From where this observer sits, there’s no such thing as a “good” year or a “bad” year; there are just years. Each year brings its share of events- some we would describe as good, some we would characterize as bad, and in some cases, what I might call good, you may think otherwise. One fan’s triumph is another fan’s travesty.
Regardless- 2015 brought its share of things that had never happened before. A NASCAR Sprint Cup champion was crowned that had missed almost a third of the season’s schedule due to injury. A four-time champion’s quest for a fifth title went down to the last race of his career. 2015 also marked the return of a fan favorite event, a feud featuring two unlikely combatants, and one of the better seasons a driver has had in a non-championship year. A beloved broadcaster died, a former champion was suspended, and a team closed up shop for good.
Opinions may vary, but in the opinion of yours truly, here are eight of the top 15 NASCAR stories of 2015, in reverse order:
15. Steve Byrne Dies- though by no means an old man, NASCAR broadcaster Steve Byrne left behind a legacy in reporting excellence. It’s rare to find a member of the media as widely loved and respected as Byrne. He won’t be remembered as a funny man, he won’t be remembered trademark phrases or for being particularly colorful. Here’s what he’ll be remembered as: a true professional. In a day where too much emphasis is place on style over substance, Byrne understood what it really meant to be a reporter. To record what you see. What the television networks need is not more fancy graphics, displays or charismatic personalities in the booth. What they need is more guys like Steve Byrne.
14. Junior Wins at Talladega, Daytona- Some say winning races at restrictor plate tracks is luck, but some drivers sure get lucky at the plate tracks……a lot. Remember when Dale Earnhardt Jr. practically owned Talladega over a decade ago? NASCAR’s favorite son recaptured some of that old magic in the spring race. In July, Earnhardt won the 400 at Daytona, a track forever synonymous with his family name. It wasn’t Dale’s best season, but it was a good one on and off the track as one of NASCAR’s most eligible bachelor’s announced his engagement to Amy Reimann.
13. Edwards Maiden Voyage at Joe Gibbs Racing– While Carl Edwards’ departure from Roush Racing was disappointing to the Blue Oval set, the move paid off. While not necessarily a historic season, the effervescent Missourian was hardly a flop- winning the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500 at Darlington. At season’s end, Edwards was fifth in the season standings.
12. Michael Waltrip Racing Closes Its Doors- In roughly a decade of racing, MWR left its mark on the sport. While critics will no doubt point to the scandals they were embroiled in- the illegal fuel additive before the 2007 Daytona 500 and “Spingate” at Richmond a couple of years ago, they also had successes. They helped Toyota gain a footing in NASCAR, and Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., and Brian Vickers all enjoyed successes while racing for one of NASCAR’s most colorful characters.
11. Low Down Force Package- Hey, when a downforce package makes for good racing at Kentucky, you know you’ve got something. The package featuring a 3.5 inch spoiler, a .25-inch front leading splitter edge and 33-inch wide radiator pan played to rave reviews with the drivers and now will be featured at all tracks except for the restrictor plate tracks. At those tracks, there will be other adjustments made to the packages.
10. Joey Logano Races Forward- Proving that his six win season in 2014 was no flash in the pan, the one-time racing wunderkind cemented his name in the history books by winning the Daytona 500 at the season’s outset. He also won three races in a row in the Chase, which if not for the feud with Matt Kenseth, may have put Logano in a position to win a championship at the ripe old age of 25. Unfortunately, the controversy generated from his racing with Kenseth will be as much a part of the memories of 2015 as his racing prowess
9. The “Real” Southern 500 Returns- For the first time since 2003, the Southern 500- a signature NASCAR event- ran on Labor Day weekend. Doing so at other venues at other points on the calendar was like celebrating Christmas in August. NASCAR made this one right in 2015, and the event did not disappoint.
8. Martin Truex Jr.- Racing for a single car operation based in Denver, Colorado, Martin Truex Jr.- something of a NASCAR journeyman- was an everyman’s champion in 2015. He picked up an emotional win in Pocono in June, and made he final four in the Chase, a product as much of his consistency as his victory. All this occurred against the backdrop of his girlfriend’s battle with ovarian cancer. Not only did the quest of Truex provide the sport with a feel good story, it also put behind him the pain induced by losing his ride (through no fault of his own) after the “Spingate” controversy at Richmond in 2013.
Tomorrow-we’ll bring you Part II, the second part of our top 15 NASCAR stories of 2015.