Imagine if the NBA added a 4-point shot to the game, or if the NFL instituted bonus points for touchdown plays over 50 yards. Hard to see it happening, right? That’s what makes the upcoming NASCAR season intriguing. It’s not often that a major sport revamps its scoring system. However, changes abound in the world of NASCAR for the 2017 Cup Series. While some purists may scoff at the new direction, the move marks a concerted effort on the part of NASCAR to emphasize aggressive racing and strategy so that races are more exciting from start to finish and appeal to a wider, younger and more diverse audience.
Races will now be run in three stages with breaks between each stage. Think of it like innings in baseball or quarters in basketball and football. At the end of the first two stages, drivers in 1st through 10th place will receive bonus points. The winner of each stage will receive a postseason playoff point. The first to cross the finish line at the end of the third stage wins the race and points are awarded to the entire field based on order of finish. First place receives 40 points, second receives 35, third receives 34 and on down to one point for drivers who finish 36th-40th. The race winner also receives 5 bonus points toward the postseason playoffs plus postseason eligibility. Bonus points are accumulated through the 26-race regular season to determine positioning in the 10-race playoff, formerly known as “The Chase”. Got all that?! It may take a race or two to get used to the new format, but the concept is the same: drive fast, drive smart and cross the finish line before everyone else.
Everything you need to know about NASCAR’s new format. pic.twitter.com/ATkJ6dwizn— NASCAR (@NASCAR) January 23, 2017
Not only is there a new race format for 2017, there’s a new sponsor on board that brings along a new approach to branding. Gone are the days of the Sprint Cup Series. Welcome to the brave new world of the Monster Energy Cup Series and its Monster Energy girls, who are already causing a stir in the racing world. Should Vegas set an over-under for a “wardrobe malfunction”, going with the under for any race after Talladega should be a safe bet.
Even more exciting for fans and execs alike is the return of Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport’s most popular and marketable driver. Earnhardt missed the second half of last season with a concussion, insert sarcastic comment about the NFL here. Junior returns to racing this year a married man with a new outlook on life and a willingness to wade in on issues that defy NASCAR stereotypes. Earnhardt will make his return to racing at the Daytona 500, the first race of the year and the most prestigious (as well as lucrative) race in the series. The race is particularly significant for Earnhardt Jr., a two-time Daytona 500 winner. His father, the legendary Dale Earnhardt, died in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001.
Jimmie Johnson, who won a record-tying seventh Cup title in 2016, will look to repeat as champion this year. Johnson will face tough competition from the likes of Kevin Harvick, the current favorite to win the series, as well as Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano. Kyle Larson and Danica Patrick will look to break through this season while rookies Erik Jones, Ty Dillon, Gray Gaulding and Daniel Suarez will look to make a name in the Cup Series.
Suarez, a native of Monterey, Mexico and the first foreign-born driver to win a NASCAR series title, is moving up from the XFINITY Series to replace Carl Edwards, who surprised the racing world when he announced he was stepping away from NASCAR (he didn’t actually use the word “retire”) earlier this year. Edwards is the third NASCAR star to hang it up ahead of the 2017 season, along with three-time NASCAR champ Tony Stewart and four-time champ Jeff Gordon, who retired after the 2015 season but returned in 2016 to get behind the wheel of the No. 88 car for eight races when Earnhardt Jr. was sidelined.
With all the changes that have taken place ahead of the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series, this season will be one to watch. It all kicks off this Sunday at 2pm ET on FOX with the Daytona 500.
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Sunday, Feb. 26 Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway 2:00pm ET on FOX
Sunday, March 5 Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500, Atlanta Motor Speedway 2:30 pm ET on FOX
Sunday, March 12 Kobalt 400, Las Vegas Motor Speedway 3:30pm ET on FOX
Sunday, March 19 Camping World 500, Phoenix International Raceway 3:30pm ET on FOX
Sunday, March 26 Auto Club 400, Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, CA 3:30pm ET on FOX
Sunday, April 2 STP 500, Martinsville Speeway 3:00pm ET on FS1
Sunday, April 9 O'Reilly Auto Parts 500, Texas Motor Speedway 1:30pm ET on FOX
Sunday, April 23 Food City 500, Bristol Motor Speedway 2:00pm ET on FOX
Sunday, April 30 Toyota Owners 400, Richmond International Raceway 2:00pm ET on FOX
Sunday, May 7 Geico 500, Talladega Superspeedway 2:00pm ET on FOX
Saturday, May 13 Go Bowling 400, Kansas Speedway 7:30pm ET on FS1
Saturday, May 20 NASCAR All-Star Race, Charlotte Motor Speedway 6:00pm ET on FS1
Sunday, May 28 Coca-Cola 600, Charlotte Motor Speedway 6:00pm ET on FOX
Sunday, June 4 AAA 400 Drive for Autism, Dover International Speedway 1:00pm ET on FS1
Sunday, June 11 Pocono 400, Pocono Raceway 3:00pm ET on FS1
Sunday, June 18 FireKeepers Casino 400, Michigan International Speedway 3:00pm ET on FS1
Sunday, June 25 Toyota/Save Mart 350, Sonoma Raceway 3:00pm ET on FS1
Saturday, July 1 Coke Zero 400, Daytona International Speedway 7:30pm ET on NBC
Saturday, July 8 Quaker State 400, Kentucky Speedway 7:30pm ET on NBCSN
Sunday, July 16 New Hampshire 300, New Hampshire Motor Speedway 3:00pm ET on NBCSN
Sunday, July 23 Brickyard 400, Indianapolis Motor Speedway 3:00pm ET on NBC
Sunday, July 30 Pennsylvania 400, Pocono Raceway 3:00pm ET on NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 6 Watkins Glen 355, Watkins Glen International 3:00pm ET on NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 13 Pure Michigan 400, Michigan International Speedway 3:00pm ET on NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 19 Bass Pro Shops NRA Night, Bristol Motor Speedway 7:30pm ET on NBC
Sunday, Sep. 3 Bojangles' Southern 500, Darlington Raceway 6:00pm ET on NBCSN
Saturday, Sep. 9 Federated Auto Parts 400, Richmond International Speedway 7:30pm ET on NBCSN
Sunday, Sep. 17 Chicagoland 400, Chicagoland Speedway 3:00pm ET on NBCSN
Sunday, Sep. 24 New England 300, New Hampshire Motor Speedway 2:00pm ET on NBCSN
Sunday, Oct. 1 Dover Fall Race, Dover International Speedway 2:00pm ET on NBCSN
Saturday, Oct. 7 Bank of America 500, Charlotte Motor Speedway 7:00pm ET on NBCSN
Sunday, Oct. 15 Alabama 500, Talladega Superspeedway 2:00pm ET on NBC
Sunday, Oct. 22 Hollywood Casino 400, Kansas Speedway 3:00pm ET on NBCSN
Sunday, Oct. 29 Martinsville Fall Race, Martinsville Speedway 1:00pm ET on NBCSN
Sunday, Nov. 5 AAA Texas 500, Texas Motor Speedway 2:00pm ET on NBC
Sunday, Nov. 12 Can-AM 500, Phoenix International Speedway 2:30pm ET on NBC
Sunday, Nov. 19 Ford EcoBoost 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway 2:30pm ET on NBC