It took until the last lap of the last race of the season at Homestead-Miami to determine the champion of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. That kind of competition, which featured a total of 12 different winners, produced so many story lines for us to follow throughout the season that it’s worth revisiting a few of them. Here are 10 such stories of which I have attempted to put into order. But remember, this is a very biased list that was compiled by a committee of one.
10. Roush-Fenway Racing – This once proud organization that now fields only three teams never had a driver even threaten for a win. It is no longer the premier Ford operation, as that mantle has been passed to Penske Racing and drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.
9. MWR Closing – When investor Rob Kauffman announced midway through the season that he would be no longer be putting his money into MWR, it led to the announced closing of the operation at season’s end. It was a sad ending to Michael Waltrip’s operation that led Toyota’s entry into the Sprint Cup Series.
8. Race Team Alliance – Rob Kauffman did not want to leave NASCAR after he parted with MWR, but he did feel the need to organize the team owners. He is now one of the leaders of the Race Team Alliance that is working with NASCAR to ensure that owners would be assured of an increase value in their investment. It would work like franchising in other sports with 36 spots being guaranteed to owners at every race.
7. Darlington Race – The Southern 500 held on Labor Day weekend was a throwback party that grew beyond what track officials dreamed possible. Throwback paint schemes, driver suits and crew uniforms became the norm, as did the return of some of the biggest names in the sport.
6. Restarts – The leader of the race has the responsibility of leading the field to the start/finish line, but that became a huge gray area as the season went along. NASCAR eventually widened the restart zone to give the leader more of an option when to start. When the leader decides to go became the focal point of TV coverage as drivers complained of jumped restarts and NASCAR’s reluctance to enforce the restart rules.
5. Martin Truex Jr. – Truex and his Furniture Row Racing team was the only one-car team to make it into the Chase. Once he made it in, he advanced all the way to the Championship Four with a chance to run for the title.
4. NBC – This was the first year back to NASCAR for NBC, and the network’s coverage gave race fans more than what they were used to. While some of the races were kicked to its sister network NBCSN, the total hours of coverage was great as there was a lengthy postrace show as well as racing news shows during the week.
3. Kenseth’s Hit on Logano – Frustration led Matt Kenseth to intentionally run into race leader Joey Logano at Martinsville. He was nine laps down when the hit took place and it took away Logano’s opportunity to win the race and advance in the Chase. Kenseth was suspended two races for his actions.
2. Kyle Busch’s Year – After missing the first 11 races of the season because of an injury, Busch put together a year that resulted in his first series title. He sat on one pole, won five races, posted 12 top- 5 finishes and 16 top 10’s on his way to a one-point win over Kevin Harvick at season’s end.
1. Gordon’s Retirement – Jeff Gordon announced his retirement before the season started, which led to an emotional farewell tour that ended with his making the Chase. Gordon’s Martinsville win was by far the most popular victory of the year and one that propelled him into the Championship Four. It was the storybook ending to the storybook career of the four-time Sprint Cup champion.