Earnhardt Jr. to retire following 2017 season
RELATED: Reactions " Relive every Dale Jr. win " Top quotes from day CONCORD, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his retirement from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after the 2017 season on Tuesday, saying that he wanted to leave stock-car racing competition on his own terms. But his words also struck a tone of optimism, that his involvement with the sport would remain strong. The emotional, engaging hourlong press conference came six hours after his Hendrick Motorsports team made the surprising news public Tuesday morning. That six-hour stretch included an outpouring of support through social media; which a gracious Earnhardt recognized in his opening statement. It was a decision not easily reached and a day that was "bittersweet," but one that he indicated brought a certain degree of peace. "I accomplished way more than I ever dreamed, way more than I ever thought I'd accomplish," Earnhardt said. "So I'm good, you know. I'm good on that front. I'm so blessed and fortunate on what I was able to achieve but I'm very sad because it's definitely disappointing for a lot of people to wake up to that news this morning." Hendrick Motorsports indicated that team owner Rick Hendrick and Earnhardt Jr. first met to discuss the driver's decision on March 29. Earnhardt acknowledged that his recent health concerns -- which caused him to miss half of the 2016 season -- were a factor in making his choice now, to finish out the final year of his contract with the team. Junior says 'hardest part' was telling Hendrick " Hendrick: Junior 'like a son' "I wanted to honor my commitment to Rick, to my sponsors, to my team and to the fans," Earnhardt said. "I'll admit that having an influence over my exit only became meaningful when it started to seem most unlikely. As you know, I missed a few races last year and during that time I had to face the realization that my driving career may have already ended without me so much as getting a vote at the table. Of course, in life we're not promised a vote and that's especially true in racing." Earnhardt, 42, returned to competition in the No. 88 Chevrolet this year after a concussion and lingering symptoms sidelined him from NASCAR's top series for the final 18 races last season. Through his rehabilitation process, Earnhardt has become a vocal advocate for research of sports-related brain injuries. But his stint away from the drivers' seat, he said, also gave him the benefit of time "to understand what's important to me, time to realize the incredible support system I have in my wife, my team and my doctors, and time to work like hell to wrestle back some semblance of say-so in this whole matter." The 14-time Most Popular Driver has won 26 times in 603 starts over a career that began at age 24 in 1999. Among his accomplishments are two Daytona 500 crowns (2004, 2014) and two championships (1998, 1999) in what is now called the NASCAR XFINITY Series. RELATED: Go deeper in Dale Jr.'s career stats Earnhardt said he'd return to the track for two races in that series next season with the JR Motorsports team that he owns through an alliance with Hendrick. And while he described himself as "eager" to see what the next wave of racing talent can do in NASCAR's national ranks, he said his plan was to maintain a strong presence in the sport as it reaches future generations. "I don't see myself really detaching from NASCAR," Earnhardt said. "My intention is still to be involved in the sport on some level. ... Even after this season is over, you have not seen the last of me on the race track. But more than that, I want to be a part of the future of the sport for years to come." Earnhardt's best finish in eight starts this season was fifth place at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9. He is currently ranked 24th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, with finishes of 30th or worse in half the races. He indicated a faster start to the season wouldn't necessarily have changed his mind about retirement. "I'm excited about the races that I have left," Earnhardt said. "It's like the practices in the mornings that I get excited for, I used to complain about the season and how long it is, but this one here can drag on for a while if it's all right." Hendrick Motorsports said in a news release that it would announce its 2018 plans for the No. 88 team at a later date. KENNY BRUCE : Junior as a kid, a son, a race, a fan favorite Earnhardt began his premier-series career on May 30, 1999 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a 16th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600. That step in his NASCAR career came after years of driving Late Models at the weekly and touring level before making his mark in the XFINITY tour. Earnhardt followed the steps of his famous father, initially driving cars owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer and icon Dale Earnhardt. His earliest entries in the premier series carried No. 8, the number favored by his grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt. The early part of Earnhardt's career was met with tragedy, with the death of his father in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt Jr. won in the series' return trip to Daytona International Speedway that summer, going 1-2 with teammate Michael Waltrip in an emotional victory for Dale Earnhardt Inc. MORE: Junior ponders what his dad would think of him " Pictures of father, son Earnhardt's most prolific year with DEI was a six-win season in 2004 that included his first Daytona 500 victory. By then, he had exhibited a mastery on the sport's biggest and fastest ovals, winning six times at Talladega Superspeedway, including a four-race win streak that stretched from 2001-03. After an acrimonious departure from his father's race team -- which continued under the leadership of his stepmother, Teresa Earnhardt -- Earnhardt's free-agency period in 2007 ended with his choice of Hendrick Motorsports. That move fulfilled a half-joking "lifetime contract" he'd jotted down on a napkin and issued to team owner Hendrick as a teenager in 1991. That relationship with Hendrick, who joined Earnhardt on the stage Tuesday, has budded into more than a driver-owner partnership. Hendrick said when Earnhardt informed him of his intentions late last month, he told him he loved him and offered his support. "He's like a son and we've had many, many years of a tremendous relationship," Hendrick said. "I really appreciate what we've been able to do together, and I appreciate the kind of guy you are and what you've done for the sport, for NASCAR, for me personally, our company, the sponsors and everyone." Earnhardt is now in his 10th season driving for Hendrick, a span that has ebbed and flowed with both triumph and setbacks. After winning at Michigan International Speedway in his first year with the team, he went four seasons before winning again -- also at Michigan. Earnhardt caught stride again in 2014 and '15, combining for seven wins in that two-year stretch. That included his second Daytona 500 crown in 2014. VOTE: Your favorie Dale Jr. win But his tenure with Hendrick was also marked by injuries. After a pair of concussions in a six-week stretch, Earnhardt sat out two races in the 2012 playoffs. Two severe wrecks during the middle portions of last year left him sidelined for the final 18 races of the season. The time outside the car gave him a new perspective about the effects of brain injuries on athletes, and Earnhardt advocated for change in working with NASCAR to develop its concussion protocol. Just two months before his 2016 injury, Earnhardt announced that he would donate his brain for scientific research upon his passing. Even as his rehabilitation lingered through the second half of 2016, Earnhardt expressed an interest in returning to competition. Last December, he was certified to return to the track after a test session at Darlington Raceway. Those preparations came during an offseason of personal change as well, as Earnhardt wed Amy Reimann in a New Year's ceremony. RELATED: Photos from Reimann-Earnhardt wedding Through it all, Earnhardt has remained wildly popular, first inheriting his father's legions of fans and attracting new ones with his authentic personality and more recently, through his folksy, humorous and straight-shooting approach to social media. Earnhardt made his grand entrance onto Twitter from Victory Lane in the 2014 Daytona 500, and has since used the app as a forum for showing both his appreciation of stock-car racing history and for expressing his thoughts with unwavering honesty. Earnhardt has also interacted through recent forays into broadcast media, with appearances on FOX Sports' race coverage and through his popular radio podcast, the Dale Jr. Download. The engagement with his fans has led to 14 straight seasons of being voted the National Motorsports Press Association's NASCAR Most Popular Driver. Only Bill Elliott, a 16-time recipient, has more most popular awards. Which is why Earnhardt was quick to thank his supporters, the "nation" that has been among the sport's most vocal fans. "One thing that has made this career the incredible ride that it's been is Junior Nation," Earnhardt said. "The fan support that I received straight out of the gate was in large part because of my famous last name, but throughout the ups and downs, it occurred to me that the fans stuck it out and the new ones that joined us, they were there because of the person I was and not who they wanted me to be." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Food City, Bristol celebrate partnership milestone
