NASCAR awards 2016: Tony Stewart’s final win before retirement creates lasting memory
The best races, the worst races, the unforgettable and surreal from the 2016 NASCAR season.
Continuing our multi-part review of the recently completed 2016 NASCAR season, SB Nation recaps the best and worst Sprint Cup races, along with the indelible and surreal moments of the past year.
Whether it’s “The Fight” in the 1979 Daytona 500 or the 1992 season-finale that marked Richard Petty’s final start, Jeff Gordon’s first start, and a titanic championship upset, great NASCAR races tend to get lionized where they become almost mythological in nature.
With time and some perspective the 2016 championship-deciding race and how the final 10 laps played out will in all likelihood one day find itself on the same list as the legendary events above. The high drama featured title contenders Carl Edwards and Joey Logano driving aggressively and without restraint culminating with Edwards slamming into the wall after contact with Logano. Edwards then taking a deliberate long walk to Logano’s pit stall where he commended Logano’s gusto. An exhibition of sportsmanship that will long be remembered and shown on replays for years to come.
Of course, the night was ultimately about Jimmie Johnson winning a record-tying seventh title in remarkable fashion; a historic accomplishment representing the signature moment for an all-time great driver.
Others deserving mention: Daytona 500; Food City 500 (Bristol); Auto Club 400 (Fontana); AAA 400 (Dover); Toyota Save Mart 350 (Sonoma); Goody’s Fast Relief 500 (Martinsville).
The Brickyard 400 is one of NASCAR’s four major races, and to win at an iconic venue like Indianapolis Motor Speedway is without question a considerable career achievement. What the 2.5-mile track is not, however, is a proper showcase for stock car racing; its turns too flat and lacking the necessary banking for drivers to race side-by-side.
Those truths were again on full display in July during a race that could’ve been used to put an insomniac to sleep. Kyle Busch was rarely challenged en route to winning for a second straight year, leading 149 of 170 laps and routinely building sizeable gaps over the field. And this just wasn’t a driver and team experiencing a special day, as behind Busch everyone largely ran single-file throughout the afternoon. That this all unfolded before a race-low crowd estimated at 50,000 only further emphasized the harsh truth that NASCAR and Indianapolis are simply not meant to be.
Others deserving mention: Duck Commander 500 (Texas); GoBowling.com 400 (Kansas); Coca-Cola 600 (Charlotte); Citizen Soldier 400 (Dover).
Tony Stewart’s final campaign as a NASCAR driver began ominously when a January all-terrain vehicle accident saw him suffer a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra, causing him to miss the first eight races of the season. Having already been uncompetitive for the past two-plus years, there were misgivings whether the three-time Cup Series would experience another moment in the sun before retirement.
Any such doubt was erased when in a classic performance, a snarling Stewart seemingly willed himself to victory on the Sonoma Raceway road course. The highlight occurred when second-place Stewart shoved race-leader Denny Hamlin out of the way entering the final corner coming to the checkered flag, then body-slammed Hamlin into the outside wall to solidify the win, which snapped an 84-race drought.
Others deserving mention: Johnson winning a seventh Cup title; Edwards’ failed attempt to block Logano, which cost him the championship; Martin Truex Jr.’s emotion in victory lane after winning at Charlotte in May; Matt Kenseth crashing out of the lead with two laps remaining in the Chase’s semi-final round elimination race, resulting in his elimination; crewmembers from various teams high-fiving Stewart as he prepared to take the green for his final NASCAR start.
1. Lug nuts and everything related to the controversial rule NASCAR enacted prior to the season, then later amended twice. That includes Stewart lashing out against the policy, which earned him a $35,000 fine, and four crew chiefs getting suspended for various lug nut-related violation.
2. The introduction of the word “encumbered” into the sport’s lexicon.
3. Ryan Newman lashing out against Stewart following an incident between the two, by saying Stewart is “bipolar” and has anger management issues, then caps the rant off with a reference to a 2014 accident where Stewart mistakenly struck and killed a driver who was walking on the track during a sprint car race in Upstate New York
4. The All-Star Race scoring snafu that turned what is supposed to be a marquee event into a confusing, headache-inducing mess for drivers, crew chiefs, NASCAR officials and anyone watching at the track or at home.
5. A pickup truck with a grill sitting in its bed catches on fire in Kentucky Speedway’s spectator parking lot mid-race.