Hot 20 – Truex is king, Junior is done, and the kids are moving to the big boy table

by Ron Thornton On Wed, Nov. 22, 2017

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 DeWalt Hurricane Relief Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19, 2017 in Homestead, Florida. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images.

The cream rose to the top, as the top four accumulated half of the wins between them this season. Four drivers, 18 wins, and now four shared championships.

Next season NASCAR decides its 70th Cup champion, an honor claimed by just 32 men in that time. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski will be joined by Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch as each will seek to add to their trophy cases. A bunch of talent will be bursting out of the gate at Daytona come February to make their own arguments. Rick Hendrick does not make up his roster based on age alone, boasting the elder statesman and the baby in 2018. The 41-year-old seven-time king Johnson will be joined by a new teammate, William Byron, who does not turn 20 until next week.

Nothing says our final four will not be back. Truex had a dominant season, while Busch once again laid claim as being one of the very best in the business. Harvick and Keselowski have not grown any moss, and then there is Chase Elliott, who turns 22 at the end of the month. Another Hendrick driver who will be sporting his father Bill Elliott’s old number, seeking that first career win. Only a fool would bet against that happening.

NASCAR has its issues, to be sure. They cannot figure how to get fans back to the tracks or even how to insist on television crews with the talent to keep us watching, no matter what. However, there is no shortage of storylines for next season. Along with those mentioned, a new generation has emerged. Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney have arrived. Twenty-one-year-old Erik Jones is on the cusp. Next season, 24-year-old Bubba Wallace will drive the iconic Petty blue No. 43, featuring a familiar look for a native son of Alabama, but something rare in NASCAR.

But all that is nearly three months away. In the meantime, we give thanks for the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, and Danica Patrick, and wait to see what the future holds in store for them. We await to see what Kurt Busch will be doing next year. Above all else, we salute a very worthy 2017 champion who tops our Hot 20.

1. MARTIN TRUEX JR. – 5040 POINTS – 8 Wins
For the driver, his fiancé, his team owner, and his entire team…this was truly well deserved.

2. KYLE BUSCH – 5035 POINTS – 5 Wins
One position, and possibly one caution, away from holding his own celebration.

3. KEVIN HARVICK – 5033 POINTS – 2 Wins
Handling issues and a debris-induced hole did not help his cause.

4. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 5030 POINTS – 3 Wins
Fears a lack of manufacture parity might mean his Fords will be fried next year.

5. CHASE ELLIOTT – 2377 POINTS
In 2018, the torch passes to the next generation and this is the standard bearer.

6. DENNY HAMLIN – 2353 POINTS – 2 Wins
Learning that the Elliott Bible states, “Do unto others AS they have done unto you.” Let us pray.

7. MATT KENSETH – 2344 POINTS – 1 Win
If this is how Matt goes out, he did it as we would have expected…in style.

8. KYLE LARSON – 2320 POINTS – 4 Wins
The next generation has arrived. After Elliott, Larson is definitely Exhibit “B.”

9. RYAN BLANEY – 2305 POINTS – 1 Win
Exhibit “C” is moving on to join Roger Penske next season.

10. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 2260 POINTS – 3 Wins
Already among NASCAR royalty, he will once again try to rate eight in 2018.

11. AUSTIN DILLON – 2224 POINTS – 1 Win
Just four top 10s and he sits 11th. Nine top 20’s in his last 10 races mean more than I thought.

12. JAMIE MCMURRAY – 2224 POINTS
Seventeen top 10s, and he sits tied with Dillon in the standings. Maybe it is the cowboy hat.

13. RICKY STENHOUSE JR. – 2222 POINTS – 2 Wins
Two wins do not a season make. Well, that statement has been proven to be wrong.

14. KURT BUSCH – 2217 POINTS – 1 Win
What is next?

15. KASEY KAHNE – 2198 POINTS – 1 Win
As Kurt rose Furniture Row to the next rung, can Kasey do the same for Leavine Family Racing?

16. RYAN NEWMAN – 2196 POINTS – 1 Win
Double figures in top 10s in all but two of his seasons, including 13 more this year. Really.

17. JOEY LOGANO – 930 POINTS – 1 Win
Even with a win that meant something, he probably would have been done by Kansas.

18. CLINT BOWYER – 871 POINTS
Things started well enough, then Michigan, Bristol, Darlington, and Richmond happened.

19. ERIK JONES – 863 POINTS
At 21, I guess that would make Jones Exhibit “D”.

20. DANIEL SUAREZ – 777 POINTS
Loved Michigan and Darlington even less than Bowyer did.

21. DALE EARNHARDT JR. – 668 POINTS
Thanks for the memories. It was one hell of a ride.

 

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