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Bristol Next weekend's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (April 24, 1 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) marks the 25-year sponsorship anniversary between the grocery chain and the track. Yes, 25 years. The Silver Anniversary is a testament, of course, to a perfect pairing of brands that both receive great value from their partnership. Even now, the Food City sponsorship of Bristol Motor Speedway's spring Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event is as strong as ever. It is the second-longest race entitlement in NASCAR, trailing only the Coca-Cola sponsorship of the 600-mile May race at Charlotte. Initially, it wasn't a long-term deal between the two, but after the 1992 Food City 500, officials were ready to return as soon as the next season. "We signed the (initial) agreement and we had a great first race," Steve Smith, Food City President and CEO, previously told NASCAR.com. "Alan Kulwicki actually won our first race in 1992; I remember that well. We were off and running." Smith said his company, founded by his father, Jack, became involved at the right time in the sport, when the fan base was on the upswing, TV coverage was gaining traction and sponsorship dollars were flowing. "What happened with Bristol was really indicative of what was happening with NASCAR -- it was just growing and growing," he said. "Five years later, Bruton (Smith, Speedway Motorsports Inc., founder) bought the track and things just really started to escalate here with the amenities and the things that they did for the race fans. ... Folks love coming here, they love the racing environment, and they love, I think, the southern hospitality. "We try, as a sponsor, to do a lot of things to get them in here a little bit early, whether it's Food City Race Night or other events to really make it a full week of fun for the race fan." RELATED: Learn more about the track In addition to the Monster Energy Series sponsorship, the company also sponsors the August NASCAR XFINITY Series event at Bristol. While there have been times that spending money on race entitlement rights might have been questionable, Smith said, "I don't think there's ever been a time when we really thought about dropping the race." The return for Food City, he said, comes in many forms. No. 1 is name recognition. "We're a relatively small regional company," Smith said. "But it's a sense of pride for our associates, our customers who know we sponsor racing. NASCAR fans are very loyal, they're loyal to the brands that are involved whether it's Food City or other consumer products sponsors. We think it helps us sell more products and bring more people in to our stores." In February 2014, Food City and BMS officials announced a five-year extension for the naming rights of the track's spring race. So the relationship will continue through 2019 -- at least. "At the end of the day, it's hard to put a financial statement together that proves that it's a great spend, but we've been doing good ever since we been sponsoring racing so we don't want to stop there," Smith said. -- Kenny Bruce contributed to this article &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Bruce , Cain reveal NASCAR Hall of Fame ballots
RELATED: Photos of Voting Day, inductees NASCAR.com was privileged to have two ballots cast as part of NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Day on Wednesday. Senior writers Kenny Bruce and Holly Cain each submitted their five nominations for induction in the Class of 2017 and a vote for the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. A spirited discussion and voting process created one of the most intriguing classes in the stock-car shrine's history with Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons selected as Hall of Fame members. Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles received the Landmark Award. Here are Holly's and Kenny's ballots cast Wednesday with their choices for induction: Kenny Bruce Ron Hornaday Jr. No one dominated NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series like Hornaday, the only four-time series champ. He remains the leader in career wins, top-five and top-10 finishes in Truck Series history. Mark Martin. The working man's racer; Martin finished second in the premier series points battle five times and earned 40 wins in 882 career starts. His XFINITY Series record wasn't too shabby, either. Benny Parsons. Folks who knew Benny the Broadcaster might not know just how talented Parsons was behind the wheel of a race car. The 1973 premier series champion, Parsons won 21 times, including victories in the Daytona 500 (1975) and World 600 ('80). Raymond Parks. The Atlanta-based businessman not only provided much-needed financial assistance as the newly formed NASCAR governing body got up and running, but Parks was a successful car owner as well. His career as an owner peaked in 1949 when driver Red Byron won NASCAR's first Strictly Stock crown. A year earlier, Byron had won the group's first Modified title in a Parks-backed entry. Robert Yates. As an engine builder, Yates helped power Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough to 77 victories. As a car owner, his drivers won three Daytona 500 titles, 57 races and 48 poles. Landmark Award H. Clay Earles. His Martinsville Speedway was there from the beginning (actually before NASCAR was formed) and it remains a popular stop today as one of three short tracks on the