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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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Justin Allgaier, Ross Chastain named Most Popular Driver in Xfinity, Trucks

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While the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Cup Series won’t be announced until Thursday, NASCAR on Wednesday revealed winners of the most popular drivers voting in the Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Trucks Series.

In voting by NASCAR fans, Justin Allgaier earned Most Popular Driver honors in the Xfinity Series for the first time in his career.

Meanwhile, Ross Chastain was named Most Popular Driver in the Truck Series, also for the first time in his career, earning the honor on his 27th birthday.

Driver of the popular No. 7 Chevrolet, the 33-year-old Allgaier extends JR Motorsports’ domination of the Most Popular Driver award in the Xfinity Series to a record eight consecutive years. Elliott Sadler was the top vote-getter from 2016 through 2018, preceded by Chase Elliott (2014-15), Regan Smith (2013) and Danica Patrick (2012).

Allgaier reached the Championship 4 round for the third time in the last four years, including winning at Phoenix – the 11th win of his Xfinity career – to assure his spot in the championship race at Miami. Allgaier finished fourth this past season in the Xfinity standings behind Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer.

And then there was Chastain, who has the popular nickname of the “Melon Man” due to being part of his family’s watermelon farm business in his native Florida.

Chastain entered the 2019 season not even planning to run a full season in the Truck Series. But when it became apparent that he would have the best chance at a championship in a Truck, Chastain and Niece Motorsports announced in June he would switch and declare to earn championship points – and a bid for the Most Popular Driver – in the Truck Series.

Chastain ultimately finished second to series champion Matt Crafton.

Chastain wound up competing in a total of 77 overall NASCAR races in the 2019 season: 23 in the Truck Series, 19 Xfinity races and 35 Cup events. He won three races in the Truck Series and a fourth checkered flag in the Xfinity Series.

 

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Power rankings: NASCAR driver/crew chief combinations

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NASCAR Talk continues its offseason Power Rankings, as voted on by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Today, we present our picks for the top driver/crew chief combinations in the sport.

There are a few surprises, for sure. Most notably: 2019 Cup champion Kyle Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens did not take the No. 1 spot in the rankings.

We’re asking fans to give their take on our picks (choose from Cup, Xfinity or Trucks). Do you agree or disagree – and why? Take our poll at the bottom of these rankings.

The top driver/crew chief rankings:

1. Martin Truex Jr./Cole Pearn (29 points): Among the sport’s gold standard, if not the standard other driver/crew chief pairings are measured. A series-high 23 wins have come in the last four seasons, including one championship in 2017 and back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2018 and 2019.

2. Denny Hamlin/Chris Gabehart (25 points): In his first season as a Cup crew chief, Gabehart brought a second wind to Hamlin’s career after the latter went winless in 2018. Hamlin put together his best year in almost a decade in 2019 with six wins, 19 top five and 24 top-10 finishes.

3. Kyle Busch/Adam Stevens (24 points): This is the only current driver-crew chief combo with multiple Cup titles. Stevens and Busch have been to the Championship 4 all five years they’ve been together. Sure, it wasn’t easy in the playoffs this year but they still claimed the championship.

4. Kevin Harvick/Rodney Childers (23 points): Were fast when they first got together in 2014 and have not slowed since. They have collected 26 wins in their six years together, earning the championship in 2014 and only missing the Championship 4 round once since (2016). If it wasn’t for occasional inconsistency and slumps, the No. 4 team likely would be ranked higher.

5. Christopher Bell/Jason Ratcliff (13 points): Though they will move to the Cup Series in 2020 without any Xfinity championships, they tormented the competition in the Xfinity Series the past two years, winning 15 times. Placed in the top five in 38 of 66 races.

6. Brad Keselowski/Paul Wolfe (12 points): The longest-tenured active combo in Cup at nine years. The duo has 29 wins, one championship and won three or more races in seven of those nine seasons together. The No. 2 team would have placed higher in these rankings except it has reached Championship 4 round just once (2015) since NASCAR went to an elimination playoff format in 2014.

7. Joey Logano/Todd Gordon (11 points): Did not have a strong playoffs but remained in contention for a Championship 4 spot until the penultimate race at Phoenix by grabbing stage points. The duo has 21 wins, one championship and one runner-up in seven years together. Have earned at least one win in each season they’ve been together but haven’t had more than three wins in a single season since 2015.

8. Chase Elliott/Alan Gustafson (7 points): Gustafson is underrated in his ability to build a team. After a slow start together, they’ve managed to produce back-to-back three-win seasons. Granted, the third round (finishes of 36th, 32nd and 39th) sealed Elliott’s hope of making the Championship 4, but this is a team that has laid a strong foundation.

