Decade in Review: Best NASCAR finishes of the 2010s

Leave a comment

From Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010 to Sunday Nov. 17, 2019, there were 3,564 days that went by on the calendar.

In that time span, NASCAR’s three national series held 924 points races.

That’s a lot of races, but unfortunately not every one had a memorable finish.

What were the best race finishes of the 2010s?

NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers compiled 21 memorable finishes from across the decade and then voted on them.

More: 10 most memorable quotes of the 2010s

More: 10 best drivers of the 2010s

More: 10 most memorable moments and stories of the 2010s

Here are the resulting 10 best finishes in NASCAR from the last decade:

 

1. Watkins Glen International, Aug. 12, 2012

To borrow a phrase from “Saturday Night Live’s” famous club critic, Stefon, this finish had everything.

On the last lap around the New York road course, the rumble began when the second place car of Brad Keselowski made contact with and spun leader Kyle Busch in the esses. Then it was on. Keselowski, the eventual Cup champion, and Marcos Ambrose, the defending race winner, took part in nothing short of a brawl, aided by a track coated in oil that had leaked onto the surface.

The two drivers went off course twice in the bus stop, kicking up a cloud of dirt.  Ambrose slid going into Turn 5 and recovered enough to deliver a shot to Keselowski’s rear bumper, opening the door for Ambrose. Keselowski then returned the favor in Turn 6, sending Ambrose off course and setting up a drag race to the final turn. Ambrose’s position on the inside line prevailed, as he beat Keselowski through the final right-hander and went on to claim his final Cup Series win.

On this day, the best club in New York was called “The Glen.”

2. Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Sept. 30, 2018

The drama from the last lap of the inaugural Bank of America Roval 400 came in the final turn and ensured the Roval’s historic Cup debut would not be forgotten.

Defending champion Martin Truex Jr. led Jimmie Johnson, who hadn’t won (and remains winless) since the June 2017 race at Dover. As they approached the frontstretch chicane, Johnson moved to Truex’s left side for a pass. But Johnson’s brakes locked up and sent his No. 48 into a spin that ended with it hitting Truex’s right rear, which turned the No. 78 around.

That’s when Ryan Blaney swooped in to take the checkered flag and score his only win of the year.

Almost forgotten in the chaos was Kyle Larson. Larson had been limping his battered No. 42 Chevrolet around the track following a wreck. He bounced off the wall twice in the final turns and passed the prone car of Jeffrey Earnhardt right before crossing the start-finish line. That gave Larson a 25th-place finish. That one extra spot placed Larson in a tie with Johnson and Aric Almirola for a transfer spot to the Round of 12. But the tiebreaker did not favor Johnson.

3. Chicagoland Speedway, July 1, 2018

Usually when the two frontrunners in a race make contact twice in the last lap and the second contact results in the first-place car going into a slide and the second-place car pancaking the wall, it’s not likely you’ll see a 1-2 finish between those same cars.

Don’t tell that to Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.

This last-lap duel between them included Larson’s failed “Slide Job!” on Busch exiting Turn 2 and the first contact between them.

Then in Turn 3, Busch gave a push to Larson’s rear bumper, which sent the No. 42 into a slide as Busch contacted the wall.

Thanks to a 55-lap green flag run to end the race, the third-place car of Kevin Harvick couldn’t overtake either as Busch won and Larson finished second.

(Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

4. Daytona 500, Feb. 21, 2016

The Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing had the front of the field locked down for most of the 2016 Daytona 500. That was true right up to the checkered flag.

Denny Hamlin was fourth at the white flag before a push from Kevin Harvick in the outside lane propelled Hamlin to the rear bumper of leader Matt Kenseth entering Turn 3. Kenseth’s attempt to block a move by Hamlin to the inside resulted in slight contact that had Kenseth successfully avoid a spin or worse.

That set up a drag race between Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. and Hamlin winning his first Daytona 500 by .010 seconds, the closest finish in race history.

5.(tie) Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 25, 2012

There’s last-lap passes for the win and then there’s what James Buescher did in the 2012 Xfinity Series season opener.

Buescher, driving the No. 30 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports, was in 11th place as the field navigated through Turn 4 for the last time.

