The start of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is only a few weeks away and when the green flag does wave to start the season opening Daytona 500, over half of the field will have at least one series win on their resumé. Twenty-one of the 40 drivers that will make up the starting field will have already visited a victory lane, leaving almost half of the field looking for their first win. Every driver also knows that with just one win, they can punch their ticket into the Chase at the end of the year that would give them the opportunity to win the title.
Chris Buescher proved last year that sometimes it is all about being in the right place at the right time in order to find yourself in victory lane. Buescher was on loan from Roush-Fenway Racing to Front Row Racing for the 2016 season when he found himself in the lead at Pocono in the Pennsylvania 400 when the race was stopped for rain with 22 laps remaining after all of the leaders had just been on pit road. The race never went back to green, leaving him holding the winner’s trophy along with earning a spot in the Chase. He went on to finish 16th in the 16-driver Chase field, but any driver and team will tell you that winning a race and making the Chase is the goal when the season begins.
This season there will be a host of drivers with different amounts of experience looking for that first win and a spot in the Chase. The 2016 Rookie of the Year, Chase Elliott, made the Chase last season in his first year, but he failed to win a race. His results showed the consistency to win a race as he posted 10 top-5’s and 17 top-10’s. He may be the favorite in 2017 to become the first driver to post his initial win in the series as his Hendrick Motorsports organization came on strong at the end of the year when Jimmie Johnson was able to take the title in a Chevrolet from the favored stable of Toyota drivers.
Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon also made the Chase last season without a win and he too is considered a threat to win his first race this season. He is a veteran in the sport as he is a past champion in the Camping World NASCAR Truck Series and the Xfinity Series. He finished 14th in 2016 thanks to four top-5 and 13 top-10 finishes that also saw him sit on the pole for two races. His best chances for a victory in 2017 may be at the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega as he has been in a position near the end of several plate races to notch his first win.
Erik Jones will enter the Cup Series after running a full Xfinity Series schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing where he put together a year in which he won four races and posted 15 top-5 and 20 top- 10 finishes on his way to a fourth place finish in the final standings. JGR did not have a ride for him in one of its Toyotas so he will be on loan to fellow Toyota organization Furniture Row Racing as a teammate to Martin Truex Jr. The chances that he will get his first Cup win may be as great as any driver as he will benefit from being with an organization that has a strong working relationship with JGR. Together Furniture Row and Gibbs combined for 16 wins last season.
Roush-Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was a two-time Xfinity Series champion in 2011-2012, but since making the move to the Cup level has yet to realize the same kind of success. Since going full time in the series in 2013 he has only been able to post seven top-5 and 17 top-10 finishes on his way to posting a 21.3 finishing average during that span.
Ryan Blaney, Danica Patrick, Landon Cassill, Ty Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto and Michael Mc- Dowell will also be looking for their first win this season. A win from this group might be a surprise, but after Buescher’s win last season all of these drivers know that you just have to be in the right place at the right time for one checkered flag.