The 2015 season is officially over so the most logical thing to do is take a look back at some of the defining moments and topics of the season. In this post, we look back at three things that were good, bad, and ugly in the sport of NASCAR (all series) this season. Good will classify as something that a fan like myself enjoyed seeing and think is good for the sport. Bad, will be someone or something that fell short this year, and lastly the ugly will be something that left a bitter taste in the mouths of fans and drivers. Well, enough jibber-jabbering, let's get to it!!
1. New Champions
All 3 premiere divisions saw a new champion crowned in 2015. The trucks welcomed young Erik Jones to the championship stage Friday, followed by Chris Buescher on Saturday for the Xfinity Series, and Kyle Busch Sunday, claiming his first Cup title. Three new champions in the same year is something that doesn't happen often, and it proves the sport is always evolving. With an average age of 24, this season showed that the next generation is starting to thrive. Erik Jones, just 19-years-old became the youngest NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion in history, proving that all the hype has been well deserved. Jones out pushed young Tyler Reddick and 2-time defending champ Matt Crafton, to claim his first NASCAR title. In addition, 23-year-old Chris Buescher emerged on the scene of NASCAR's next generation of talent. Buescher, took home two checkard flags in route to his first title, beating up and coming driver Chase Elliot for the championship. Buescher has been relatively quiet in his career but this championship could change everything for the young Texas native. Lastly, Kyle Busch, the guy everyone loves to hate took home his first Cup title at the age of 30. Busch came back from injuries to earn a shot at the Cup title, then took care of business in the post season. Busch silenced all haters, proving he can in fact be clutch enough to win a championship with just one race to decide it all. If you don't like new faces winning, then I don't know what else you want to see! This year proved that nothing is going to be handed to anyone.
2. An Underdog Story Can Still Happen
Martin Truex Jr., easily wins the 'underdog of the year' award. Truex, who many fans had given up on, had a career season in 2015. After scoring just 5 top-10's in 2014, who would have thought the #78 team would compete for a championship just a year later... exactly NO ONE! Furniture Row Racing proved that anything can happen in this crazy world of NASCAR with hard work and dedication. If you aren't sold on this team being an underdog just yet, consider two other factors. First, Truex and his #78 team are a single car operation. Yes, they borrow equipment and setups from RCR, but they still have to figure things out on their own. RCR doesn't share everything, so being by themselves makes things harder. Second, this team is based out of Denver, Colorado. You may ask what the big deal is, well here's your answer. Pretty much every other team is based in North Carolina, so naturally businesses that furnish goods to the race teams are more than likely going to be in North Carolina. North Carolina is racing country, so to have your team in the mid-west is just un-orthodox. Having a team not in NC creates a barrier between you and your competitors, which can help and hurt you. The #78 team has no one to turn to with their operations in Colorado, making it even harder to share notes and get information from those around them. Scoring their second win as a team and making it to the championship round of the Chase could put this team on the map, proving that underdogs still have a spot in our sport.
3. A legend goes down swinging
No doubt one of the biggest story lines of not only championship weekend but the 2015 season was the retirement of NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon. The NASCAR world was taken by storm earlier this year when Jeff Gordon announced that 2015 would be his last full-time season in the Cup Series. (Video below is not official retirement announcement, but shortly after)
Gordon struggled through most of his 'farewell season', but managed to some how find his way into victory lane at Martinsville in the fall, which catapulted him into the championship race at Homestead. Gordon, was never a favorite for the title. He battled the best he could in his final start with an end result of 6th, placing him 3rd in the final standings. This was great for the #24 fans and the sport, nothing like a feel good story to cap off an amazing career. Gordon will be missed in the garage, and the sport may suffer, but one thing is for sure, he didn't leave without a fight. Gordon will remain involved in the sport as he steps into the commentary booth starting in 2016. Though Gordon will have a new role in the sport, we will remember his final year as one where he persevered and went down swinging!
Gordon practices in booth for 2016
1. Tony Stewart
This is not to hate on the 3-time Cup champion, but let's all be honest, the 2015 season was a let down. Stewart, who finished off the year with just 3 top-10 finishes, landed 28th in the overall standings. Smoke as many call him has finished 25th or worse (standings) in the last three Cup seasons. He hasn't won a race since June of 2013, making this the longest drought of his career. Stewart has not been the same since the fatal accident taking the life of Kevin Ward Jr., but being a year removed many fans thought this was the season that could turn things around. Instead of becoming a 'comeback' season for Smoke, 2015 became a year of struggle after struggle. I put Stewart on the bad list because his performance was plain out terrible, especially for a driver who is considered a star in the sport. Again, this is not to hate on Stewart, but to state facts. I myself hope to see Stewart running back up front in 2016, his last full-time season in Cup (announced his retirement mid-season).