Buescher technically passed the 10 cars in front of him. In reality, he avoided a really big wreck.

It would be the only Xfinity win for the cousin of Chris Buescher. James would go on to win that season’s Truck Series title, earning four of his six career Truck wins.

Also, what’s up with cars sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Eagles and wacky Daytona wins?

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

5. (tie) Martinsville Speedway, Oct. 28, 2018

Martin Truex Jr. was two turns away from winning his first short track race in the Cup Series.

Then Joey Logano pulled the rug out from underneath him.

After a spirited six-lap battle between the drivers, the playoff race came down to the final two turns. Logano gave Truex’s rear bumper a shove, drove underneath him and the two made contact as they exited Turn 4. Truex got sideways, Logano won and Truex finished third after Denny Hamlin snuck by him.

The win locked Logano into the Championship 4.

Three weeks later, Logano would pass Truex late in the season finale to win the race and his first Cup title.

7. Sonoma Raceway, July 26, 2016

If Tony Stewart was going to get his 49th and final Cup Series win on any type of track and in any fashion, it had to be a road course and it had to involve some bent fenders.

Stewart earned the eighth and final road course win of his career on this day after a last-lap duel with Denny Hamlin. Stewart lost the lead on the back half of the course. But opportunity presented itself in Sonoma’s signature hairpin turn.

Hamlin wheel hopped as he entered the turn, which left the inside open to Stewart. He took advantage and while Stewart passed Hamlin, he delivered an authoritative door slam to Hamlin’s car before racing to the checkered flag.

8. Homestead-Miami Speedway, Nov. 20, 2016

Jimmie Johnson only led three laps all night in the 2016 season finale. They were the only three that mattered.

Johnson, who started from the rear due to failing pre-race inspection, only took the lead on the overtime restart, taking it from Kyle Larson. Johnson then held off Larson and Kevin Harvick to claim the win and his record tying seventh Cup title.

9. Auto Club Speedway, March 24, 2013

Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin made contact multiple times during the last lap around the 2-mile track in Fontana, California.

The last instance allowed Kyle Busch to streak by on the outside for the win as Hamlin slid toward the inside wall and Logano scraped along the outside wall. Hamlin’s car would impact the wall nose-first with the incident injuring his back.

Hamlin would sit out the next four races before returning at Talladega.

 

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

10. Daytona 500, Feb. 20, 2011

Trevor Bayne might be the epitome of a one hit wonder in NASCAR.

A day after turning 20, Bayne made his second career Cup start. It came in “The Great American Race” driving for the historic Wood Brothers Racing.

On the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, Bayne received a pushes from Bobby Labonte and Carl Edwards over the last two laps.

Bayne would not win again in 187 Cup starts, the last start coming in 2018.

Honorable Mentions: 2018 Daytona 500, 2011 Coca-Cola 600, 2016 Truck Series race at Canada, 2015 Martinsville Cup playoff race and 2015 Truck Series race at Charlotte.

Now’s your chance to vote. What is the best finish of the 2010s?

and on Facebook

Decade in Review: Best NASCAR drivers of the 2010s

decade in review
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Day 2 of NBC Sports’ NASCAR Decade in Review series is here.

We continue our look back at the 2010s with the top 10 drivers of the decade, as voted on by the NBC Sports NASCAR writers.

More: 10 most memorable quotes of the 2010s

Every Cup champion from the decade is present on this list, but where did they wind up?

 

1. Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch raced a lot and won a lot in the 2010s and claimed two Cup titles along the way, becoming the first repeat champion under the elimination playoff format.

Early in 2019, Busch claimed his 200th national NASCAR series win with a victory in the Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway.

Busch ended the decade with 56 Cup Series wins, 40 of which came in the 2010s. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has yet to go winless in his 15 full-time seasons in the Cup Series.

Of the drivers on this list, he and Kevin Harvick are the only Cup drivers to win in every year of the decade.

2. Jimmie Johnson

While his decade ended on a down note, going winless over the final two seasons, Johnson’s impact on the 2010s is indisputable.

He began it in 2010 be claiming his fifth consecutive Cup title and proceeded to win two more by 2016 while also winning 36 races before his drought began.