premier series schedule. Keeping up with the changing landscape of the sport wasn't easy, and no one did it better than Mr. Earles. Holly Cain These are the Hall of Fame votes I considered the most worthy and timely, considering a ballot of 20 of the sport's most deserving people. I tried to decide on a well-balanced group of drivers, owners and technical people and considered time on the ballot, too. Some I did not vote for this year I feel like will be definite choices in the upcoming Hall of Fame votes. Red Byron. NASCAR's first champion should be in its Hall of Fame for historic reasons. He won NASCAR's very first race on Daytona Beach in 1948, won NASCAR's first "season" championship and then its first Strictly Stock title, which is the modern era Sprint Cup crown. Raymond Parks . He owned the first championship car driven by Red Byron and for many of the same reasons Bryon needs to be in the Hall, so does Parks. Even after the two early titles he fielded cars for greats such as Bob and Fonty Flock. He is the sport's heritage, its beginning. Benny Parsons . Many current NASCAR fans know Benny from his ease and skill behind the television microphone and camera once he retired from driving a race car, but he was an amazing competitor, too, winning NASCAR's two biggest trophies -- the 1973 Cup championship and the 1975 Daytona 500 . Perhaps most amazingly, he finished among the top 10 in 54 percent of the races he ran. Waddell Wilson. It is impressive Wilson was so successful both as an engine builder and a crew chief. He built the motors that David Pearson and Benny Parsons drove to titles and as a crew chief led Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough (twice) to Daytona 500 wins. He built the first engine that broke 200 mph -- driven by Parsons in qualifying for the 1982 Winston 500. Robert Yates. This is another example of the ultimate in successful multi-tasking. Similar to Wilson, he built championship-quality engines (1983 with Bobby Allison) and then Yates owned a championship team, fielding the car with which Dale Jarrett won a title in 1999. He owns three Daytona 500 wins as part of a 57-win legacy as a team owner and won 77 races as an engine builder. Landmark Award Ralph Seagraves. This was a tough category. My selection was based on his contribution really being a turning point for the entire sport. Under Seagraves' leadership, RJ Reynolds provided top-dollar, high-promotion sponsorship of the sport that lasted for more than 30 years. It thrust NASCAR into another stratosphere as far as the American sports landscape was concerned and absolutely created a foundation that is still enjoyed today.
Bruce : Dale Earnhardt unchallenged for title of best driver ever
NASCAR.com's Kenny Bruce compares Jimmie Johnson to the 'Intimidator' RELATED: Johnson wins at Dover for 10th time The greatest NASCAR driver of all time is … Jimmie Johnson ? That's the word on the street, or in this case the voice on the radio, and since the bluegrass channel was on a commercial break I decided to stick around long enough to hear how that particular conclusion was reached. Such comparisons are inevitable – it's the sort of thing that arises when one is chasing legends. No different than when Jeff Gordon was piling up victories and championships in pursuit of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. No different than when Earnhardt was piling up victories and championships in pursuit of Petty. And no different than when Petty began piling up wins and titles on his way to overtaking a host of former champions, including his father, Lee, the first to win three NASCAR premier series championships. What the 39-year-old Johnson has managed to accomplish in little more than 13 full seasons in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series certainly puts him in the same league with Petty and Earnhardt, NASCAR's only seven-time champions. There's no doubt that Johnson, fit and trim and now only two wins away from matching Earnhardt's career win total of 76 victories, is one of the sport's greatest drivers. But is he No. 1? From a numbers standpoint, the Hendrick Motorsports driver will undoubtedly surpass Earnhardt's win total, and it's likely he'll eventually capture a seventh championship. He could, in fact, become the first driver to win more than seven titles. That would make him the most successful driver from a championship standpoint (neither he nor anyone else will come close to Petty's mark of 200 career wins), but will that make him NASCAR's greatest driver? No. That designation, without question, belongs to Earnhardt. Statistics are a great way to gauge success. But it takes more than numbers to measure greatness. Johnson has managed to excel during what some claim is the most competitive era in the history of NASCAR. Yes, there are more winners, on average, today. But there are also more races on the schedule, thus also more opportunities. A larger number of teams run the full schedule today, although that doesn't necessarily mean there are more "better" teams