Long: A year of memorable NASCAR moments, memorable photos

Dustin Long

The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season will hold different memories for everybody, but as I looked through pictures on my phone from the past year, I was struck by some special moments – big and small – from this season.

What’s included here aren’t always the most significant events of this season, but unique moments frozen in time.

Here are the pictures that stood out to me as I looked back on the year:


2015 - Richard PettyOf course, you can’t overlook the King with his court. Here’s a picture of Richard Petty with that trademark smile about to sign yet another autograph for a fan at Daytona International Speedway in February.

One can only imagine how many times he’s signed his name for fans. And he keeps signing year after year after year.






This is one of my favorite photos, and it is one I lucked into. I was taking pictures of competitors as they left the drivers meeting at Richmond in September. It wasn’t until after I took the picture that I saw the young boy’s face.

When I posted this picture on social media, several people asked if Johnson walked by the child and ignored him. No, he did not. If you look at what Johnson is holding, it’s a handwritten invitation the boy made for Johnson to attend his birthday party.

2015 Jimmie Johnson and boy


2015 Justin Allgaier double duty Justin Allgaier provides new meaning to double duty in NASCAR. Instead of running two races during the weekend, he’s holding his daughter as he signs an autograph at Dover in September.

Her look of contentment as her daddy carries her is priceless.







2015 Steve Byrnes car

This also was a year to say goodbye. Not only did the sport lose former champion Buddy Baker, among others, it lost Fox broadcaster Steve Byrnes, who died April 21 from cancer. Byrnes lived long enough to see the Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes, which was run April 19.

#ByrnesStrong was common on social media. His final tweet was to a fan asking if he had watched the rain-delayed Bristol race. Byrnes’ wrote: “I went the distance.”

Here’s the hood of Josh Wise‘s car the following week at Richmond.




2015 Greg Ives & Dale Jr at DarlingtonThis is one of my favorite pictures, although it’s not a moment crew chief Greg Ives or Dale Earnhardt Jr. likely will want to recall. This was at Darlington after Earnhardt qualified 26th – his worst starting spot in weeks.

Ives and Earnhardt talked at length on pit road after the first round of qualifying. Earnhardt had been 12th in practice, and this qualifying effort left both perplexed. Earnhardt went on to finish eighth in the Southern 500.

What makes this one of my favorite photos is the just the clean design of the Valvoline logo on the back of both men and the deep discussion taking place.






2015 Kevin Harvick at Dover IAnother picture that caught my eye as I went through my phone was this shot I took of Kevin Harvick at Dover in May.

With his car and crew gone, Harvick is left alone in his garage stall during a practice session, but his helmet is nearby for when the car is ready to go back on to the track.

Harvick finished that second that weekend. When the Cup series returned in September, he needed to win to advance to the second round of the Chase and did so.






The Southern 500 returned to Labor Day weekend and Darlington Raceway and the sport went retro. More than a dozen NASCAR Hall of Famers attended the race. Here are five (left to right): Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Leonard Wood and Rusty Wallace.

For those counting, there are 13 championships and 520 victories represented in this picture.

2015 NASCAR Hall of Famers


2015 Brian Keselowski & sister Dawn at Dega IIBrian Keselowski hugs his sister Dawn after the Camping World Truck race at Talladega. It was his first Truck race, and he drove for younger brother, Brad’s team.

Brian Keselowski was fourth before the final restart when he ran out of fuel. He finished 17th. Afterward, he and his sister commiserated and celebrated.




2015 Ryan Newman & daughter

Ryan Newman and his daughter enjoyed some father-daughter time before the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

I like how this shows the calm for one driver before a race.






2015 Aric Almirola at Southern 500 (1)Aric Almirola with his salute to the throwback theme at Darlington Raceway for this year’s Southern 500. Nothing else needs to be said.





2015 Daytona II fence

The video of Austin Dillon’s crash after the end of the July Daytona race was horrifying. But standing near the destroyed segment of fencing, one saw how truly ferocious the accident was.

This is a reminder of the dangers that these drivers face when they strap into their cars. Fortunately, Austin Dillon was not injured in this incident.







Here’s a moment I’ll never forget. I made it to Jeff Gordon‘s car after his final Sprint Cup race and watched him climb out. Shortly after he exited the car, team owner Rick Hendrick came through the crowd. Hendrick and Gordon embraced three times.