Two years after his record-tying seventh title, he and crew chief Chad Knaus split up after 17 seasons together.

Johnson will bring his full-time Cup career to an end in 2020 after 19 years while seeking his record eighth Cup title.

3. Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick surged in the 2010s, and that was before he moved from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and proceeded to win his first Cup title.

Harvick entered the decade on a two-year winless streak and with only 11 Cup wins since his debut in 2001.

In his last four years with RCR (2010-13), Harvick topped his total from the previous nine seasons by earning 12 wins.

He didn’t slow down with SHR. With crew chief Rodney Childers, he earned five wins in his championship year. In the five years since, Harvick’s won at least two races in each season, including a career-best eight in 2018.

He’s also made the Championship 4 in five of the six years of the elimination format.

4. Martin Truex Jr.

No driver quite experienced the rebirth in the 2010s that Martin Truex Jr. did.

When the decade began, the two-time Xfinity Series champion had just one win, at Dover in 2007 as a rookie with Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

Truex only claimed one victory from 2010-2013, at Sonoma Raceway in 2013 with Michael Waltrip Racing. In the aftermath of MWR’s “Spingate” scandal in 2013, Truex found safe harbor at Furniture Row Racing. After yet another winless season in 2014, he was paired with crew chief Cole Pearn.

Over the next five years the duo produced 24 Cup wins, the 2017 Cup title and four appearances in the Championship 4 even as they moved to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2019 season.

Truex will now race in a post-Pearn era going into 2020. The crew chief surprised many by resigning and announcing he was leaving NASCAR to spend more time with his family.

5. Brad Keselowski

While he had starts and even one win in Cup before the decade started, 2010 marked Keselowski’s first full-time season on NASCAR’s top circuit.

Though he went winless in his rookie season with Team Penske, Keselowski has since claimed 29 victories driving the No. 2 Ford and can tout himself as the first driver to win a Cup title for Roger Penske (2012).

Since his title, Keselowski has finished in the top five just twice, including making the Championship 4 in 2017.

Other decade highlights include: becoming winningest active Cup driver at Talladega (five wins), earning Team Penske its first Brickyard 400 win (2018), its first win at Darlington since 1975 and becoming Team Penske’s overall winningest driver.

6. Denny Hamlin

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver ended the decade with nearly the best season of his career.

Hamlin won six times in 2019, the second-most of his career, a year after he went winless for the first time in his career. That gives him 36 Cup wins in 14 full-time seasons.

Since 2010, his wins include the Daytona 500 (twice), Southern 500 (twice), at Martinsville (three times), Talladega and the Bristol night race (twice).

The biggest knock against the 39-year-old driver is that he remains the winningest active driver on the circuit without a championship.

7. Joey Logano

Logano had a rough start to his Cup career to begin the decade with just one win in three seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing. But Logano came into his own in the 2010s after joining Team Penske in 2013, eventually winning the 2018 Cup title.

Logano ended the decade having earned all but one of his 23 Cup wins. He’s won at least one race each year since joining Penske and has claimed victories in the Daytona 500, the Bristol night race (twice), at Martinsville and four superspeedway wins.

Logano has also reached the Championship 4 three times while also failing to make the playoffs in 2017.

8. (tie) Matt Kenseth

The first of two drivers on this list whose Cup careers came to an end before the decade did.

Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, claimed 21 of his 39 career wins during the decade, failing to win in two of his eight full-time seasons (including 2015 when he was suspended for two races).

Kenseth switched teams four years into the decade, going from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. That year he won a career-best seven races and finished runner-up in the standings for the second time.

Following the introduction of the elimination playoff system, his best season result was fifth in 2016.

Kenseth closed out his career in 2018 starting in 15 races for Roush. He also competed in the All-Star Race and won the pole for the event.

8. (tie) Tony Stewart

The driver known as “Smoke” tapped out of his Cup Series career after the 2016 season, taking with him three titles and 49 wins.

Only 12 of those wins came during his seven years of competition in the 2010s, but five of those victories occurred over a very important stretch in 2011.

Stewart claimed his third championship that year after he entered the playoffs winless and then won five of the 10 races in the “Chase,” including winning the season finale over Carl Edwards and earning the title via a tiebreaker.