competing. Earnhardt never ran a season consisting of 36 points races; Johnson's never run in fewer than 36. Earnhardt never had the opportunity to compete at Kansas, Chicago or Kentucky; but by the same token, Johnson never raced at North Wilkesboro or Riverside. I have a strong feeling both could have won at those tracks given the chance. I'll argue that the talent pool Earnhardt often faced was just as deep – with lineups including drivers such as Petty and Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, Geoff Bodine and Harry Gant. Eventually Bill Elliott , Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace, Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Tim Richmond and others took their place. Most were champions; many are already members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Johnson is one of the greatest drivers that today's fans will ever see. What he has done has been nothing short of amazing. If one wants to argue that he would not have won 74 races and six championships had it not been for Hendrick Motorsports and Chad Knaus, the same could be said of Earnhardt, who owed much of his success to Richard Childress Racing and the talented group he worked with there. But what elevates Earnhardt above the rest is more than the fact that he was so successful. He provided fans with some of the sport's most memorable moments during his two-plus decades. Among them: winning the pole at Watkins Glen in '96 (and setting the track qualifying record, to boot) just two weeks after suffering a broken collarbone and sternum in a vicious crash at Talladega; climbing from his damaged car and into the ambulance, only to quickly exit and return to his car once he realized it would still run, at Daytona in '97; his first and only Daytona 500 victory the following season, a win that erased 19 years of heartbreak. There was the "rattle his cage" incident with Terry Labonte en route to victory in the night race at Bristol in '99; the wrongly-termed but aptly promoted "pass in the grass" on his way to winning the 1997 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway ; and the charge from 18th to first in the final five laps of the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway . For two decades, greatness drove a Chevrolet and it carried the number 3. They were memorable moments that elevated the sport and defined the man. Johnson can win more races and win more championships, but he can't match that. He needn't worry – no one else can, either. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Bruce on Junior: A kid, a son, a racer and fan favorite
RELATED: Junior announces retirement after '17 season " Reaction to news The pressure was probably there from the first time he slid behind the wheel of a race car. Before that, he was just "Dale's kid." No real burdens, few expectations. Hanging out at the track on occasion, playing with the kids of other competitors. He was a child, the son of a racer for sure, but just a child and nothing more. But once he became Dale Earnhardt Jr., racer, everything changed. Once he became a racer, he became the son of a seven-time champion, the son of one of NASCAR's most legendary figures. Once he became a racer, nearly every single thing took on an entirely different meaning. Expectations didn't grow, they exploded. He raced and he won and his popularity grew, in part because of folks that were also fans of his father, but maybe more because he was new and fresh and cutting edge, and younger fans in the sport found someone with whom they could relate. He listened to Nirvana. He was featured in "Rolling Stone" and "Playboy." MTV featured him on its popular "MTV Cribs" show. He was the new face for the sport. And then the horrific 2001 accident took the life of his father and fans of his dad flocked to Earnhardt Jr., hoping to keep the memory of their hero alive, hoping to keep "their" sport alive through the son. MORE: Dale and Dale: Pictures of father and son Earnhardt Jr. never, ever discounted those who came to him as fans of his father. He embraced them, understood them and welcomed them. They were old school and as Earnhardt Jr. matured and grew and became more and more involved in all aspects of the sport, he became old school, too. Maybe he didn't "become" old school as much as he began to embrace it. You want a history lesson on NASCAR? Earnhardt might not be a professor, but his depth of knowledge and his love of the sport's colorful past are unrivaled. Now he's stepping out of the driver's seat after winning two XFINITY Series championships in 1998 and '99, 26 career races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and two Daytona 500 victories. RELATED: Recap every win " Full Dale Jr. stats It's been an incredible journey for Earnhardt Jr., who in addition to his duties as driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports is also co-owner of an XFINITY Series operation -- JR Motorsports -- that fields four full-time entries. But it's been an incredible journey for his fans as well, who have voted him the series most