What Gordon struggled to say to Hendrick without crying during his speech at the Sprint Cup Awards in Las Vegas was quite evident in this moment.

2015 Jeff Gordon & Rick Hendrick

Matt DiBenedetto wins NASCAR Truck race at Talladega

1 Comment

Matt DiBenedetto won Saturday’s 250-mile NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on a day pockmarked by numerous accidents, including a major one at the finish.

As the field swept to the finish line in overtime, a multi-car crash developed as Corey Heim lost control of his truck in the trioval. Several trucks crashed approaching the finish as the caution flag flew.

NASCAR officials studied video of the final lap to determine that DiBenedetto was in front when the caution lights were turned on, although Bret Holmes appeared to beat him to the finish line by inches. When caution lights appear, the field is frozen at that point, so any position changes after the caution are irrelevant.

MORE: TalladeTalladega Truck results

MORE: Talladega Truck driver points

The last lap was the only one led by DiBenedetto, who has been racing in NASCAR national series since 2009 but scored his first win.

Following DiBenedetto, a non-playoff driver, at the finish were Ben Rhodes, Holmes, Ryan Preece and Christian Eckes.

With one race remaining in the Round of 8, Ty Majeski has locked in a spot in the final four at Phoenix. Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Rhodes are above the cutline. Below the line are Stewart Friesen, Eckes, John Hunter Nemechek and Grant Enfinger.

MORE: Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs leadership changes

A string of accidents left only two playoff drivers — Eckes and Rhodes — in the top 10 with 10 laps remaining.

Carson Hocevar dropped out of the lead group with five laps to go when he lost a tire, prompting a caution flag and pushing the race into overtime.

The race was marred by a fiery crash in the early going as Jordan Anderson‘s truck exploded in flames while running in the top five in a tight draft.

Anderson steered the truck to the inside as flames fired up on both sides of the vehicle. The truck crashed into the inside wall even as Anderson climbed from the driver-side window. He was transported to an area hospital.

On Lap 35, Lawless Alan hit the wall hard after his right front tire blew. He was evaluated and released from the infield medical center.

Another dangerous situation developed on Lap 63 as numerous trucks pitted at the same time under green. As Hailie Deegan attempted to stop in her pit, one of the crew members lost control of a tire, and it rolled into traffic and onto the grass area separating pit road from the track. A Deegan crew member chased down the tire in the grass and later was ejected from the track by NASCAR officials for a safety violation.

On Lap 79, Enfinger’s truck blew a tire and slammed the wall, starting a crash that collected Tanner Gray, Johnny Sauter and Austin Wayne Self.

Stage 1 winner: John Hunter Nemechek

Stage 2 winner: Chandler Smith

Who had a good race: Matt DiBenedetto had been waiting a very long time for this winning moment. … Alabama driver Bret Holmes almost won in front of the home crowd. He finished third.

Who had a bad race: Jordan Anderson had one of the most frightening crashes of the season, bailing out of his flaming truck after it caught fire in the middle of a pack of drafting trucks. … Playoff drivers John Hunter Nemechek (finished 24th) and Grant Enfinger (29th) had rough outings.

Next: The Truck Series is off for three weeks before racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 22. The series’ final race is scheduled Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.


Denny Hamlin calls out NASCAR leadership for Next Gen concerns


TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin cites “bad leadership” from NASCAR for creating a car that he says needs to be redesigned after two drivers have suffered concussion-like symptoms in crashes this year.

Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have been most outspoken about the safety of the car this year. Chase Elliott spoke up Saturday about how “disappointed” he is “that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in.” 

Hamlin said other drivers must join them in being heard.

“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they ain’t going to be happy when their brains are scrambled for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

NASCAR had not offered a response to Hamlin’s comments as of Saturday afternoon.

Driver frustrations with the Next Gen car continue to grow, as Alex Bowman became the second driver to be forced to miss at least a race for concussion-like symptoms. 

Bowman crashed last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and experienced headaches and other symptoms of a concussion earlier this week, according to Hendrick Motorsports President Jeff Andrews. 

Bowman went to a doctor on Thursday and the team announced that day Bowman would not race Sunday. No timetable for his return has been announced. Noah Gragson will drive Bowman’s car Sunday.

Kurt Busch, who drives for Hamlin’s 23XI Racing, continues to be out because of a head injury he suffered after he crashed July 23 at Pocono Raceway. Busch said this week that he is “hopeful” of racing this season.

