Three-time champion Tony Stewart rode off into the Florida sunset in November, marking the end of an era for NASCAR but also the team he co-owns with Gene Haas.
While Cup Series races will now be a Smoke-free working environment, the No. 14 will still be around. Clint Bowyer steps into Stewart’s old ride for his first season with the team. That’s after a season with HScott Motorsports – which no longer exists – following his departure from Michael Waltrip Racing … which also doesn’t exist anymore.
But the No. 14 and the rest of SHR’s four-car stable will look different. SHR will make its debut with Ford as its manufacturer after eight seasons with Chevrolet.
SHR is also branching out its NASCAR operation. The team will field a Xfinity Series team for the first time, with rookie Cole Custer driving.
Clint Bowyer to the No. 14 has been known since late 2015. But the dominos for driver changes began the day after the 2016 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
- Greg Biffle amicably parted ways with Roush Fenway Racing after an 18-year relationship. Roush then announced it would only run two cars for the first time since 1995. Biffle has not yet announced his plans for 2017.
- Richard Petty Motorsports joins Roush in losing cars. With the retirement of Brian Scott, the team has decided to only run the No. 43 of Aric Almirola this season.
- Both of BK Racing’s full-time drivers from 2016 will not return in 2017. Matt DiBenedetto instead will drive for GoFas Racing in the No. 32 as its first full-time driver. David Ragan will return to Front Row Motorsports in the No. 38.
- Joey Gase is scheduled to drive in three races for BK Racing, beginning with the Daytona 500.
- Ragan is replacing Chris Buescher, who is now on loan to JTG Daugherty Racing. Buescher, in his second full-time Cup season, will drive the No. 37 as JTG fields two cars for the first time.
- Also expanding to two cars is Furniture Row Racing. Joining Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 team is rookie Erik Jones. The 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion will drive the No. 77 Toyota sponsored by 5-Hour Energy.
- Ty Dillon will drive the No. 13 Geico Chevrolet for Germain Racing, replacing Casey Mears.
CHARTERING THE WAY
In 2016, NASCAR added another layer to its “Silly Season” when it introduced charters, which ensure a starting spot in Cup Series races to 36 teams.
Teams are allowed to lease or outright sell their charters to other organizations and there was a lot of wheeling and dealing in the offseason, as five charters exchanged hands. It’s NASCAR’s version of a swap meet.
Among the teams now in possession of a charter is Wood Brothers Racing.
SILLY RABBIT, CHEAP TICKETS ARE FOR KIDS
Are you reading this and 12 years old or younger? Do you like NASCAR? Do your parents or guardians enjoy cheap entertainment?
If you answered yes to the above questions, go get your parent or guardian and have them read the following sentences.
In 2017, tickets to all Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races will be free for children 12 and under.
But wait, there’s more.
Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns eight tracks that host 13 Cup races, will sell tickets for children 12 under for $10.
SMI owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Enjoy the new year and the new season.