With the 2017 season firmly in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to reflect on what happened. What else are we going to talk about?
Points Position: 23rd
Stage Points: 6
Top 5s: 2
Top 10s: 3
Average Starting Position: 21.7
Average Finish: 19.6
Highlight: Pick a restrictor plate race, any restrictor plate race. OK, don’t pick the fall Talladega race. But you can go with any of the other three. Menard finished fifth in the Daytona 500, ninth at Talladega in the spring and third at Daytona in July. He was 12th in the fall Talladega race, so it wasn’t that bad either.
Lowlight: 2017 was an improvement from 2016, but that’s not much of a statement. Menard was 25th a year ago and had an average finish of 22. He moved up two spots in the standings and improved his average finish by 2.4 spots. And he completed over 600 more laps.
But he still only had three top-10 finishes. After posting five-straight seasons with an average finish of 18th or better, Menard’s move away from Richard Childress Racing is probably a necessary one. RCR may miss him (and his family company’s money) a lot more than he misses RCR.
Points Position: 16th
Stage Points: 5
Top 5s: 7
Top 10s: 13
Average Starting Position: 17.1
Average Finish: 15.8
Highlight: A strategy play got Newman his only win of the season at Phoenix. Newman and team stayed out on the track after Joey Logano blew a tire and hit the wall. Leaders Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson pitted, and Newman was one of three drivers who stayed out on the track. Newman was first of those three drivers and ended up pulling away on the two-lap restart. The win broke a winless streak of over three years for Richard Childress Racing and Newman’s first win in 127 races.
Lowlight: The win got Newman in the playoffs but he didn’t do anything once he got there. Finishes of 23rd, 13th and 13th in the first three races of the playoffs meant an early exit. Newman then finished the season last among all drivers who made the postseason.
Points Position: 11th
Stage Points: 10
Top 5s: 3
Top 10s: 4
Average Starting Position: 19.1
Average Finish: 18.6
Highlight: To say Dillon overperformed his season statistics is probably an understatement. He had fewer top fives and top 10s than his teammate Newman and had fewer top-10 finishes than nine non-playoff drivers.
You can overperform in the Cup Series when you get a win to make the playoffs. Dillon got a fuel strategy victory — the first win of his career — at Charlotte in May. He then finished between 11th and 16th in eight of 10 playoff races. That’s how he ended up finishing 11th in the standings.
Lowlight: Talladega wasn’t too kind to Dillon. He finished 36th in the spring and 29th in the fall.
Without Menard next season, RCR could be just a two-car operation. If the team doesn’t field the No. 27 car, it’ll have to find a team to take the charter for the car, either via sale or lease. And there’s not exactly a large field of willing bidders for charters in NASCAR.
RCR has found itself as the No. 3 Chevy team at best in recent seasons. While it had a chance at jumping to No. 2 following Stewart-Haas Racing’s departure to Ford, Chip Ganassi Racing became the clear No. 2 team (or, maybe even No. 1) in 2017.
Maybe a two-car effort, along with a new Chevy car body, will yield increased results in 2018. Or maybe it won’t. Unlike Roush Fenway Racing, which saw an uptick in performance in 2017 after going from three cars to two, RCR is losing a massive sponsor. Money buys speed.
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