9. William Byron/Chad Knaus (6 points): Only one of our voters selected Byron/Knaus. While this first-year pairing didn’t lead to a win for Byron, there was a tremendous amount of growth this season with five top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. Knaus’ veteran ability and patience and mentoring has paid dividends, leading to even higher expectations for this pairing in 2020.

10. Cole Custer/Mike Shiplett (5 points): After Custer earned just one win in each of his first two full-time Xfinity seasons, Shiplett provided a supercharge to Custer’s career. They earned seven wins and finished second in the championship race to Tyler Reddick in 2019. There has been no announcement whether Shiplett will follow Custer to Cup in 2020.

Others receiving votes: Ryan Newman/Scott Graves (4 points), Kyle Larson/Chad Johnston (3 points), Tyler Reddick/Randall Burnett (2 points), Matt Crafton/Carl Joiner (1 point).

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch ends the season No. 1

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The 2019 season is over and Kyle Busch is the NASCAR Cup champion. And not surprisingly, the younger Busch brother also ends the season as No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

Busch received 39 of 40 possible points to take the No. 1 spot, followed by the other three Championship 4 contenders: Martin Truex Jr. (35 points), and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick (tied for third place with 28 points each).

The biggest surprises in this week’s standings were Xfinity Series champ Tyler Reddick in fifth and Gander Outdoors Truck Series champ Matt Crafton in sixth.

Here’s this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Finally gets that second title. Last week: Second.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (35 points): Inexcusable pit mistake left him as the championship runner-up for the second year in a row. Last week: Fourth.

(tie) 3. Denny Hamlin (28 points): Came so close to his first championship, only to be fall short yet again. Could this be the closest he’ll get? Last week: First.

(tie) 3. Kevin Harvick (28 points): Needed a bit more help than he got going against the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut. Still, a very strong season regardless. Last week: Third.

5. Tyler Reddick (18 points): It’s hard enough to win one championship, but back-to-back championships with two different teams? Last week: Unranked.

6. Matt Crafton (14 points): Wins the championship without even winning a race (in fact, his last win was more than two years ago). Thrived on his underdog status. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Blaney (12 points): Finished 11th or better, including a win at Talladega, in five of the last six playoff races. Last week: Fifth.

(tie) 8. Joey Logano (11 points): Ends year with four consecutive top 10s, but he fell short in making it to the championship round and defending last year’s title. Last week: Eighth.

(tie) 8. Erik Jones (11 points): Ends season with four top 10s in last five races. That bodes well for next season. Last week: Seventh.

10. Christopher Bell (6 points): Missed his chance to add an Xfinity title to his Truck championship. Still, with eight wins, had an outstanding season. Up next: a promotion to the Cup Series. Last week: 10th.

Others receiving votes: Kyle Larson (5 points), Clint Bowyer (5 points), Cole Custer (4 points), Austin Hill (2 points), Brad Keselowski (1 point), Brett Moffitt (1 point).

Miami weekend ends with never-before-seen achievement

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Never before has there been a championship weekend like the one just completed at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Busch (Cup), Tyler Reddick (Xfinity) and Matt Crafton (Truck) each captured championships and set a standard for the sport.

This past weekend marked the first time in the history of the Truck, Xfinity and Cup series that each champion won more than their first series title. That goes back to 1995, the first season of the Truck Series.

Busch earned his second Cup crown Sunday night. Reddick won his second consecutive Xfinity championship Saturday. Crafton captured his third Truck title on Friday night.

The closest it has come in recent years to having all three national series champs winning multiple titles was 2010 when Jimmie Johnson won his fifth consecutive Cup championship and Todd Bodine claimed his second Truck title, but the Xfinity championship was won by Brad Keselowski, who collected his first and only championship in that series.

Crafton, who did not win a Truck race this season, opened Miami’s final championship weekend by finishing second to collect the series title.

Asked if he was worried about any criticism that he was a champion despite not winning a race this season, Crafton said: “I’m going to sleep really good all winter long with this trophy because when you win a race, that’s very sweet, but usually you only have one week, like four or five days to gloat about it, but I think I’ve got like two-and-a-half months to gloat about this championship before next year.”

Reddick topped Cole Custer in a late duel before pulling away to win the Xfinity championship. Reddick became the first driver in that series to win back-to-back championships with two different teams. He won the 2018 championship with JR Motorsports and this year’s crown with Richard Childress Racing.

“Just real awesome to be able to have two back‑to‑back championships with two different teams,” Reddick said. “And what made this one so much more special is we were consistent week in and week out.”

Busch completed the weekend by becoming the only active Cup driver, other than Johnson, to have multiple titles.

“I would love to be sitting here right now talking about eight,” Busch said. “I’ve been in the sport for 14, 15 years, whatever this season is for me, and so we’re only talking about two.  It’s nice to have the success that we have, take it when you get it, but there’s certainly a few missed opportunities for sure.”