The long NASCAR season is over and provided much to discuss in terms of both good and bad on a variety of different levels.
Who had the best and worst paint schemes? What about the best and worst races? These are the questions that were presented to members of the Popular Speed staff earlier in the week and the categories to our annual Year End Awards have been provided below.
Check out the selections from Matt Weaver, Kelly Crandall and Kayla Darrow PLUS your own in the comments section below.
See More: NASCAR Chase Predictions Revisited
The best overall race of the season
Weaver: The Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway was everything fans and NASCAR executives wanted it to be. The Championship Four all lined up nose-to-tail in the closing laps and the winner of the race was simultaneously crowned the Sprint Cup champion. Beyond the context of a championship race, Homestead was equally dramatic as a standalone race as well.
Homestead has been great since the reconfigured racing surface started to age in recent seasons — and in man ways has become the Darlington of South Beach.
Crandall: The Daytona 500 as it started the season on a high note. Not only was it because the sport’s most popular driver who ended up in Victory Lane, but the racing following the rain delay into primetime was phenomenal. Probably some of the best restrictor plate racing we have seen in recent years because the intensity level was pegged not only to outrun the rain, but lock a spot in the Chase and be the next winner of the sport’s biggest race.
Darrow: Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway. Yes, it was the most recent race, but the racing was phenomenal and had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. We went into it not having a clear idea on who the winner would be and stayed that way until the checkered flag waved. What’s not to love about that?
The worst overall race of 2014
Weaver: The Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway is once again my worst race of the season and has been every year except for 2013 when it was run under the heat of day. Like many intermediate speedways, Kentucky just doesn’t produce exciting racing beneath the lights and with this current competition package. There’s no way to run this race during the day annually with north Kentucky temperatures reaching 100 degrees but I sure wish we could.
Crandall: The July New Hampshire race. It wasn’t only because Brad Keselowski dominated and gave no one else a shot, but behind him there wasn’t a whole lot of action going on either. Besides Morgan Shepherd taking out Joey Logano and that story faded quickly.
Darrow: FedEx 400. We all know Jimmie Johnson is a threat to win whenever NASCAR visits Dover and this race exemplified that in the worst way. Johnson led almost 300 of the 400 laps and was never truly challenged by anyone else in the field. No excitement there.
The best overall finish of the season
Weaver: By now, everyone knows just how much I despise contrived late race cautions and consecutive green-white-checkered finishes. Even when they happen naturally, it just feels cheap, taking a 500-mile race and deciding it by a series of two-lap restarts.
But in the case of the AAA Texas 500 — it worked, especially as the cautions were natural. Most importantly, as the middle stage of the Eliminator Round, it was such a pivotal race in the overall championship picture. Jimmie Johnson won but contact between Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowsi on the penultimate restart has had repercussions that are still being felt during the post-season.
Crandall: The spring Richmond race as the final six laps of that event were some of the best racing all season. Five drivers who didn’t have enough racetrack to or laps to continue beating and banging and swapping the lead.
Darrow: Brad Keselowski’s GEICO 500 win is my best finish of the season. Keselowski went into this event needing to win in order to move on in the Chase and managed to do just that. Talladega is always a wild card when it comes to racing, so seeing Keselowski pull of this Game 7 moment when he needed to was just so exciting.
The top news story of 2014
Weaver: The fallout from the Tony Stewart incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park continues to be felt today. It was a major tragedy that impacted lives — both personally and professionally. My best thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the families of Kevin Ward Jr., Tony Stewart and everyone else affected by the events that took place.
Crandall: The Chase, and not Chase Elliott although he had a spotlight on him this year as well, but the new Chase format. Love it or hate it, is what everyone in the sport was talking about. From how it was going to play out, to those who were going to be in, we never knew what was going to happen next or what to expect.
Darrow: Tony Stewart’s Canandaigua Motorsports Park incident. It’s undeniably the biggest story to have hit NASCAR this year. While it wasn’t a NASCAR event, the tragedy did involve one of our sport’s biggest stars and brought the sport a lot of scrutiny. It showed me a lot about how the media handles stories like this, but also how the NASCAR community comes together during tough times.
The top rivalry of 2014.
Weaver: Brad Keselowski vs. The World. It’s a familiar story at this point. Keselowski feels as though the veteran garage attempted to hold him and his contemporaries back over the past decade. The end result has been the 2012 Sprint Cup champion publicly feuding with veterans Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon — the latter four all this season.
Keselowski believes the veterans would have him change into someone he isn’t and that those changes caused him to miss the Chase last season. He returned to form both on the track and the public light in 2014 and shook of the political landscape of the Sprint Cup Series in the process.
Crandall: Brad Keselowski versus everyone. There were no shortage of storylines and memorable quotes from this season.
Darrow: Jeff Gordon vs. Brad Keselowski. This could have easily been Brad Keselowski versus Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart, but I feel that the Gordon/Keselowski feud was the strongest one. Their feud showed how passionate these drivers are about their championship chances and how much pressure the new Chase formate put on them. I doubt fans will ever forget that Texas pit road brawl.