Stewart would miss 26 races from 2013-16 – 10 races shy of a full season – due to injuries and the aftermath of the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy in 2014, but he did enough to earn a spot of recognition.

10. Christopher Bell

 Bell has the distinction of being the only driver on this list who has never made a start in Cup Series.

But Bell, who turned 25 on Dec. 16, has made his mark on NASCAR in a fast and furious manner prior to his rookie season in Cup next year with Leavine Family Racing.

The Oklahoma native has competed in national series from 2015-19. In that time he’s earned 23 national series wins, one Truck Series title and has reached the Championship 4 in all four of his full-time seasons (two each in Xfinity and Trucks).

He won a rookie record seven Xfinity races in 2018 and then topped that by one this year. Where will Bell land on this list in 2029?

Now it’s your turn to vote. Who was the best driver of the 2010s?

and on Facebook

Decade in Review: Most Memorable NASCAR quotes of the 2010s

Leave a comment

NASCAR is a very quotable sport.

With microphones located seemingly everywhere – in the garage, on pit road, in a driver’s helmet and in a pit reporter’s hands – it’s hard to miss a controversial or humorous sound bite.

It’s time to look back at the 10 most memorable quotes from the 2010s, as voted on by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

 

1. “We’ll put it back in the hands of the drivers and we’ll say, ‘Boys, have at it and have a good time'” – Robin Pemberton in the 2010 pre-season.

The 2010’s had barely even started when a sound bite that helped define the first half of the decade was uttered by NASCAR’s then vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton.

The quote by Pemberton was NASCAR’s way of establishing its new approach to how drivers policed themselves on the track. This was put to the test early on in the season when Carl Edwards intentionally spun Brad Keselowski in the Cup race at Atlanta with three laps to go, resulting in Keselowski going airborne, flipping and landing on his roof.

Edwards would be put on probation for three races because of his actions.

Anytime a controversial act happened on the track over the next few years, Pemberton’s quote was quick to come up.

2. “It’s probably not his fault, his wife wears the firesuit in his family and tells him what to do.” – Joey Logano, June 6, 2010

Ten races after the Keselowski-Edwards incident, tensions flared at Pocono Raceway after Joey Logano was spun from contact with Kevin Harvick in the closing laps of the Cup race on the “Tricky Triangle.”

Speaking to the media afterwards, Logano spoke this line that invoked Harvick’s wife, DeLana. The quote led to the Harvicks selling a shirt inspired by it with proceeds going to their charitable foundation.

Nine years later, it came full circle when Logano raced an old Harvick paint scheme in the Southern 500. As part of the announcement, Logano and his wife, Brittany, appeared in a video where Brittany claimed she wore the firesuit in their family.

3. “Is your arm starting to hurt? I bet it’s hot in there. Itch it.” – Crew chief Brian Pattie to Clint Bowyer, Sept. 7, 2013

At 14 words, this is a very loaded quote.

It would come to define “Spingate,” the race manipulation scandal in the 2013 Cup regular season finale at Richmond that cost Michael Waltrip Racing a lot:

A $300,000 fine, 50 point penalties for all of its teams, sponsorship from NAPA Auto Parts and ultimately, helped pave the way for the team to close down after the 2015 season.

4. “He’s just a dipshit! The way he races, I don’t know how he’s ever won a championship. I’m just sick and tired of him.” – Jeff Gordon, Nov. 2, 2014

Jeff Gordon of all people said this.

It came after the 2014 playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway, when contact between Gordon and Brad Keselowski in the closing laps resulted in a cut tire for Gordon, who spun.

Afterward on pit road, following a helpful push of Keselowski by Kevin Harvick, Gordon and Keselowski’s teams engaged in a large scuffle.

Gordon displaying his temper wasn’t new by this point, following his heated confrontation with Jeff Burton at Texas four years earlier.

But imagine the shock to the system had Gordon made a similar statement about a fellow driver during the height of his squeaky-clean “Wonder Boy” days in the late ’90s.

5. “Kyle Busch is an ass.” – Brad Keselowski, Aug. 21, 2010

 2010 was a really quotable year, wasn’t it?

