NASCAR went through and is continuing to go through an interesting period where no one truly knows the state of the sport. It’s no secret that NASCAR saw cliff dives in ratings and seats being removed from tracks for optics. Through all the negative press, though, NASCAR saw some good times. Here are the ten best of them. Links to view the moments will be highlighted in green or blue.
Honorable Mention: Spingate(Sep. 7, 2013)
I know this isn’t a positive moment but “Spingate” was so asinine and stupid that I just had to mention it. This moment involved race manipulation between Michael Waltrip Racing, Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports to allow Martin Truex Jr. to advance to the Chase. Clint Bowyer spun out on purpose to give Truex a shot in the final ten laps but NASCAR became aware of it instantly and brought on severe penalties that would practically be the death of MWR. Remember kids, if you choose to cheat in a race, probably don’t have open communication with your crew about it.
10. Goodbye Chase, hello playoffs(2014)
One of the most divisive aspects of NASCAR came six years ago when Brian France implemented a playoff-style format to the formerly-called Chase. The playoff involves four rounds that begins with 16 drivers and dwindles down to four drivers for the final championship race. There are three races in each of the first three rounds before the final race and four drivers are eliminated every third race that cuts the field from 16 to 12 to 8 and finally, 4. In 2017, stage racing was implemented that awarded playoff points for winners of stages and a guaranteed spot in the playoffs for a race win. Hate it or love it, the playoffs have created some intense drama that is needed for the sport to transition to the era of entertainment in sports.
Trevor Bayne’s career will be remembered as a failure but no one will forget his 2011 win of The Great American Race. He was the youngest to win the 500 at 20 years old and did it in one of the most famous rides in the sport, the Wood Brothers 21 car. Granted, this was the one Daytona 500 with the absolute atrocity that was the two-car tandem but the finish delivered and will be one that fans remember forever.
8. Clint Bowyer vs. Jeff Gordon(Nov. 11, 2012)
Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon had multiple run-ins with each other during the regular season, most notably at Martinsville in the Spring but these two still respected each other and had no qualms. That all went out the window at Phoenix International Raceway when Bowyer and Gordon made contact that would cut Gordon’s tire and make him hit the wall. Gordon got mad and with two laps to go, he turns left on Bowyer in turn four and intentionally wrecks both of them and takes out Joey Logano in the process. This would culminate in Bowyer’s crew fighting Gordon and an epic tracking shot following a raging Bowyer running to fight Gordon. I forgot to mention that this took Bowyer out of the championship battle as well.
7. Matt Kenseth vs. Joey Logano(2015 Playoffs)
The most epic payback in NASCAR history occurred between these two in one of the most intense short-term rivalries in NASCAR history. This rivalry stems from Kenseth’s run-in with Brad Keselowski in the previous year, who is a teammate of Logano. The 2015 season was a dud but we at least we had this. In the closing laps of the Fall Kansas race, Logano turned Kenseth in turn 1 and would go on to win the race and clinch his spot into the next round of the playoffs. Kenseth would be put into a must-win situation in the cutoff race at Talladega but wound up failing to advance. At Martinsville, Logano was leading the race and Kenseth was numerous laps down after being involved in a wreck early on. Later in the race, Logano would attempt to lap Kenseth but Kenseth would not have it and drove Logano straight into the turn 1 wall. The crowd roared in support of Kenseth’s actions and would ultimately lead to Logano getting eliminated two weeks later at Phoenix.
6. Brad Keselowski vs. Everyone(2014 season)
A NASCAR champion has never seen such visceral anger thrown at him quite like what Keselowski brought upon himself throughout the 2014 season. From giving Kurt Busch the middle finger at the Martinsville Spring Race to angering every top finisher at Richmond, it was only a matter of time before something big happened and it did during the playoffs. First, at the Charlotte race, Keselowski had a problem with Denny Hamlin and pulled some foul post-race moves that ended up with him accidentally side-swiping Kenseth, who had already taken off his safety equipment and running into the back of Tony Stewart. Kenseth would then chase after Keselowski and have him in a choke hold before the crews broke it up. Then, we go to Texas, which culminates in Keselowski making a risky move on a green-white-checkered finish that cut down Jeff Gordon’s tire. Keselowski and Gordon would go on to have a pit road altercation that involved numerous crew members of different teams. Keselowski’s 2014 campaign was a total mess that has made him one of NASCAR’s villains to this day.
A two-time champion already and with a long career under his belt already, many thought Stewart had become an afterthought and would never win again. Stewart made the 2011 Chase For The Cup but had little hope as the team had not won a single race so far during the year. Somehow, Stewart would rally off five wins in the Chase, including beating out Carl Edwards, where the highest-finisher of the two would be crowned champion. An epic run for a more than epic driver.
For the first 199 laps of this edition of The Great American Race, it was disappointing, uneventful and frustrating as there would not be one wreck in this race and Joe Gibbs Racing crafted the perfect plan that would have them lead for a majority of the race and carry the bottom lane to a point where it would be single-file in the top five for most of the race. However, Denny Hamlin finally decided to abandon his teammates, got a nice push from the second lane, led by Kevin Harvick and nearly wrecked Matt Kenseth that led to a thrilling side-by-side, photo finish with Martin Truex Jr.
3. Jeff Gordon wins at Martinsville(Nov. 1, 2015)
Not only did Kenseth dump Logano but fans would get to see a NASCAR legend win his final race in his fourth-to-last career race at the famous paper clip known as Martinsville. An emotional Gordon thanked the crowd that stayed for an ending that went into the dark(Martinsville did not have lights at the time) and clinched his spot into the championship race that year. Unfortunately, he would not go on to win the title.
2. Jimmie Johnson wins 7th title(Nov. 20, 2016)
Going into this championship race, Jimmie Johnson had not been a major factor and Carl Edwards led with 15 to go that looked like he would cruise to his first championship. However, a late caution set up a restart that would change everything. At the drop of the green with 10 to go, Joey Logano would make an aggressive move to try to pass Edwards but Edwards would try to throw a block and ended up getting turned that led to a major wreck with numerous hard hits involving guys such as Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski. Johnson wound up being the benefactor and went on to win the race and his seventh championship to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most championships in Cup Series history.
The single greatest lap in NASCAR history saw a three-way battle between Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose for the win. Busch looked like he would be able to win but his car had an issue that allowed Keselowski and Ambrose to catch him. Heading up into the “Ss” on the final lap, Keselowski turned Busch and it would come down to Keselowski and Ambrose. Keselowski’s car would suffer from a tire rub after spinning Busch, which gave the advantage to Ambrose. Both men said screw the bus stop as they would drive through the grass on the exit of the bus stop. Ambrose would overdrive the carousel and get loose allowing Keselowski to pull away. However, the tire rub would serve as a parachute for Keselowski as Ambrose would pass Keselowski prior to the final two corners. I’m writing too much. The finish is much better visually than in writing. Click the link and watch sports at their most entertaining level.