The dumbest move of the year
Weaver: Brad Keselowski was six laps down with 52 laps remaining in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway and yet still trying to race for the win. Instead, he made a move at the front of the field that triggered a 12-car crash that also included Trevor Bayne, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, polesitter Brian Scott, Alex Bowman and Tony Stewart. On one hand, you can’t fault a racer for driving for all he has to get back on the lead lap but on the other hand, you’re just not making up six laps in 52 laps.
That was kind of bone-headed by definition.
Crandall: Morgan Shepherd and Joey Logano at New Hampshire. It is hard to believe that Shepherd did what he did on purpose and everyone will have their own opinions on if he should have been in the way, but it was what he said afterward about the accident and Logano that takes the cake this year.
Darrow: GEICO 500 Qualifying. I’m still confused over what happened here. Changes to the way NASCAR qualifies at restrictor plates resulted in Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier missing the race, which just seems so absurd to me. Part of the blame can be attributed to NASCAR switching the format during the season, but I think part of it also rests on the drivers and teams for always trying to have the smartest strategy in qualifying. It clearly backfired here.
The most memorable crash of the season
Weaver: Past halfway and with rain approaching Daytona International Speedway, drivers were quite frankly driving a little over their heads approaching lap 100 of the Coke Zero 400 in July. Three cars near the front tangled near the front, ultimately claiming 26 cars and turned Kyle Busch upside down. It began when Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne bounced off each other and hooked Joey Logano sideways.
It was one of the more impressive visuals of recent memory and a type of ordeal that can only happen in restrictor plate racing.
Crandall: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Texas fireball, which also ruined the day of his teammate, Jimmie Johnson.
Darrow: Sylvania 300’s Chase-Filled Wreck. The wreck at New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s fall Chase race that included a handful of Chase drivers has to be one of the top wrecks of the year. Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth were all swept up in a wreck that started Kenseth got loose while racing Jamie McMurray. The wreck certainly shook up the standings and set up next week’s Dover race to be an intense one.
The driver who did the most he could with what he had
Weaver: Ryan Newman took a No. 31 team that finished outside of the top-20 in points last season and took it all the way to the Championship Four and one or two circumstances out of the championship. Sure, Newman finished the season without a victory but he posted 16 top-10s which was 10 more than what Jeff Burton earned with the same team and crew chief in that car a season ago. Newman is the obvious pick for this section.
Crandall: AJ Allmendinger. There were certainly hard times but for the most part, the 47 team ran equal to and sometimes better than where they should have. Some might consider winning a road course race expected, but it was still their first career win and Allmendinger’s numbers this season were almost good enough to top the organization’s best from its previous drivers.
Darrow: Kyle Larson. The newly-crowned Rookie of the Year has to be one of the biggest surprises of the year. The rookie came in with a lot of hype surrounding him and managed to live up to most of it. Chip Ganassi Racing has not performed as well as they would have hoped in past years with Juan Pablo Montoya racing the No. 42 Target Chevrolet. However, with Larson the car, the team made some waves in the series and already look like a contender for the Chase in 2015.
The driver who did the least with the most
Weaver: Ricky Stenhouse. Look, I know Roush-Fenway Racing hit a low point this season on the engineering front but it’s remarkable that Stenhouse, a two-time Nationwide Series champion, would finish 27th in points with only one top-5 and five top-10s. This is even more stunning considering that Stenhouse was reunited with his Nationwide championship winning crew chief, Mike Kelley. With Chris Buescher making waves in NNS this season, Stenhouse may be racing for his job in 2015.
Crandall: Martin Truex Jr. For whatever reason, a year removed from nearly winning races and being a part of the Chase, the 78 team couldn’t get anything going with its new driver. On the bright side, things started to turn around very late in the season and will hopefully lead to a better 2015.
Darrow: Kasey Kahne. Kasey Kahne just couldn’t seem to find the success his Hendrick Motorsports teammates had in the 2014 season. He barely made the Chase with a last minute win at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Even then, he just couldn’t find that spark to be truly competitive in the 2014 season.
BEST PAINT SCHEME
The best designed car of 2014
Weaver: Jeff Gordon paint schemes are always a treat and his Pepsi with Real Sugar scheme from Daytona in July was one of the No. 24’s best yet.
Crandall: Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Superman
Darrow: Kyle Busch’s Skittles Toyota. I’m obsessed with Skittles, so seeing Kyle Busch race a Skittles car was awesome. No brainer here.
WORST PAINT SCHEME
The ugliest livery of 2014
Weaver: Leavine Family Racing is the one team that managed to replace their hideous unsponsored entry from 2013 with an even uglier sponsored car. I love that team and their efforts to build something in NASCAR but surely there is an intern nerd with a background in graphic design that is willing to give them some tips … right?
Crandall: Kyle Busch: stripped Interstate Batteries car. This car ran at Michigan and Daytona this year, and while the colors were great, the design made it hard to look at.
Darrow: Joey Logano’s Pennzoil Ultimate Platinum Ford. I hated it. The colors looked weird together and the car did not look flashy at all.
YOUR TURN: Make your selections for our 2014 NASCAR Awards by leaving your picks in the comments section below!