It’s not often you can pinpoint the exact origin point for a decade-defining rivalry, but this notorious quote from Keselowski – which all Bristol night race driver introductions are now compared to – is pretty much it.

Keselowski’s comment was a result of him being upset at Busch over contact between the two drivers in the previous night’s Xfinity Series race.

To say the rivals have been at odds with each other for the ensuing 10 years would be an understatement.

 6. “That’s quintessential NASCAR.” – Brian France, Oct. 19, 2015 on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

NASCAR’s then CEO and Chairman provided his assessment on a late-race incident in the Cup playoff race at Kansas Speedway, which saw Joey Logano make contact with and spin race leader Matt Kenseth with five laps to go.

That’s the contact that led Kenseth to retaliate against Logano a few weeks later at Martinsville, intentionally wrecking Logano while he led and Kenseth was multiple laps down after a wreck.

NASCAR deemed that not “quintessential” and suspended Kenseth for two races.

7. “Hold my watch” – Richard Childress, June 4, 2011

There’s no audio of this quote, which has become legendary in the garage since Childress reportedly uttered it before putting Kyle Busch in a headlock after a Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway.

The incident in question was the culmination of events that included Kevin Harvick and dated back to the 2010 Cup finale in Miami.

But Childress doesn’t dispute that he said it. During a visit to the Dale Jr. Download in April of this year, he even provided the 1970s origin story of why he always takes off his watch before wading into a fight.

“We used to go out to the bars and have a good time and everything,” Childress recalled. “We were up at an old bar at Daytona one night and a big fight broke out. I happened to be in it. I had a Rolex. First Rolex I ever had in my life. I lost it in that fight. Ever since that you always take your watch off.”

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

8. “I don’t know what y’all are whining about. If you don’t like that kind of racing, don’t even watch.” – Kyle Busch, July 1, 2018

After a wild and thrilling conclusion to the 2018 Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson, not everyone was pleased.

Busch, the race winner, ribbed the fans in the stands who booed his victory while also pretending to cry into NBC Sports’ TV cameras.

9. “They’re really good, but they’re really, really lucky, too. Jimmie (Johnson) is a good friend of mine, but there’s no denying how lucky they are. They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass.”– Kevin Harvick, Feb. 21, 2010

Yet another quote from the opening year of the decade. Something was in the water that season.

Kevin Harvick was clearly tired of losing, especially to Jimmie Johnson.

This shot from Harvick came after the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway, which saw him fail to track Johnson down for the lead in the final laps.

Johnson was fresh off his fourth championship in a row and on his way to a fifth. Meanwhile, Harvick was mired in a winless streak dating back to 2007. He’d finally break through seven races later at Talladega and win three times that year.

10. “I’m gonna bust his ass” – Tony Stewart, March 24, 2013

There’s only one quote from the driver nicknamed “Smoke” on this list and it’s a doozy.

Following the dramatic conclusion of the Cup race at Auto Club SpeedwayStewart confronted Joey Logano on pit road and launched a scuffle between their teams because Stewart was furious with the Team Penske driver for blocking Stewart on a restart.

This one line about Logano is the cleanest adult language fit to print from Stewart’s brief exchange with a pit reporter in the garage.

Come back tomorrow for the best drivers of the 2010s.

Now you get the chance to vote. Which of these is your favorite quote of the 2010s?

and on Facebook

Friday 5: Youth movement expanding in NASCAR

Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
1 Comment

While the focus during the offseason is on which drivers will fill what seats in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks, there’s also a lot taking place for younger drivers seeking to reach NASCAR’s top levels someday.

Toyota Racing Development spends the end of the year evaluating talent and seeing what roles those drivers can have in the coming season.

“When I look at kind of that 16- to 21-year old group … there’s some pretty fantastic talent in that group,” Jack Irving, whose duties at Toyota Racing Development include overseeing the organization’s driver development program, told NBC Sports earlier this month. “(Also) we’ve literally tested 14- and 15-year olds that I’m extremely excited about in the same way.”

The question is where might that talent go if it remains in Toyota’s pipeline.

