Roger Diez: It’s ‘Truex,’ he’s a popular winner
November 24, 2017
The first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion was crowned last Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida, and Martin Truex Jr. is in the history books as that champion. It was a popular and emotional win for a driver who has gone through adversity and a team owner who went against the grain. Furniture Row Racing doesn't have the fame, the funding, or the history of the Hendrick, Gibbs, Childress, Ganassi, Petty, or Roush, organizations, but they're standing at the pinnacle of their sport now. The team served notice early and kept up the momentum all season, as Truex scored eight wins, 19 top fives, and 26 top tens on his way to the championship. This was the team to beat all season, thanks in no small part to its alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. Crew chief and strategist extraordinaire Cole Pearn figured out the secret to NASCAR's new point scoring and stage racing format, and took full advantage of it to stay up front all season long. Truex is one of the truly nice guys in the sport, and he will be a worthy champion.
For a while it looked as if a non-playoff driver was going to take the season finale win for the first time since the elimination format began, as Kyle Larson looked strong early on. But at the end the Toyotas proved too strong for both the Chevys and Fords, with Truex holding off Kyle Busch to take the race win and the championship. Larson was third, and led 145 of the 267 laps.
Young William Byron capped his full-time Xfinity career with the championship in that division. His third place finish was the highest result of the four championship contenders. Byron moves to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series next season, driving the iconic No. 24 Hendrick Chevrolet. Chase Elliott will move to the No. 9 Hendrick Chevy, using the number his father made famous.
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And the 2017 Camping World Truck series champion is another youngster, Christopher Bell, who's moving up to a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the Xfinity series for 2018. Bell edged veteran Johnny Sauter last Sunday for the title. Bell finished second in the race, one spot higher than Sauter's third place.
Congratulations are also in order for the NHRA Mello Yello series 2017 champions. Brittany Force is the Top Fuel champion, Robert Hight is the title-holder in Funny Car, and Eddie Krawiec took the Pro Stock Motorcycle championship. The Pro Stock title is still undecided as of press time.
With the NASCAR, NHRA, IndyCar and WeatherTech Sportscar seasons wrapped up, only Formula One is still active, with the final race of the season on Sunday at Abu Dhabi. Although both the drivers' and constructors' championships have already been decided, there are still scores to be settled, momentum to be established to carry into next season, and possibly a few changes in the season standings at stake. The three strongest teams all season long are also showing strength leading up to the final race.
In Friday practice, four-time champion Lewis Hamilton led the way in his Mercedes, but Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel was only 0.149 second behind. And the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo finished practice a mere 0.303 second slower than Hamilton. Their teammates took the next three spots, as has been the case all season long. Looking at potential position changes that could occur in the final race, Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas must win the race and Vettel finish out of the points for Bottas to overtake the Ferrari pilot for second in the standings. A more likely scenario is the battle for Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen to steal fourth from Ricciardo, as only seven points separate the pair. As far as the constructors' title is concerned, the first five spots are locked in. But there's a tight battle for sixth through eighth, as Toro Rosso, Renault, and Haas Ferrari are separated by only seven points. So watch for some spirited scrapping in mid-pack during Sunday's race.
Finally, congratulations to long-time bachelor Tony Stewart, who announced wedding plans last week. The 46-year-old racer will marry girlfriend Pennelope Jiminez. No wedding date has been announced.