Decade in Review: Most memorable NASCAR moments of the 2010s

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The NASCAR of 2010 and the NASCAR of 2019 offer completely different landscapes, from different postseason formats, rules packages, series sponsors and a rapidly changing driver pool driven by the “youth movement.”

A lot happened over the last 10 years, but what are the moments that defined the sport in the 2010s?

Here are 10 moments and stories as voted on by NBC Sports’ writers.

 

1. Aug. 5, 2018

It was a Sunday that began a new era for NASCAR.

Just after 5 p.m. ET, NASCAR’s soon-to-be-voted most popular driver, Chase Elliott, claimed his first career Cup Series win after a late-race duel with Martin Truex Jr. at Watkins Glen International.

The victory on the New York road course came in Elliott’s 99th Cup start and deep into his third full-time season of competition.

Roughly two hours later and more than 300 miles away in Sag Harbor Village, New York, NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France was arrested on charges of aggravated driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of a controlled substance.

France took a leave absence and later pled guilty to the DWI charge. He was replaced in his position by his uncle, Jim France, one of the sons of NASCAR founder William H.G. France.

Jim France is now the permanent CEO and Chairman of NASCAR.

In the past year, while staying out of the spotlight, Jim France has overseen the integration of the sanctioning body with its track operation arm, International Speedway Corp., the merging of NASCAR with ARCA (which goes into full effect next year) and the Cup Series’ transition to a new premier sponsor model starting next year.

Elliott has won six times in the last two seasons and has been voted most popular driver both years.

 2. Johnson ties Petty and Earnhardt, Nov. 20, 2016

Jimmie Johnson’s record-tying seventh Cup Series title did not come easily.

After starting the season finale from the rear of the field due to a pre-race inspection failure, the Hendrick Motorsports’ driver did not lead in the season finale until an overtime restart to finish the race.

He led the final three laps and solidified his name as one of the greatest to drive a stock car, alongside Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. Johnson’s seven titles are spread out over 11 years and multiple playoff formats.

3. Playoff elimination format introduced, 2014

NASCAR unveiled a new post-season format in 2014 that ensured the championship would be decided among four drivers in the final race of the season.

A field of 16 drivers are now whittled down over three rounds with the Championship 4 settled on after the Round of 8. In the finale, the highest placing driver is the champion.

Kevin Harvick claimed the first title under this format, earning his first championship in the process. So far all six championships under the elimination format have been claimed by the winner of the season finale.

Kyle Busch’s 2019 title made him the first repeat champion of the playoff era.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)

4. “Spingate,” Sept. 7, 2013

 Richmond Raceway was the site of the 2013 Cup regular season finale and a race manipulation scandal that had far reaching consequences.

Michael Waltrip Racing was at the center of “Spingate,” which got its name from the alleged intentional spin conducted by Clint Bowyer in the closing laps of the race, one part of a plan intended to get Bowyer’s teammate, Martin Truex Jr., into the playoffs.

The plan, while initially successful, eventually backfired.

NASCAR fined MWR $300,000, the largest fine in the sport’s history, and docked Bowyer and Truex’s teams 50 points each. Truex was knocked from playoff eligibility and replaced by Ryan Newman.

Further controversy over alleged coordination between Team Penkse and Front Row Motorsports resulted in Jeff Gordon being added as a 13th driver to the playoff field the following weekend.

As a result of the controversy, NAPA Auto Parts withdrew from sponsoring Truex’s team after the season and began sponsoring Chase Elliott at JR Motorsports (and eventually at Hendrick Motorsports).

Truex wound up at Furniture Row Racing in 2014 and three years later won the Cup championship with the single-car team.

Michael Waltrip Racing closed its doors after the 2015 season.

5. Tony Stewart’s final championship run, 2011

 When the 2011 Chase for the Cup began, two-time champion Tony Stewart entered the postseason with no wins and believing his team was a waste of space in the playoff field.

Then Stewart reeled off five wins in 10 races, including the season finale in Miami, where he beat Carl Edwards and clinched the title in a tiebreaker over Edwards.

Stewart remains the only Cup driver to earn their first win of the season in the playoffs and go on to win the championship.

(Getty Images)

6. NASCAR returns to dirt, July 24, 2013

Arguably one of the most anticipated NASCAR events since the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series returned NASCAR to its roots in 2013 with its first race at Eldora Speedway, the dirt track owned by Tony Stewart.

Austin Dillon claimed the win in the inaugural event and other winners of the Eldora Dirt Derby include Bubba Wallace, Kyle Larson, Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe.

7. Juan Pablo Montoya, a Jet Dryer and a Tweet, Feb. 27, 2012

Twitter as a social media platform has existed since 2006. But NASCAR Twitter™ came into its own late on a Monday night during the rain delayed Daytona 500.

With 40 laps left the and the race under caution, something broke on the No. 42 Chevrolet of Juan Pablo Montoya as his car entered Turn 3. His car then slammed into a jet dryer, causing a fiery explosion, spilling gas across the track and destroying Montoya’s car.

No one was hurt, but it led to scenes of track workers cleaning up the mess with Tide, drivers racing each other to a port-a-potty and the cherry on top, Brad Keselowski’s tweet from inside his No. 2 Dodge during the red flag.

Keselowski sent the tweet at 9:58 p.m. ET and NASCAR Twitter was born.

8. “Five Time,” Nov. 21, 2010

Jimmie Johnson got his decade off to a notable start by accomplishing a feat no one had done before or will likely repeat.

Johnson successfully won his fifth-consecutive Cup title, two more than the previous best feat of three straight by Cale Yarborough (1976-78).

Next season will be Johnson’s final full-time Cup campaign and he’ll try to start the next decade just like he started this one, by making some championship history with his eighth title.

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)

9 (tie). Danica Patrick’s Daytona 500 pole, Feb. 17, 2013

Danica Patrick’s NASCAR career ended after 252 national series starts, the last coming in the 2018 Daytona 500.

Patrick never won in her time in a stock car, and the long-term impact of her time in NASCAR and her popularity likely won’t be evident for a while.

But there’s one thing that can never be taken away from her time in the sport: her pole for the 2013 Daytona 500.

That’s how Patrick started her first full-time season in Cup, by becoming the first woman to win the pole for a Cup Series race.

 9 (tie). Trevor Bayne’s only Cup Series win – Feb. 20, 2011

Trevor Bayne only won once in his Cup Series career and boy did he make it count.

The day after his 20th birthday, driving the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford in his second career start, Bayne survived the second green-white-checkered finish attempt of the Daytona 500 and won the “Great American Race.”

Bayne would make 187 Cup Starts, with the last coming in 2018 with Roush Fenway Racing.

9 (tie). Enter the Roval – Sept. 30, 2018

Marcus Smith, Speedway Motorsports Inc. and NASCAR couldn’t have asked for a better debut for the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

It all came down to the last lap and the final turn on the new road course, which combined Charlotte’s traditional oval and the revamped infield circuit, the first of its kind in NASCAR.

Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson made contact and spun while racing for the lead, Ryan Blaney stole the win and Kyle Larson drove his battered No. 42 Chevy by the prone car of Jeffrey Earnhardt to pick up the one spot necessary to force a tiebreaker with Johnson and Aric Almirola and advance to the second round of the playoff.

Come back tomorrow for the best race finishes of the 2010s.

Now it’s your turn to vote. What was NASCAR’s most memorable moment of the 2010s?

 

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