popular driver for 14 consecutive years. Most saw him win for the first time in the top series at Texas in 2000 and then weeks later when he got the big ol' bear hug from his father in Victory Lane after winning the series' All-Star Race at Charlotte. Fifteen years later he was still winning, and who knows, perhaps his winning hasn't stopped just yet. His father's passing and the eventual surprise move to Hendrick Motorsports, and through it all the winning and contending for wins and his fans yearning and hoping and wishing for a championship that has yet to arrive. He's been a kid and a son and a racer and a champion and fan favorite. And now a husband and he's talked about children so yeah, he may be a father some day, too. MORE: Dale and Amy through the years " Wedding album He's a brand and a spokesperson and there are many in the garage that share their time and talent and resources with those less fortunate, but Earnhardt is among those at the top of the list. And the entire time he's let everyone in, let 'em come along for the ride, because the kid who used to change oil in cars at his father's dealership knows race fans about as well as he knows himself. He's traveled his own path and enjoyed a racing career and at the end of the day you look back and say, well, that's life. One chapter ends and another begins. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;&lt;span _rtetemp=&quot;spchk&quot; style=&quot;background-color: #ffffaa;&quot; _rtespchksugg=&quot;Lt"alt"ult"flt"let"lit"lat"lot"ltd"t&quot;&gt;am&lt;/span&gt;p;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Team Penske to appeal Phoenix penalties on No. 2 team
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Martinsville Officials with Team Penske announced in a statement that the organization will appeal penalties handed down to the No. 2 team and driver Brad Keselowski following the March 19 race at Phoenix Raceway. According to the NASCAR penalty report issued last week, the No. 2 team failed the post-race rear wheel steer on the LIS (Laser Inspection Station) following the Camping World 500. NASCAR fined Wolfe $65,000 and suspended him from three Monster Energy Series races while Keselowski and the No. 2 team were docked 35 driver and owner points, respectively. Wolfe sat out last week's race at Auto Club, in which Keselowski finished second, but will be on the pit box in Martinsville. "After having the opportunity to review the facts, Team Penske has decided to appeal the penalties following the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in Phoenix," the team announced in a statement. "We have requested an appeal hearing and we plan to follow the process as outlined in the NASCAR rulebook. The appeals administration has granted our request to defer the two races remaining on Paul Wolfe's suspension until the results of our appeal are known." The 2012 series champion, Keselowski already has one victory this season (Atlanta), putting him in line for one of the 16 spots for this year's playoff field. -- Kenny Bruce contributed to this story
NASCAR.com reporters make national series predictions
RELATED: Key changes in NASCAR " Fast facts on race enhancements NASCAR.com's Kenny Bruce , Holly Cain, Zack Albert and Jonathan Merryman make their predictions for the 2017 NASCAR season: KENNY BRUCE NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: Timothy Peters . Rebounds from winless '16 to ride the Red Horse to the title. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: Elliott Sadler . So close a year ago; his JRM team is rock solid. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year: Daniel Suarez . Stepping into a title-contending car; just needs seat time to become a challenger. Surprise playoffs qualifier: Daniel Suarez . There will be hurdles for last year's XFINITY Series champ, but he's proven to be a quick study. Daytona 500 pick: Kyle Busch . It's one of the few accomplishments left for one of NASCAR's best. Championship 4: Kevin Harvick : Switch to Ford proves to be a non-issue for 2014 champion. Joey Logano : Simple game plan: Get to the front and stay there. Kyle Busch : Bad-fast car. Extremely talented driver and team. Martin Truex Jr .: Team makes silly speed; gotta be there at the end, though. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Joey Logano . Can win a slew of races or be crazy consistent. This year he could do both. HOLLY CAIN NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: John Hunter Nemechek . My repeat pick from 2016, but hoping the right (generous) sponsor sees this young talent and he gets the backing to match his potential. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: Elliott Sadler -- The veteran has been oh-so-close and this is the year it all comes together for him. