As we enter the final day of 2011, it’s time to look back at some of NASCAR Sprint Cup season’s memorable moments, the good and the bad.
Records continued to be set which is a natural part of any sport. High expectations for certain drivers turned into disappointment and other drivers seemed to hit their stride in the performance department.
Changes to the point system proved to be a winner that culminated with the most outstanding Chase we have seen since it was implemented.
NASCAR forced drivers to pick the series they intended to run in for points and the title, which eliminated Cup dominance in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.
Silly season started early and looks to continue into 2012 with some of the silliest scenarios we’ve seen in some time. For better or worse, some of the stories became a reality.
There are many changes for the upcoming season with drivers, teams, and crew chiefs. Stay with Stock Car Spin for a guide to the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season prior to Daytona SpeedWeeks.
So many memories can be brought up, but these are the ones that deserve one more look at as we ring in the new year to 2012. Strap in, it’s going to be a memorable ride.
1. Trevor Bayne and the Daytona 500
This wasn’t just the fact that Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 at the age of 20 years old and one day, despite his lack of experience in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This was about the history of the Wood Brothers iconic No. 21 and the David Pearson tribute paint scheme ending up in Victory Lane on February 20, 2011 with Bayne behind the wheel. Obviously it was an emotional moment for Glen and Leonard Wood who had no won a race in the series since 2011. For Bayne, it was a dream moment becoming the youngest driver in history for win the Daytona 500. The high of highs would later turn series with a health care that took Bayne out of racing for more weeks than he cares to count, but he returned in fine form.
2. Regan Smith Wins Darlington
Carl Edwards led the most laps that night, but it was Regan Smith who tamed the “Lady in Black” in May. Who would have thought the Colorado-based Furniture Row No. 78 driven by Smith would be in Victory Lane at the historic track known as the original superspeedway? It was the first win for the driver and a feel good moment for fans everywhere.
3. Kevin Harvick Robs Dale Earnhardt, Jr at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Junior Nation was sure that at last their driver would be victorious after the long winless streak, but it was Kevin Harvick who stole the show. Earnhardt was leading the Coca-Cola 600 when in the last turn of the last lap ran out of fuel. With a seventh place finish, he would extend his number of races without a win to 105.
4. Jeff Gordon’s Hall of Fame Stats
While it took until Tuesday to run the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway because of bad weather, but in the end Jeff Gordon took his No. 24 Chevrolet to victory lane for his 85th Cup win. Gordon is a four-time NASCAR champion, and the 85th win took him to third on the all-time wins list behind Richard Petty and David Pearson. Sports analysts thought Gordon would be the one to challenge Jimmie Johnson for the title this ylear, but he ended the season eighth in points.
5. Jimmie Johnson Wins at Talladega with a Helper
Love it or hate, two car racing was in full bloom during the sprint race at Talladega Superspeedway. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. pushed his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, to a win that was .002 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer. Johnson was so grateful for Earnhardt’s help that he gave him the checkered flag and the two hugged in Victory Lane. The race made history with 88 lead changes, the most in any NASCAR race.
6. How Many New Winners?
We’ve already talked about Trevor Bayne and Regan Smith capturing their first wins in Sprint Cup, but 2011 produced a variety of surprises including three more first time winners. David Rgan fumbled on a restart with his UPS Ford at the Daytoan 500, but his experience came back to help him win the Coke Zero 400 at the July Race at the track. Paul Menard made the move to Richard Childress Racing in 2011 and earned his first win at the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Menard’s father sponsored many drivers in open-wheel but was never able to capture a victory at the historic track. Marcos Ambrose is always good on road courses, but he finally got his first win this season at Watkins Glen in August.
7. Stuck in Traffic in Kentucky
Kyle Busch didn’t have to worry about the traffic when he won the inaugural race at Kentucky Speedway. The fans, however; weren’t so lucky. Thousands sat in traffic for hours in an attempt to reach the speedway located in Sparta, Kentucky. Fans would paid for tickets never made it to their seats. Bruton Smith, the track owner, has worked with Kentucky officials to guarantee better access to the track and additional parking spaces have been acquired. Fans are able to use last year’s unused tickets for the 2012 events.
8. Kyle Busch Parked
The worst thing for any driver, aside for not winning the race, is having to watch someone else get behind the wheel of their car for whatever reason. NASCAR fans remember what happened to Kyle Busch at Texas Motor Speedway so there is no need to rehash that. Busch nearly lost his M&M sponsorship and he did lose it as a primary sponsor for the last two races of the season, but they will return in 2012. Busch sat atop the pit box and watched Michael McDowell behind the wheel of his No. 18 that finished the day in 33rd position. During the off-season, Joe Gibbs Racing has made a request to Kyle Busch not to drive in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, even though the truck is owned by him. He will also cut back on his Nationwide runs. Busch has issued many apologies for his actions and it remains to be seen if some of the fire is dampened within the driver, because he can’t afford any bad behavior in 2012 if he wants to come back stronger that ever.
9. Smoke is on Fire
The first 26 weeks leading to the Chase for the Sprint Cup were not kind to Tony Stewart. He was winless until the Chase, that he almost failed to make. He then won the first and second races in the last 10 weeks, with one other back to back set of wins and the fifth win in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Stewart and Carl Edwards tied in the point standings when the race was over, but it was Stewart who won the Sprint Cup because of his wins. It was an amazing streak in the Chase for Stewart that will be talked about for many years to come.
10. Two Words: Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski was deep in double digits of the point standings when he broke his ankle in a testing accident at Road Atlanta. He roared through the pain to come back and win the next race at Pocono Raceway and garnered three wins for the season. He would end up making the Chase and finishing fifth in the final points.
Wonder what the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will see in 2012? Any predictions!
Topics: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Darlington Raceway, David Ragan, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kentucky Speedway, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose, Michael McDowell, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Paul Menard, Regan Smith, Talladega Superspeedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart, Trevor Bayne, Watkins Glen, Wood Brothers Racing