NASCAR REPORT

Grading this year's silly season moves in NASCAR

Dale Earnhardt, Jr Hendrick Motorsports courtesy photo

So 2017 has been one of the craziest NASCAR silly season's in recent memory, come 2018 there will be plenty of new faces in somewhat new places next year. Here I will break down each offseason storyline for the 2018 season and give my grade on all the moves, sponsor and number changes going into next season.

Chase Elliott switches to the No. 9 in 2018: A+

You have followed the sport of NASCAR long enough, you would know that the 9 is one of the most popular numbers in the sport. From 1981-1991, NASCAR's most popular driver, Bill Elliott drove the No.9 Coors Light Ford for Melling racing, (he also used this number from 2001-2003). Even though there has been a plethora of drivers that have used this number after he has, Elliott was the man that made the number popular. There is no driver more fitting to take over that number than his son Elliott to carry the legacy his father created. I give this move an A+ not just because of the nostalgic value but because this is something that Chase truly wanted to do from the beginning of his career. It will be good to see an Elliott back in the famous No.9 in 2018.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Announces his retirement at the end of 2017: A-

The biggest storyline of this year without question has been the retirement of arguably the most popular driver in this sport. In April of this year, Earnhardt sent shockwaves through the world of NASCAR when he announced that 2017 would be his final year of full-time competition.

Overall at first, I was a tad bit upset at the news that one of my favorite drivers would be leaving the sport I love. I wondered what was next now that the biggest star in this sport was going to leave but, over time I realized that this was the best move for him. In the end this was Dale realizing that he has accomplished everything that needs to be accomplished in this sport. He has won the Daytona 500 twice (2004, 2014) and has been voted the sport's most popular driver 14 times. It is great that he has sustained a life good enough for himself to be able to walk away and start a new chapter in his life in broadcasting and parenting.

Alex Bowman replaces Dale Earnhardt Jr. Next season: A+

After Earnhardt Jr announced he was leaving the big question was who wouldr replace him? There were many rumors of who would be the next in line including Willam Byron and Matt Kenseth but it was finally announced in July that Alex Bowman will take over. This comes as no surprise seeing how Bowman was the substitute for Earnhardt when he was injured in 2016. This move makes the most sense, due to the fact that Bowman is closest with the sponsors and the team. I think that Bowman is easily the best possible replacement for Earnhardt look for him and his team to be up front next season.

Matt Kenseth announces he is stepping away from full-time competition in 2018: F

2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Matt Kenseth announced that next season he would be taking some "time off" from the sport. This is the move I find the most puzzling; here is a driver that week-in and week-out is always up front and contending for wins and top tens but couldn't find a ride for next season? I find it suspicious that a man that finished in the top 10, 19 times last season can't find a competitive team to race for next season. I give the teams that passed on him an F for not realizing the talent they are passing up. It will be difficult not seeing a good driver racing next season.

Erik Jones replaces Matt Kenseth in 2018: B+

This was probably the most expected out of all the silly season moves. When it was announced that this year Jones will drive for furniture row racing (A team closely related to Joe Gibbs) it seemed as if it was written in the stars for Jones to move over to Gibbs racing sometime soon in the future. I believe this move was inevitable but probably the right choice. Jones has been decent this year with 13 top 10s and four top fives. Kenseth and Jones are almost the same typeof driver seeing how they both camp around in the top ten and let the race come to them, I think this will be a good move and Jones will be a force to be rekoned with in the future.

Darrell Wallace Jr. moves to Richard Petty Motorsports to drive the famed number 43: A++

This has been the most intriguing story of this season for me. Here is a driver that has gone through all sorts of adversity throughout his career, from not having enough sponsorship to finish out his career to hearing insults from "fans" about his race and they believed he got to where he was. To say it has been a tough road for him would be an understatement; the man was sixth in points in the Xfinity series before Jack Roush decided to close up shop. Luckily, he was given an opportunity by the king Richard Petty to fill in for the injured Aric Alimorila in four races this year. In each race he improved a little more and finished a career best eleventh at Kentucky. While it will not come easy for the young Rookie, I believe that NASCAR is getting a great personality and a very talented race car driver. Look for Wallace to be up near the front in 2018.

The NASCAR Report - Daytona 500 preview

NASCAR returns for the 63rd annual Daytona 500

Credit to: https://partyfixx.co/ecategory/daytona-500-tickets-event-guide/ for the photo

The time has finally arrived. After months of preparation, this Sunday the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series takes to the high banks of Daytona for the crown jewel of them all, the Daytona 500. It's a new start and the slate is clean and for two-hundred laps, it's anyone's race.

Over the past three months, there have been a multitude of changes that has shaken up NASCAR's landscape. For starters, NASCAR is under new management in 2019 as former Vice CEO Jim France will take over as acting Chairman and will be in charge of all day to day operations. The first major change he and his staff made this year was the decision to strip the winner if they are to fail post-race inspection. This decision was met with high praise from both fans and journalists alike and for the most part, many would consider this change a step in the right direction. It would appear that France could very well could be the guy that takes the sport and brings it back to prominence in the public eye.

For all of speed-weeks, the big story has been the apparent return to form for Hendrick Motorsports. Last Sunday when it was time to qualify, Hendrick drivers William Byron and Alex Bowman swept the front row to clinch their starting spots in the 500. The team then backed up their dominance of the week with Jimmie Johnson went on to win the rain shortened Advance Auto Parts Clash. After a dismal 2018, many questioned what was wrong with the most prestigious teams in NASCAR but everything appears to be back to normal for this team. Look for this team to be a serious threat for all of 2019.

The driver that I have winning this year is Ryan Blaney. Over the past week, he and his team have not been quite as fast as i would have expected. After a disappointing qualifying effort, some have been quick to write him off but after an impressive showing in the second Can-Am Duel, Blaney and his team showed why you shouldn't sleep on him. While his average finish of 22.38 at the plate tracks hasn't been ideal, it is important to note that in In last year's race, he led a race high 118 laps before he was involved in a multi-car crash with three laps to go. This year, I think he will be vindicated for last season and capture his third career victory in the Great American Race and cement himself as one of the favorites in the run for the championship in 2019.

If you are looking for underdogs for this race, then look no further than Chris Buescher. Coming into this race, he enters at +8800 odds to win which I think is pretty good value considering that last season at Daytona, he finished fifth in both the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400 in July and while he may not have lead any laps those races, he did a good job of keeping his nose clean and got a great result because of it. Overall, despite struggling to find speed in practice or qualifying, he did run well in his Can-Am Duel Race as he finished seventh. Overall, I think that for the most part when it comes down to the end of these races, he always seems to find himself right around the lead pack and if everything could go right and he can make the right move in the draft, we could see the Texas native go to victory lane.

It's shaping up to be an intriguing Daytona 500, and if for any reason you prefer not to hear the television broadcast, you can catch the race live on ESPN 97.5 starting at 12:30 as they bring you flag to flag coverage of the race.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

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