Toyota has five Cup seats with three filled by drivers who competed in the championship race this season — 2019 champion Kyle Busch, runner-up Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin, who placed fourth in the points. Toyota’s other two Cup seats are filled by budding stars Erik Jones (23 years old) and 2020 Cup rookie Christopher Bell (24).

Joe Gibbs Racing’s 2020 Xfinity lineup includes Brandon Jones, who turns 23 in February. This will be his third consecutive season with JGR. Joining him is Riley Herbst, who turns 21 in February, for his first full season with the team, and 19-year-old Harrison Burton for his rookie campaign.

Kyle Busch Motorsports will have 18-year-old Raphael Lessard compete full time in 2020 after running five races for the team this past season. The team also will have 19-year-old Christian Eckes, who won the ARCA title this past season, drive full time. He made eight starts in 2019 and four starts for the organization in 2018. A third truck will feature several drivers. Chandler Smith, who doesn’t turn 18 until June and is limited in what tracks he can run before then, likely will run some races for the team.

Then there’s Derek Kraus, the 18-year-old who won the title in what is now known as the ARCA West Series. There’s also 18-year-old Hailie Deegan, who finished third in points in the ARCA West Series and shows signs of climbing NASCAR’s ranks. And Ty Gibbs, the 17-year-old grandson of car owner Joe Gibbs, who won twice in ARCA and once each in what is now ARCA East and ARCA West Series in 2019. Many others are in the pipeline, which stretches to the formidable Keith Kunz Motorsports midget teams.

As each season nears an end, the work increases for Toyota Racing Development to evaluate drivers and where they will race for next year. The competition can be intense.

“I think there is a point here somewhere quickly where you get pushed pretty hard to start winning and competing,” Irving said, “to compete for top five in all the races and not have wrecked cars and do all these things and then also be a good teammate and a good person and all those kinds of things that you don’t necessarily always talk about that are pretty important for what we do from a structure perspective.”

Another key factor can be how a young driver ends a season, even if it doesn’t end in a championship.

“You typically want to see them under pressure, so the end of the season really does matter in the whole scheme of things,” Irving said. “If they’ve had a tough season, how are they finishing? If they’re having a good season, then how are they finishing?

And there’s more that is examined.

“We typically go through an analytics run through with the group,” Irving said. “A few of us will get together and kind of go through … some of the things from the coaches, some of the things from the engineers who work with them and what they’ve done with the team, so we’ll start talking to the individuals in the team, if it’s the team owner, if it’s crew chief, car chief.”

It’s all about seeking to find the next talent for the Cup Series.

2. New Generation

Based on what driver lineups that are set for next year, the 2020 Daytona 500 could see half the field age 29 and younger.

Drivers who will be age 29 and under as of next year’s Daytona 500 (Feb. 16) and have rides announced are:

Age 22: William Byron, Cole Custer, Quin Houff

Age 23: Erik Jones

Age 24: Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick

Age 25: Christopher Bell

Age 26: Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Bubba Wallace

Age 27: Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon, Kyle Larson

Age 28: Matt DiBenedetto

Age 29: Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Ryan Preece

One also can add Corey LaJoie (age 28), Ross Chastain (27), Parker Kligerman (29) with the expectation they will each be in a Cup car for next year’s season-opening race. That would put the list at 20 drivers age 29 and under in next year’s Daytona 500. And there could be even more, including Daniel Suarez, who turns 28 in January, and John Hunter Nemechek, 22.

Compare that to 2015 when there were 13 drivers age 29 and under in that year’s season opener.

3. 99 Club

Five drivers completed at least 99% of the 10,255 laps run this season in Cup, the first time any driver has reached that mark since 2015.

Joey Logano led the way, completing 99.67% of the laps (10.221). That’s the highest percentage of laps completed by a driver since 2010 when Matt Kenseth ran 99.93% of the laps. Kenseth ran all but eight of the 10,778 laps run that year.

Also completing more than 99% of the laps this Cup season were Paul Menard (99.63%), Ty Dillon (99.18%), champion Kyle Busch (99.14%) and series runner-up Martin Truex Jr. (99.00%).

4. Ticket deals

With all the sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, many tracks also have announced special deals for tickets to NASCAR races this coming season.