Hamlin unleashed a torrent of criticisms Saturday about the car and series officials for an issue he said drivers brought up more than a year ago.

Asked how the sport got to this point with the car, Hamlin said: “Bad leadership.”

Asked how to avoid the same thing from happening, Hamlin said: “New leadership.”

As for the changes that need to be made in NASCAR leadership, Hamlin said: “I don’t know. You can start at the top and work your way down.”

NASCAR has a crash test scheduled next week on the rear clip and rear bumper of the car. That’s an improvement that could be made to the car for next season. A complaint about the car is how stiff the rear is and how rear-end impacts have felt more violent to drivers this season. The crash test is the first since a full car crash test last December. 

For Hamlin, the rear is only a start to what needs to be done to the car.

“The car needs to be redesigned,” Hamlin said. “It needs a full redesign. It can still be called Next Gen, but it needs to be redesigned.

“It needs to be redesigned everywhere. Front, middle, rear, competition, the whole thing needs to be redesigned. We’ve got a tough Martinsville race coming up. It’s going to be tough. This thing is just going to get exposed about how bad it races. That’s just a part of it. Competition and safety, we’d like to have it all better, but certainly we just took a step back in safety and competition this year.”

Hamlin also knows it’s too late for a redesign for next year.

“If I were to run this and say, ‘All right, we’re going to have a new car,’ we’d already be done with testing right now for next year’s car,” Hamlin said. “We haven’t even begun. We’re just way too behind. This whole sport is behind.”

But Hamlin said it was “feasible” for NASCAR to do a redesign of the car.

“It’s just (that) NASCAR has to concede that they’re not capable and let the teams do it,” he said.

That’s not likely. NASCAR has a contract with the suppliers of each part and those deals, while they can be broken under certain circumstances, are multi-year deals. 

Hamlin said drivers brought up concerns about the car last year. There had been concerns about the car and how hard the impact felt after William Byron’s crash in testing at Auto Club Speedway in March 2020.

“We actually, as the drivers, didn’t do that docu-series last year because we didn’t feel comfortable with this Next Gen car and the lack of the safety testing that had been done before they started announcing that they were going to run it,” Hamlin said. “We threw up red flags over a year ago and they just didn’t respond. They just kept pushing this car has got to be on the track at all cost. At all cost.”

In an interview last month, John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of Racing Innovation, told NBC Sports that he feels one misunderstanding with the car is the collaboration between NASCAR, teams and manufacturers.

“I think that sometimes when you read the driver quotes and the team feedback, crew chiefs are posting things on Twitter, it creates the sense of NASCAR vs. them vs. the world,” Probst said. 

“Really, it isn’t like that. I wish people could see how well we actually do work with the engineers on these teams, sorting through the problems.

“I feel like we work hand-in-hand with them, but a lot of times when it gets to the public eye, for whatever reason, or if it’s in the heat of the moment, it comes across as though ‘NASCAR is making us do this,’ or ‘This is the dumbest thing ever,’ but I think, in reality, that is so far from the truth.”

Jordan Anderson in fiery crash in Talladega Truck race


NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Jordan Anderson was airlifted to an area hospital after being involved in a fiery crash during Saturday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Anderson’s car caught fire in the middle of a pack of drafting trucks. Flames burst from three areas around the truck as Anderson tried to slow the vehicle and move onto the track apron. The truck hit the inside wall. Anderson climbed from the vehicle in a cloud of smoke as it came to a stop.

Anderson, 31 and a resident of Forest Acres, S.C., was transported to the infield medical center before being airlifted. NASCAR confirmed Anderson’s trip to the hospital.

Fox Sports reported that a team member said Anderson had burns.

Anderson is a part-time driver in the Truck Series. He has a top finish of 14th this season.

Starting lineup for Talladega Cup race: Christopher Bell wins pole


Six playoff drivers will start in the top 10 for Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Christopher Bell won the pole for the race Saturday with a speed of 180.591 miles per hour. He was followed by Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe.

MORE: Talladega Cup starting lineup

MORE: Talladega Cup qualifying results

Playoff drivers starting in the top 10 are Bell, Larson, Hamlin, Briscoe, Ross Chastain (sixth) and William Byron (ninth).

Noah Gragson, who qualified seventh, is replacing Alex Bowman, who is sitting out the race with concussion-like symptoms.

Ryan Blaney, starting 19th, is the lowest playoff driver on the starting grid.