Observations On A Season With A Character All Its Own

By Steve Waid – As it is with any NASCAR Sprint Cup season, 2014 provided its share of surprises, achievements and disappointments. I might add that with the new Chase format, we had more of the aforementioned than in most other years.

I’m sure you have your thoughts on the season. If you will allow, I’d like to pass along a few of my opinions.

—- I think it is remarkable how close @RyanJNewman came to making NASCAR history.

Newman went winless in 2014, yet the Richard Childress Racing driver came within 0.5-second of becoming the first driver ever to win a championship without winning a race. When the Chase started after the Sept. 26 race at Richmond, Newman stood 16th in points – the last man to advance.

Move on? Newman? He figured to be the first man to go.

But he was ninth in points after the first elimination round, comfortably among the 12 drivers who advanced. Three races later he was third in points and joined the eight drivers who moved forward.

Now, we thought, his time has come. There is no way Newman is going to advance to the round of four – those drivers who will contend for the title at Homestead. But Newman was like a bad cold. He would not go away. Along with @DennyHamlin, @JoeyLogano and @KevinHarvick, he was one of the four title contenders.

And darned if he didn’t nearly pull it off. Harvick won, of course, and is the 2014 champion. But runnerup Newman will stand as No.2 on the podium in Las Vegas, by far the loftiest status of his career.

Newman thought he could get it done – maybe.

“If I was closer on the last lap I would have thought about it, but I just couldn’t keep up with Kevin,” he said. “We were good at the end but we weren’t quite good enough. We made a lot of adjustments on the race car. There’s a lot to be said about that; the guys did an awesome job – all year.”

I know that to have a champion who hasn’t won a race is unsettling to many fans and competitors. I can understand that. But what Newman did proved one thing about this Chase and championship racing in general.

Consistency of performance pays off. It does now and it always has – and it has never mattered what type of point system or Chase format has been used. Even if a driver doesn’t win, if he constantly piles up good finishes and avoids the kind of trouble that leads to double-digit endings and DNFs, he is going to be a contender.

In today’s Chase system, that rewards victory, Newman so ably proved that.

—- Hendrick Motorsports dominated most of the regular season but when the Chase began, well, the wheels came off.

All four Hendrick drivers – @JeffGordonWeb, @JimmieJohnson, @DaleJr. and @KaseyKahne – made the Chase. But thereafter, their performances were largely disappointing. They all got through the first elimination round but the second was their Waterloo.

The first race was at Kansas. Kahne finished 22nd, Johnson 40th after being in a multicar wreck and Earnhardt Jr. 39th following mechanical problems. In this Chase, such finishes are nearly lethal – and it certainly does not care how they came about.

All three drivers were in danger of elimination. They had two more races in which to advance to the round of eight. A win for any of them would get the job done. It didn’t happen and three quarters of Hendrick’s team was gone. What did I say about consistency? This was a good example of what happens when teams don’t have it.

—- Speaking of Hendrick, Gordon represented, I think, the most disappointed and frustrated driver in the Chase – largely because he failed to win a fifth championship through no fault of his own.

Entering the season’s 34th race, at Texas and in the Eliminator Round from which only four drivers would advance, Gordon stood first in points. But late in the race on a restart, Brad @Keselowski decided to make a move on Gordon’s low side. No matter how it happened, contact was made with Gordon’s Chevrolet. The right side front tire was cut and Gordon went into a spin.

He finished 29th and, as you know, was so furious he confronted Keselowski in the pits and a scrum ensued. Gordon came to Homestead in fourth place and 10 points behind Newman. The Hendrick driver did all he could to win and ended up second to Harvick.

That should have been enough. But Newman, realizing his point standing, nudged @KyleLarsonRacin out of the way on the last lap to finish 11th. Newman admitted he did it. He said he wasn’t proud of it but he had to do it. Larson wasn’t happy, but he understood.

Gordon failed to enter the championship round by one point – think of it, one point. I can’t imagine how distressed a driver would feel if he lost his chance at a championship by a single point – and through no actions of his own.

Fate just deals a cruel blow from time to time. And that’s what it did to Gordon. This is racing. This type of thing has happened before – and it will happen again.

—- I have a few more thoughts to come. Unless you tell me to cease and desist, of course.



By Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in motor sports journalism since 1972, the year he first started covering NASCAR, when he started his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. From there Waid spent time at the Roanoke Times & World as well as NASCAR Scene, where he was the executive editor for 10 years. After retiring in 2010 he became the Vice President of Unplugged Auto Group for its website, and has now joined POPULAR SPEED as an editor and columnist. Waid has won numerous writing awards and other such accolades. In January of 2014 he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.

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