NBC Sports’ Daniel McFadin has compiled what deals many tracks have starting today. You can find the information here.

5. Banquet week

The NASCAR Awards Show, which will celebrate Kyle Busch’s championship, takes place next week in Nashville, Tennessee. Festivities will be Dec. 3-5 with the Awards show taking place Dec. 5.

NBCSN will air Burnouts on Broadway at 11:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 4. and replay it at 7 p.m. ET Dec. 5. NBCSN will air the Cup Awards show from 8-10:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 5 with a replay immediately afterward.

The Xfinity Awards show will air from 9-11 p.m. ET on Sunday (Dec. 1) on NBCSN.

Career timeline: Jimmie Johnson through the years

Leave a comment

When Jimmie Kenneth Johnson first competed in motorcycle racing and then off-road truck racing, NASCAR seemed a world away.

But when General Motors executive Herb Fischel convinced Johnson a little over two decades ago that if he wanted to achieve even greater racing success, he had to head to NASCAR — in a Chevrolet, of course. Johnson agreed to try his luck in stock car racing and the rest, as they say, is history.

Even though he was from the West Coast rather than the South where most NASCAR stars back then hailed from, Johnson would go on to become one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history behind the wheel of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

The future Hall of Famer announced Wednesday that he will retire from full-time competition in the NASCAR Cup Series after the 2020 season. Let’s reflect back on some of the highlights of Johnson’s career:

1998 and 1999: Began his initial foray into stock car racing with a two-year stint in the ASA National Tour Series, earning two wins, 17 top 5 and 31 top 10 finishes in 40 combined starts. His first win in a stock car came on June 12, 1999 at Memphis Motorsports Park in the Greased Lightning 200. He dominated the event, leading 156 laps on the .750-mile paved oval. During those same two years, Johnson also dipped his toes in NASCAR racing, competing in eight races in the then-Busch Series for Herzog Motorsports, with a best finish of seventh on July 4, 1999 at The Milwaukee Mile.

2000: Still with Herzog Motorsports, Johnson competed in his first full season in the Busch Series, earning six top 10 finishes, with a best showing of sixth place at South Boston, Michigan and Homestead. But to this day, he’s still remembered by fans for one of the most vicious wrecks of his career, as his No. 92 ran off into the grass at Watkins Glen, vaulted into the air and slammed head-on into the retaining wall after his car suffered brake failure.

2001: In his final season with Herzog Motorsports and also his final full-time season in the Busch Series, Johnson earned his first win (Chicagoland Speedway), four top-five and nine top-10 finishes. Ironically, with all the success he would go on to experience in the Cup Series, Johnson’s win at Chicagoland was – and remains – his only triumph in what is now the Xfinity Series. In the same year, Johnson got his first taste of NASCAR Cup racing, competing in three races for Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, co-owned by Rick Hendrick and Johnson’s new teammate, NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon. It was an auspicious beginning: Johnson finished 25th, 29th and 39th in his three Cup starts.

2002: Johnson exploded in his rookie season in the Cup Series. He began by earning the pole for the Daytona 500, then went on to win the first of what would be 83 career Cup Series wins at his home track, California Speedway (now Auto Club Speedway). He would win two other races (both at Dover, where he would go on to win a career-best 11 times), had six top-five and 21 top-10 finishes and placed fifth in the final standings.

2003: Johnson finishes second in the standings behind Matt Kenseth. Earns three wins.

2004: Johnson finishes second in the standings behind Kurt Busch. Earned eight wins, which would become the second-most victories in a single season in his career. Also experienced one of the most tragic days of his life when, on October 24, Johnson won at Martinsville only to skip any victory celebration when it was learned that a Hendrick Motorsports plane carrying 10 headed for the race, crashed in Southern Virginia.

2005: Wins four races and finishes fifth in the standings.

2006: Johnson begins the season in a big way, earning the first of two career Daytona 500 wins, and then continues on to finish the season by winning his first career Cup championship, capturing five wins, 13 top five and 24 top-10 finishes. He also scores the first of four Brickyard 400 victories.

2007: Johnson wins his second consecutive Cup championship, paced by a single season career-best 10 wins, the only time he has earned double-digit wins in a season.

