The conclusion of the 2016 NASCAR season brought an onslaught of emotions. We crowned only the third seven-time Cup Series champion and witnessed history being made by a driver and team that had prior been criticized for diminishing performance following six trips to the top of the mountain. Since coming together in 2002, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus find themselves in rarefied air. In the Xfinity Series, a foreign-born Daniel Suarez climbed to heights never reached by a foreigner before. And in the Trucks, a long overdue Johnny Sauter finally sealed the deal in Homestead with GMS.
But racing is about moving forward, and as we approach the start of the 2017 season, a different feel is setting in. Sprint, after taking the reigns from RJ Reynolds, oversaw thirteen seasons of sponsorship and what some would call a tumultuous era for the sport. The Chase was implemented and the Chase was tweaked. Some like it while others abhor the playoff system. Ratings and attendance have been on a steady decline for years now and the most popular form of American motorsports could surely use a shot in the arm.
In steps Monster Energy; a youthful, bold company that prefers promoting with adrenaline sports and scantily clad females over stats sprinkled with animated narwhals. It's a big change and one wonders how the atmosphere of the sport will change. Much less PC than their predecessor, Monster opens the door to the "old" NASCAR ways with a victory kiss and a fight in turn 1. Time will tell what the effects will be.
Not only did 2016 mark the exit of Sprint, but also Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards (and Jeff Gordon) have hung up the wheel in the Cup Series for the final time, with question marks looming over the futures of Greg Biffle and Casey Mears. Rookies Erik Jones (FRR, 77) and Daniel Suarez (JGR, 19) will do battle for Rookie of the Year honors and Ty Dillon goes fulltime in Cup with Germain. The average age of a Cup Series driver declines.
The tides, they are a'changing. While some careers and relationships get carried out over the horizon, you never know what will wash up on the beach. The Daytona 500 is February 26th; a day that will inaugurate a new title sponsor, appropriately under a new moon.