The 2017 NASCAR Cup season has been an interesting study to date.
Not only have there been three first-time winners – Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon – the last eight races in particular have marked a period of incredible parity and diversity in the series.
There have been eight different winners in the stretch of races from the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte to this past Sunday’s Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
During Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman discussed their thoughts on what has made the last eight races so competitive – yet disparate when it comes to the end results.
First, let’s hear from Petty:
“There’s no dominant driver. We haven’t seen a Jimmie Johnson, a Jeff Gordon, a Matt Kenseth winning six or seven races a few years ago, just dominating everywhere you go.
“We’ve not had that this year. We’ve had a few guys who’ve run upfront, have won a few races and won a lot of stages – the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.), we can say that – but at the end of a day, not a dominant driver.
“No. 2, the different style racetracks we’ve had. We’ve had a 600-mile race (Charlotte), a banked mile race (Dover), a triangle (Pocono), a 2-mile track (Michigan), a road course (Sonoma) and a speedway (Daytona). When you throw that many different tracks at teams, some teams are going to perform better than others.
“The other part of it for me is penalties, mistakes and stage racing. Stage racing has changed how some of these guys approach the day. We saw that this past weekend at New Hampshire. Kyle Busch gave up points in that first stage to win the second stage.
“We also see penalties and mistakes by pit crews and drivers and penalties on pit road have taken drivers out of winning one or two races.
“I think this is a great part of the season for teams. When you look back over these races and see maybe not the guys that won races, but those that led races and run in the top four or five, they’re the guys that are going to be the four guys (challenging for the Cup championship) at Homestead.”
Kligerman essentially agreed with Petty but with one exception – while Petty put the advent of stage racing last on his list of the three major differences this season, Kligerman put stage racing at the top of his list.
Here’s what Kligerman said:
“Stage racing and the strategy that has shown up, you have drivers solely who care about winning the stage so they get that playoff point because they’re locked into the playoffs and want to pad their points for the playoffs. You have other drivers that are trying to point themselves into the playoffs, they care about every stage point possible. That has really mixed things up.
“Young drivers within these different organizations. They’re going out there and competing and showing they have different skills, that they brought to organizations that maybe weren’t the best. Young drivers are bringing up those organizations up to the front at those types of tracks.
“Schedule diversity, the vast amount of tracks, that’s where we both agree. That diversity of the schedule has certainly added up.”
Petty summed it all up by adding, “We are in a stage where there’s a transition from the older and established drivers to these younger drivers, and they’re going to have an impact on the sport.
“With these eight organizations winning these last eight races, that’s an impact already. … We are in that transition, we’re seeing it and these are the initial results of it.”