2008: Johnson wins his third consecutive Cup championship. Earns seven wins, including his second Brickyard 400 victory.

2009: Wins his fourth consecutive Cup championship, breaking Cale Yarborough’s record of three straight Cup titles. Once again earns seven wins, including his third Brickyard 400 triumph. Selected as Male Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press.

2010: Wins his fifth consecutive Cup championship. Earns six wins.

2011: His string of consecutive championships ends, as he has what many consider an off year, finishing sixth in the standings and earning just two wins, the fewest he would earn in a single season until he went winless in both 2018 and 2019.

2012: Finished third in the season standings. Won five races, including his fourth and most recent Brickyard 400 victory.

2013: Earns his second career Daytona 500 win. He also wins the summer race at Daytona for the first and only time in his career. Wins six races and caps it off with his sixth Cup championship.

2014: Wins four races but struggles in the first year of the new NASCAR Cup playoff format, finishing 11th, the first time he’s finished outside the top six in the final standings in his Cup career.

2015: In a similar storyline as the previous season, wins multiple races (five), but struggles in the playoffs and is eliminated in the first round, finishing 10th in the final standings.

2016: Johnson moves into NASCAR legend status when he wins his seventh Cup championship, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Once again earns five wins.

2017: Johnson earns three wins, including his most recent – and 83rd of his career – victory in the Cup Series on June 4. It also extends his record as the winningest Cup driver at Dover International Speedway to 11 wins in his career. He once again struggles to advance in the playoffs and finishes 10th.

2018: For the first time in his full-time career, Johnson goes winless. He earns just two top-five finishes, a career single-season low. Makes the playoffs but is eliminated after the first round and finishes 14th, which was a career-low (until 2019).

2019: For the first time in his career, he competes without crew chief Chad Knaus. They were split after the 2018 season. Johnson fails to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in his career and finishes a career-worst 18th in the standings. His winless streak reaches 95 consecutive races. Johnson announces that the 2020 season will be his last as a full-time driver in the Cup Series.

Two months ago on the Dale Jr. Download, as seen on NBCSN, Johnson gave some hints as to what he may do once his full-time Cup days are over with. Check it out.

*******************************************************************************************

Jimmie Johnson’S CAREER – BY THE NUMBERS

1 – Made his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 7, 2001; he started the race 15th but finished 39th due to being involved in an incident.

4 – Won his first career pole in the Monster Energy Series in his fourth start; the 2002 Daytona 500; he started first but finished 15th.

4 – Number of career Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race wins – series-most.

5 – Only driver in NASCAR National Series history to win five consecutive championships – from 2006-2010.

 7 – Total number of career Monster Energy Series titles – tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the series-most.

11 – Career-most wins in the Monster Energy Series at single track – Dover International Speedway.

11.9 – Career average starting position in the Monster Energy Series – sixth-best among Cup drivers with 600 or more starts.

12.9 – Career average finishing position in the Monster Energy Series – sixth best among Cup drivers with 600 or more starts.

13 – Won his first Monster Energy Series race in just his 13th career start on April 28, 2002 at Auto Club Speedway; he started the race fourth.

Drivers Avg Finish Starts
1 Dale Earnhardt 11.061 676
2 Richard Petty 11.267 1,185
3 Buck Baker 11.374 636
4 Bobby Allison 11.493 718
5 Jeff Gordon 12.509 805
6 Jimmie Johnson 12.896 651

16 – Number of consecutive seasons with wins in the Monster Energy Series (2002-2017).

20 – Number of different tracks he has won at in the Monster Energy Series.

36 – Number of Monster Energy Series career poles – 17th-most all-time.

83 – Number of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career wins – tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough for sixth-most all-time.

227 – Number of Monster Energy Series top-five finishes – 11th-most all-time.

346 – Number of Monster Energy Series races he has led at least one lap – (53.5%).

364 – Number of Monster Energy Series top-10 finished – 10th-most all-time.

651 – Number of Monster Energy Series career starts – 26th-most all-time.

18,834 – Career number of laps led – ninth-most all-time

184,866 – Career number of laps completed – 22nd-most all-time.

Follow @JerryBonkowski