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year: Erik Jones . The Furniture Row Racing 's newest team member is super-talented, highly motivated and knows how to shine even among such fantastic first-year talent. Surprise playoffs qualifier: Kasey Kahne . This will be a resurgent year for the talented 17-time Cup winner who is ready to remind people of his place in the sport. Out front. Daytona 500 pick: Denny Hamlin . Daytona has been Hamlin's playground and he's poised to be the first back-to-back 500 winner since Sterling Marlin in 1994-95. Championship 4: Jimmie Johnson , Kevin Harvick , Kyle Busch and Joey Logano will decide the Cup after hugely competitive playoffs that ends in a history-making moment. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Jimmie Johnson . Reigning champ makes history with his eighth title. ZACK ALBERT NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: Christopher Bell . The 22-year-old standout bookends a season that started with a Chili Bowl victory with his first national series crown. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: William Byron . A hotshot rookie for the title? Gobs of talent and JR Motorsports resources go a long way. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year: Daniel Suarez . First-year driver steps into a well-established team that contends for victories. Surprise playoffs qualifier: AJ Allmendinger . Planets align for the No. 47 team at one of the series' two road-course visits. Daytona 500 pick: Brad Keselowski. Team Penske 's strength shows, with one of the best in the restrictor-plate biz leading the charge in the "Great American Race." Championship 4: Kevin Harvick , Denny Hamlin , Jimmie Johnson , Brad Keselowski . The cream rises, with four organizations and all three manufacturers represented in the final bracket. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Denny Hamlin. He's been on the podium three times before. In 2017, Hamlin should make it to the top step. JONATHAN MERRYMAN NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: Matt Crafton . Great, consistent racer. That style will fit the new format. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: Elliott Sadler . Coming off of a solid 2016, the No. 1 JRM team should be in position to win it all. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup NASCAR Series Rookie of the Year: Erik Jones . Seat time in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car in 2015 should help the rookie seal the deal. Surprise playoffs qualifier: Erik Jones . I think the rookie wins a race in 2017 clinching a playoff berth. Daytona 500 pick: Brad Keselowski , with four wins at Talladega and one win at Daytona in the summer of 2016, Keselowski has quickly become one of the best plate-racers in NASCAR. Championship 4: Kevin Harvick , Joey Logano , Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch . All four consistently finish races and have multiple win seasons. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Kevin Harvick . Mr. "Where did he come from?" has turned in to Mr. Consistency over the past few seasons. Consistency combined with the new points format should complement Harvick well.
NASCAR Hall of Fame voter Kenny Bruce reveals ballot
Whittling list down to just five always a tough task
What we're thankful for, NASCAR edition
The weather is getting colder, the leaves are changing colors, the days are getting shorter ... and there's no on-track NASCAR action for a while. All of the above means one thing: It's Thanksgiving. Given that this is a time to pause and reflect on the many things for which we are thankful, here are some of the many NASCAR-related things the editorial staff of NASCAR.com are thankful for: We are thankful for ... • Jimmie Johnson . NASCAR is fortunate that one of its greatest drivers is also one of its greatest men. -- Brad Norman • Martin Truex Jr .'s mean air guitar on the NASCAR on NBC intro song of "Bringing Back the Sunshine." Truex showed off his rock star-like ability on the track this season in one of the feel-good stories of 2016. Seeing Truex and girlfriend Sherry Pollex tackle her fight with cancer head-on has been especially impactful for me on a personal level as my mother was recently diagnosed with cancer. -- RJ Kraft • Kyle Larson 's penchant for riding the high line ever-so-close to the wall. It adds an element of edge-of-your-seat excitement to any race where he's running in the front because you never know what's going to happen next. -- George Winkler • Seeing the Tide car ride again at Darlington. -- Kathy Sheldon • Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s positivity and transparency. Not many athletes would let fans and media into a very personal concussion recovery process, but Junior has been as honest and upbeat as ever throughout his healing. His continued presence at the track and positive voice in the sport has been a blessing to us all. – Jessica Ruffin • Jimmie Johnson . Being able to work for NASCAR and have a front row seat to history being made with his seventh Sprint Cup Series championship is something I’ll never forget. I'm in awe of his talent. This must be what it was like working for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. -- Pat DeCola • SAFER barrier and safety personnel. We haven't stopped writing about