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NASCAR Cup: potential feel-good stories plentiful in 2017 playoffs

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff field is down to 12 drivers after the Oct. 1 running of the Apache Warrior 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. This year’s championship has the potential to be a huge story in more ways than one.

Perhaps the most obviously would be a record-breaking eighth championship for Jimmie Johnson. After all, that would make history; nobody’s won eight titles before. Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt hit the proverbial ceiling at seven. Johnson has a chance to surpass that.

But there are other potential huge, feel-good stories in other possible championship scenarios. Here are a few, but I’m sure there are others.

Ryan Blaney/Wood Brothers Racing

Of course, a first-time champion is a feel-good story, but this one would carry more significance to NASCAR Nation. We’re talking about a potential title for Wood Brothers Racing, here. Wood Brothers Racing is, perhaps, one of the most beloved teams in NASCAR history; heck, that teams been a part of NASCAR history the longest as the sport’s oldest still-active team. We’re talking a team that’s been a part of the sport since 1950. Do you realize that, even though the team’s been a part of NASCAR for some 67 years and has had a laundry list of eventual NASCAR Hall of Famers behind the wheel of its storied No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing has never won at championship in NASCAR’s top series? Remember the hoopla surrounding the team’s return to victory lane after Trevor Bayne’s win of the 2011 Daytona 500? That’s nothing compared to what whe’ll see if Blaney and the Wood Brothers team are hoisting the Cup next month at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Larson or Jamie McMurray/Chip Ganassi Racing

Car owner Chip Ganassi is a big deal in motorsports. His stature may be overshadowed in NASCAR by the likes of Rick Hendrick, Joe Gibbs, Jack Roush and Richard Childress, but I’m talking the overall motorsports community, here. Ganassi is a big deal, as he should be, considering his accomplishments across several series of racing. One thing that’s missing from CGR’s trophy case, though? a NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Ganassi came close to a Cup championship back in 2005 with Sterling Marlin as driver. But with a sizable points lead with seven races remaining in the pre-Chase/playoff 2002 NASCAR season, Marlin suffered a fractured vertaebrae in a crash at Kansas Speedway near Kansas City, ending his season prematurely.

Here’s a little trivia for those of you following the sport back then: Who was the driver who filled-in for McMurray? If you said, “McMurray,” you’d be right.

For that reason, McMurray winning the title for CGR may be an even bigger story than if Larson did so, but either way, a Chip Ganassi Racing championship story would be a darn good one. And no offense to McMurray, whatsoever, but a Larson title seems much more likely.

Martin Truex Jr./Furniture Row Racing

This one would be a feel-good story for two reasons.

Furniture Row Racing was a small team starting out not all that long ago. Heck, it was a start-and-park team at one time. Over the last several seasons, Furniture Row Racing has been the little team that could, showing that it’s possible to enter the sport and beat the tenured “big dogs.” Also Furniture Row Racing is showing that it is, indeed, to be successful at the top level of NASCAR away from the Charlotte, N.C., For those who think you have to make your home in Charlotte to be successful, take that.

And right now, a Truex/FRR championship is looking like a huge possibility. Heck, these guys are the favorites, aren’t they?

Then, there’s the Truex angle.

Remember the Michael Waltrip Racing failed attempt to get Truex into the Chase in 2013 that included a Clint Bowyer itch and a head-scratching Brian Vickers pit stop? Instead of making the Chase, Truex lost a ride after, seemingly, being the one MWR driver not involved in those shenanigans.

That’s how Truex wound up at Furniture Row Racing. Quite frankly, he took the job driving the No. 78 for FRR after that MWR debacle because there was nowhere else to go.

Well, look at them now.

Chase Elliott/Hendrick Motorsports

Okay, this would be somewhat of a minor feel-good story, that is, unless you’re a Chase Elliott or Hendrick Motorsprots fan, but I thought I’d throw it in there. It would be a first title for Elliott, carrying on the family name by following in the footsteps of his NASCAR Hall of Fame father, Bill Elliott. Also, it would carry on the legacy of the No. 24 team for which Jeff Gordon won his four Cup Series championships.

Matt Kenseth/Joe Gibbs Racing

This one’s more about Kenseth than JGR. Actually, I included this scenario as a big f*** you from Kenseth to Joe Gibbs Racing, knowing he’s losing his ride there at season’s end in favor of “young gun” Erik Jones. Remember when Kenseth was one of those young guns? I do, but that’s beside the point. Back to the subject at hand.

Kenseth isn’t worried about his racing future, at least not publicly. But the possibility of Kenseth landing somewhere overly competitive next year, but it’s not looking good. After all, how many quality, competitive rides for 2018 are still available? A ride at Richard Childress Racing, maybe, but that’s about it.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr./Roush Fenway Racing

I don’t really see this one happening, no offense, but since Stenhouse survived the first round of the playoffs, it’s only fair to give him the same treatment as the other playoff advancers.

What a season it’s been for Stenhouse and his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford team with their two wins at Talladega and Daytona. Roush’s struggles had been dragging on from one season to the next. After the departures of Carl Edwards, then Kenseth, and then Greg Biffle, who thought Stenouse would be the driver to bring RFR back? I sure didn’t. Again, no offense.

While I’m pessimistic, wouldn’t it be something if Stenhouse was the guy to return Jack Roush to the head table in Las Vegas for his first Cup title since back-to-back championships with Kenseth and Kurt Busch in 2003 and 2004?

There are probably other playoff-related feel-good stories that are slipping my mind right now, because there are just so darn many of them. Seems like everywhere you look among these still-alive playoff teams and drivers there are potential feel-good title stories.

Follow Auto Racing Daily on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook (facebook.com/nascarexaminer).

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Posted by on October 4, 2017. Filed under Blog by Amanda Vincent,Featured,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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