2. Disappointment of Sophomore Class
Kyle Larson & Austin Dillon are two very talented drivers in the Cup Series, but as their second full-time seasons came to a close, both found themselves without a victory or a Chase birth. Larson who rarely showed speed became the definition of a sophomore slump, and was never relevant until the last week of the season at Homestead. The #42 team has been a let down to fans, Larson was supposed to be an over night sensation. Larson has great talent, but has yet been able to put it together to win his first Cup race, but I guess there is always 2016 to look forward too. As for the other big name sophomore, Austin Dillon, 2015 was a roller coaster. Dillon looked like a contender some weeks, while others he did absolutely nothing. The #3 team found speed mid-season, but just couldn't find enough to go to victory lane. I will give some credit to Dillon because at one point he looked pretty solid, but once again, he became irrelevant at the end of the season. Overall, these two young drivers still have plenty of time to prove that their hype matches the talent, but many fans expected more by now. I will say, both drivers are not in the best equipment, but more consistency should be expected. After all, ALL of their teammates made the Chase in 2015 (Dillon- Newman, Menard... Larson- McMurray).
As much as NASCAR does not want to cover this Cup series team, I will. Michael Waltrip Racing or MWR entered 2015 with many question marks, some that were never answered. MWR struggled most of the season and eventually announced that they would be closing their doors after the 2015 season. With that in mind, I ask you one question: can you remember a MWR car doing anything exciting this year? The answer is NO. Not trying to bash MWR, but the last season for the team was a pretty crappy one. Both full-time teams (#15 & #55) combined for 0 win's, 2 top-5's, and 13 top-10's (12 of which come from Bowyer). The team didn't show much success all season, and the only bright side was Bowyer making the Chase, and yet again receiving a huge penalty from NASCAR. To cap off the season, Bowyer and Ragan both crashed in the same incident at Homestead. MWR's last finishes were 27th & 43rd, which pretty much sums up the season. I wish the best to Michael Waltrip and all of his former employees. Fans will miss them on track, but they made the bad list because they performed poorly all season. Plain and simple, if you can't run well, you can't keep racing.
1. Inconsistencies from NASCAR
No doubt this year had some controversial moments, especially inside the Chase. NASCAR had to deal with retaliation, drivers wrecking the field (Harvick at Talladega), and of course rule changes that back fired. The biggest controversy of the year had to deal with penalizing Matt Kenseth for wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville. Kenseth would soon face a two week suspension, which had many fans calling NASCAR an inconsistent monster. Throw in the wreck that Kevin Harvick caused at Talladega, which faced no punishment, and the fact that NASCAR's rule change before Talladega (one green-white-checkard attempt) came into effect, potentially changing the outcome of the Chase. All these together created the recipe for pissed off fans. Whether or not you agree or disagree with NASCAR's decisions, these topics where just one of the ugly things that happened to the sport in 2015. Some fans even claim that they are through watching NASCAR after the ups and downs of the season (I don't believe them though).
2. Lack of TV Network Support
Whether or not you like the broadcasts presented on NBC and NBCSN, this point involves something different. NASCAR has declined over the years, and one noticeable set back was the dedication to NASCAR from NBC executives. NASCAR was clearly put behind other premiere shows. I completely understand that some other events (NFL) may present a higher rating, but at times racing seemed to be put on the back burner. The biggest example came in the last race of the season, when NBC talked of switching networks mid-race just so fans could watch the late NFL game that night. NBC was willing to turn off the CHAMPIONSHIP race just for another football game. Again, I know the NFL brings big bucks, but the race was almost switched for the PRE-GAME show. Of course I don't know the logistics of a major broadcast network, but at least let fans feel as though our sport is a priority. (Other issues surrounded the fact that NBCSN is not offered to all fans)
3. Best Driver(s) Didn't Win the Title
With Kyle Busch winning the championship, many fans felt empty. NASCAR fans have never liked change and still beg for the old 36-race most points wins format to return. In 2015, there is the argument that the best drivers didn't win the championship. Now, don't get me wrong, Busch earned the title (which I talk about in a previous blog), but in the eyes of many fans either Harvick or Logano should have walked away with the title. Aside from Busch not being a fan favorite, Harvick and Logano ran well through all 36 weeks and still didn't hoist the big trophy, which ticked a lot of fans off. I am not here to say who should have won, I just know that this is something that left a sour taste in the mouths of fans. NASCAR fans always want the driver who they think 'deserved' the title to take it home, and many felt as if Busch was not the class of the field in 2015.
Well thanks for reading!! Again, these are just a few things I think that stood out in 2015!! This is not to bash any particular driver or any particular view, just wanted to point out what I noticed!! Hope you all have a great holiday season and remember to give me a follow on Instagram: NASCAR OPINION & on Twitter: @nascar_opinion!! Hope you have a great rest of your day, and don't be afraid to check out my other posts!