injuries, but the instances are much less frequent today. -- Kenny Bruce • Martin Truex Jr ., Sherry Pollex and Barney Visser, who had the courage to do something different and run a race team from Denver. All the time and effort the Furniture Row Racing team puts in is clearly paying off, and I look forward to watching them grow to two teams next season with Erik Jones . -- George Winkler • Night races in the summer heat. -- Kathy Sheldon • Short-track racing. The action at Bristol and Martinsville is typically among the most entertaining of the season. Richmond produced a bump-and-run between teammates in the spring, and Iowa also is a great track. Tempers tend to flare at the smaller venues, and the racing is among the tightest you'll see all season. -- RJ Kraft • Local short tracks. Dirt? Asphalt? Quarter-mile? Three-eighths? Yes. -- Brad Norman • Daytona in February and Homestead in November. There aren't two better places, or tracks, to begin and end a season. All the ones in between? Yeah, they're pretty nice, too. -- Kenny Bruce
H2H: Debating Johnson's place in NASCAR history
RELATED: Champion's Week preview " Streaming schedule When Jimmie Johnson made history at Homestead-Miami Speedway with his record-tying seventh championship, it gave the sport of stock-car racing a moment to reflect on the accomplishment and to debate Johnson's place in its history. With just more than a week's worth of a cool-down lap of their own to let the moment sink in, our Holly Cain and Kenny Bruce offer their perspectives on the newly crowned "Seven-Time" in this week's head-to-head: 1. With a seventh championship tying Jimmie Johnson with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, how do you rank the three considering the eras in which they competed? Cain: Accessing seven-time champions is ironically a no-win situation. Each driver earned the big trophy in markedly different eras under far different circumstances. Petty's team had to be as tough as it was good. Earnhardt's team was tested against future Hall of Famers under a new and increasingly bright spotlight. And Johnson had to earn his titles under multiple championship scenarios against a field of competition representing the deepest talent level in the sport's history. Bruce : I agree with Holly to a point. You can't fairly compare the three drivers because their success came in such different times. The sport was so different when Petty won his seven titles, with teams racing as many as 62 times a season. It was a test of endurance as much as anything. Earnhardt won his titles when attrition was still a concern, but the cars were better and depth of talent within the teams greater. Johnson's success has come under various points formats, various rules packages and against some of the best talent the sport has ever seen. But … if you're ranking the three purely on a "most talented" level, then it's a no-brainer. The answer is … 2. Would an eighth championship in Johnson’s column change your view? Cain: Should Johnson win an eighth -- and I believe he will -- there should be no lingering doubts about his toughness, tenacity and talent -- the latter something this seven-time champ is never given enough credit for. Bruce : It depends on the circumstances. I already believe he's one of the best to ever compete in the sport, so one more title won't really change how I view him there. But if he continues to compete at such a high level and can still be successful, I'll be even more impressed with any future accomplishments. 3. How do you assess the chances of Johnson and the No. 48 team achieving title No. 8? Cain: For Johnson to have earned seven trophies under a revolving door of championship competition and format changes is a triumph in and of itself. At only 41 years old -- two years younger than Earnhardt when he won his seventh and the same age as Petty when he hoisted his seventh -- there is reason to believe Johnson has an incredibly favorable shot to make more NASCAR history. The pressure is off. Petty ranked in the championship top five only three more times after winning his seventh title. Earnhardt was runner-up two more times (in 1995 and 2000). Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus really only have more history to aspire to, and lots of time to attain it. It's "all good" was never more apropos. Bruce : The current championship-determining format doesn't lend itself to repeat champions -- witness three different winners in the three years of the elimination format. No driver has made the final four all three times either. And there's a very good chance that once you make it to the final, you have to win the race to win the title. It took the No. 48 team three years to make it to the final round and I don't think it’s a given that they'll be back next year. Under other formats, I'd rate their chances as great. Now, though, I’m less willing to be so positive. They've got time, but that's what we said about Jeff Gordon , too, when he began pursuing title No. 5 -- in 2002.
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