NASCAR awards 2016: Danica Patrick underwhelms as teammates excel
Recapping the drivers who overachieved and underachieved, along with the best and worst paint schemes from the 2016 NASCAR season.
SB Nation concludes our multi-part review of the recently completed 2016 NASCAR season by analyzing the drivers who overachieved and underachieved, the best and worst paint schemes, and the quotes that succinctly encapsulate the past year.
When Roush Fenway Racing promoted Chris Buescher to the Sprint Cup Series by farming the 23-year-old rookie out to Front Row Motorsports he faced muted expectations. Not because the reigning Xfinity Series champion didn’t possess talent, more that FRM possessed neither the resources nor equipment to allow Buescher to showcase his ability.
Nevertheless, Buescher still turned in a fine rookie season. He scored a weather-aided victory at Pocono Raceway in August, then solidified his Chase playoff spot three weeks later with a hard-fought fifth-place effort at Bristol Motor Speedway. That he did all this with a team which hadn’t previously posted a top-10 finish on a non- restrictor-plate underscores the accomplishment.
Others deserving mention: Austin Dillon; Kyle Larson; Michael McDowell
Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart won a combined six races with each earning a Chase berth. Such success not only demonstrates SHR’s proficiency in constructing consistently competitive cars that its drivers can utilize to their advantage, but also reflects Danica Patrick’s inability to even come close to replicating her teammates’ performance.
As for the fourth consecutive year, Patrick failed to win a race or even come close to doing so. More telling, she didn’t record a single top-10 finish for the first time in her career, nor did she provide any indication she’s close to evolving past being a middle of the pack driver.
Others deserving mention: Kasey Kahne; Clint Bowyer
Best Paint Scheme
1. Every one of the Southern 500 throwback schemes, as all involved again did an excellent job paying tribute to the sport’s roots with an array of classic designs. Of particular note, Stewart’s red and gold Coca-Cola livery replicating NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison’s scheme from the early 1970s, which was sublime in every way.
2. Team owner Roger Penske is a stickler for wanting his cars be clean with minimal clutter, thus allowing the sponsor’s logo to be crisply visible. That approach is evident on the Miller Lite scheme Brad Keselowski used in a majority of races this season, which featured a simplistic white base with blue lettering and red stenciling.
3. If your sponsor is the automotive painting business, having a distinct vibrant paint scheme is a must. And with its bright orange and yellow hue, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s primary Axalta design did just that.
Worst Paint Scheme
1. Chase Elliott ran quite few outstanding designs in 2016, however the Sun Energy 1 scheme he raced four times is not among them. Because of its multitude of colors along with the incorporation of flames, the lettering on the car gets lost. A combination making it hard to distinguish exactly which company is sponsoring the No. 24 Chevrolet — the antithesis of what a paint scheme is supposed to do.
2. When Anheuser-Busch switched the brand it promoted on Harvick’s car from Budweiser to Busch it smartly utilized a classic design featuring white, blue and gold coloring. But as a one-off for the fall Charlotte race, Anheuser-Busch decided to change from a scheme that harkened back to Cale Yarborough’s car from the late 1970s to something resembling a Big Buck Hunter video game console. This is not a compliment.
3. Basic schemes are good, as too often teams and companies overthink how a car should appear. There is such a thing as too understated. And that is the issue with Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota for much of the year, with its black primer base and rudimentary lettering giving it an unfinished look.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how many more $35,000 rules changes I want to make. I’m glad that something has been done.”
–Stewart reacting to NASCAR fining for questioning its lug nut policy, yet days later amending its rule as he suggested but keeping his fine in place.
“It’s the dumbest damn thing I’ve ever been a part of. It’s the most screwed up All-Star race I’ve ever been a part of.”
–Stewart on an All-Star Race format that left everyone — including officials — bewildered on the exact running order.
“Obviously, they’re an edgy brand. They’re a fun brand. They get at a millennial audience in a different way clearly than we’ve ever been associated with, particularly at this level, and they know what they’re doing. This is their DNA
“They understand how to reach across and excite our core audience and help us deliver on a new audience, and that was very exciting for us.”
–NASCAR CEO and chairman Brian France announcing Monster Energy as the new Cup Series entitlement sponsor.
“Certainly, he’s a four-time champion with 93 wins, he’s not a bad person to think about to put in the car. … Obviously when Dale [Earnhardt Jr.] is ready, that’s his car to get back into. But if Dale can’t go next week, Jeff Gordon will be the driver at Indianapolis.”
–Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt reveling Jeff Gordon would come out of retirement to fill-in for the injured Earnhardt, who would go on to miss the entire second half of the season with a concussion.
“I will never be the King or the Intimidator. I’m just a guy from California who always wanted to race.”
–Jimmie Johnson on winning a seventh series championship and tying the record shared by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.