This has been a season of change in NASCAR.
A new aero package has changed the quality of racing, mostly for the better. A charter system for teams and a more-empowered driver’s council are altering the landscape of the sport’s power structure. Before the season is over, a new title sponsor for the Cup series will be announced.
All this change has had an impact on the Observer’s annual 25-most influential people and entities in NASCAR:
1. Low downforce package
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The on-track product has been improved immeasurably thanks to the new aero setup.
2. Charter system
Will its promise of long-term stability and unity among NASCAR’s varied factions be fulfilled?
3. Joe Gibbs
He’s running a team that is in full-dominance mode.
4. Drivers’ council
This group has the potential to play a huge role in molding how the sport is run.
5. Brian France
Job No. 1 for NASCAR’s CEO and chairman is to keep the sport relevant.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
He continues to be the sport’s most popular driver and a well-reasoned spokesman on all issues.
7. Steve O’Donnell
NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer has become the voice on all matters related to competition.
8. Kyle Busch
Might he be starting on a Jimmie Johnson-like championship spree?
9. Tony Stewart
Ready and willing to step into his new role as full-time team owner – after the rest of his final season on the track.
10. Brent Dewar
NASCAR’s COO was a key figure in getting the sport’s charter system installed.
11. Rick Hendrick
Newly minted Hall of Fame honoree is certainly working hard at trying to regain team dominance from Gibbs’ outfit.
12. Scott Miller
NASCAR’s new senior vice president of competition making the calls in the garage now.
13. Jimmie Johnson
He has become the gold standard against whom all current drivers and their accomplishments are measured.
14. Lug nuts
Such tiny parts, such a big impact. Not enough of them? Not tight enough? Violations won’t be tolerated.
15. Daytona International Speedway
Renovated track has re-imagined what a motorsports “stadium” can be.
16. Stewart-Haas Racing
Made quite the statement by announcing switch from Chevy to Ford.
17. Brad Keselowski
He continues to speak out about what he feels is important in the sport.
18. Danica Patrick
She still has an outsized promotional and marketing impact.
New aero package wouldn’t be as successful without the tires.
20. Marcus Smith
Speedway Motorsports Inc. president and CEO has taken over the reins from dad Bruton.
21. Joe Garone
He has shown his small, remote team (Furniture Row Racing, based in Denver, Colo.) with Martin Truex Jr. at the wheel can more than compete.
22. Mike Helton
NASCAR vice-president still has sway in the sport, but it’s behind closed doors now.
23. Denny Hamlin
Win the Daytona 500, people pay attention.
24. Jeff Gordon
Out of the car now, but role as a television commentator means he is still one of the faces of the sport.
Series title sponsor bowing out after this season.