As 2011 ends and we begin 2012; here at SportsRantz.com we like to recognize the Top 10 Moments in the 2011 NASCAR season voted on by the SportsRantz NASCAR Fan Council and our NASCAR staff writers. So lets take a walk down memory lane and relive some of the best moments in NASCAR’s 2011 season.
10. Two-Car Tandem Racing – The two car tandem racing debuted this season and well it caused quite the controversy between fans, owners and drivers. The tandem racing made enemies of a lot of drivers throughout the season but once you got paired up with the right pusher..well we know how it turned out.
9. Taking the Flag – Brad Keselowski endured a horrific, painful crash during a testing session at Road Atlanta. The driver tweeted photos of his broken ankle, then days later put on a brace and took on the always-challenging Pocono Raceway. Not only did he stay in his car for the entire race, he also went on to win the event in a remarkable and enchanting performance.
8. Running Dry in Charlotte – Dale Earnhardt Jr. worked diligently to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race this season. He came awfully close in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He led the race, taking the white flag, but ran out of fuel on the backstretch. He was riding through the final turns when Kevin Harvick slipped by to get the win, breaking the hearts of Earnhardt Jr.’s legion of loyal fans.
7. From Rookies to Champions – Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought a new era of young, driven drivers to the NASCAR ranks. Their titles share the No. 7 moment of the year.Dillon stirred the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, driving the No. 3 to two victories and the title as well as earning the series most popular driver honor Stenhouse tore through the Nationwide ranks. Driving his Roush Fenway Racing car to a significant lead in the title race, he won two races and amassed a stellar 26 top-10 finishes in 34 races.
6. Critical Change in Points – NASCAR officials changed more than even they might have envisioned on Jan. 26, 2011. That’s when the sanctioning body announced the new points structure that separated positions by a mere point and made 48 points the maximum a team could earn in a race. That laid the foundation for the most thrilling Chase to date, for Carl Edwards to enter the season finale with a three-point lead, for Tony Stewart to win the race and force the tiebreaker and for the win total, which NASCAR had set out to emphasize, to determine the 2011 champ. Turns out that day back in January was quite a moment for NASCAR CEO Brian France.
5. Bash Brothers, oh wait.. the Busch Brothers Troubles – Kyle Busch didn’t enjoy a season filled with all positive highlights. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. in a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, ending Hornaday’s shot at the title and landing himself a severe penalty. Busch was parked for the weekend, spending the Sprint Cup race on the pit box watching Michael McDowell drive his car, then sponsor M&Ms pulled off the car for the final two races of the year. Kyle wasn’t alone in drawing penalties from NASCAR, though. Older brother Kurt Busch chastised his team on radio and had a pair of confrontations with media members. The final came in the season finale, after which he was fined $50,000 for an inappropriate gesture and what the sanctioning body deemed disrespect toward a media member after a fan video of his tirade hit YouTube. He parted ways with Penske Racing in early December.
4. Mr. Rowdy Busch Lands 100 – Kyle Busch marked his NASCAR season the same way he has for years – with lots of trips to Victory Lane. Busch moved among the all-time greats, becoming just the third NASCAR driver to snare 100 wins in the top three series. With his win in the Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Busch hit the mark. He also tied the all-time Nationwide wins record of 49. At the time, he also had 22 wins in Sprint Cup and 29 in the Truck series.
3. Stands Alone at 85 – Jeff Gordon etched his name into another piece of NASCAR history and further bolstered his status as one of the all-time greats this season. Gordon stormed to victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway, not only improving his standing for the year, but also taking his 85th career NASCAR Cup win. That broke him free of a tie with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison on NASCAR’s all-time wins list and gave him sole possession of third. He now ranks behind only Richard Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson (105 wins) on that list.
2. Trevor Bayne Wins Daytona 500 – A day after turning 20, a little-known driver took a legendary team to a new level of glory. Bayne made his debut in Sprint Cup racing at Daytona International Speedway in the season-opening Daytona 500. Driving a limited schedule for the long-running Wood Brothers Racing team, he not only made the race, but pulled off the stunning upset. He charmed a NASCAR nation and opened the season in stellar form for the No. 2 moment of the season. Bayne’s win marked the first of many first-time winners in the 2011 season.
1. The Epic Down to the Wire Battle – Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards embodied everything that a championship should be. They battled to the wire – including in the season finale, where aggressive driving and daring strategy netted Stewart the race win and the title in a tiebreaker scenario. Edwards was calm and collected throughout the Chase, steadily reeling off top finishes and posting a worst finish of 11th. Stewart was all-out, winning five of the 10 Chase races, including that riveting season finale. The moment of the year was unquestionably the closing segment of that Homestead race. With Stewart gambling on fuel strategy and making three-wide passes at will with Edwards chasing him down. It was an epic, riveting moment in NASCAR – and one that fans will remember for years to come.
Grading 2018′s New Driver/ Team Pairings – Alex Bowman/ Hendrick Motorsports
Undeniably the apple of an entire nation’s eye for over two decades, Dale Earnhardt Jr poignantly announced in the spring of 2017 he would step away from driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the end of the 2017 season.
Once the initial shock value wore off, reality set in. Who could possibly fill the shoes of the sport’s most popular driver? Dale Jr’s lasting impression on legions of fans young and old is unparalleled. Ultimately the conundrum of the century would centre around who might fill the gargantuan shoes little E would leave behind.
Dale Jr’s departure from Hendrick Motorsports left one the sport’s most coveted rides up for grabs. Immediately the rumour mill was set ablaze with potential candidates loyal Dale Jr supporters fancied. Following three months of intense speculation, Rick Hendrick would reveal Dale Jr’s replacement in late July 2017.
Next man up for the #88 team a tall lanky fella from Tucson Arizona. Chances are y’all probably remember him as the kid that subbed for Dale Jr while he recovered from concussion-like symptoms that kept him from the seat of the Nationwide Chevrolet in the fall of 2016.
Certainly no stranger to the Monster Energy Cup Series (Made 81 Career starts from 2014-2016), Alex Bowman makes his triumphed return as a full time driver on the circuit for the first time in nearly two years. Driving the #88 car for Hendrick Motorsports axiomatically elevates Bowman from enchanting underdog to proverbial impact player. No longer a low man on the totem pole expeditious results at HMS would give credence to an emerging young star hoping for a rebirth following past failures with BK Racing & Tommy Baldwin Racing.
Thrust into a precarious position at the age of 21, Alex Bowman exhibited incredible poise in the face of adversity. Visibly Alex was not equipped for the competitive environment that cup racing bestowed upon him back in 2014. One quality season (2013 – 2 top 5’s, 6 top 10’s 2 poles, 11th in the driver standings) in the Xfinity Series cannot enumerate impending success on the other side.
Instead of licking his wounds Bowman bided his time wisely eventually earning the opportunity to sub for Dale Jr in the fall of 2016. What could have easily morphed into catastrophic gaffe #3 for Bowman positively altered his career saving him from infinite anonymity.
In the 10 races (2016) Alex piloted the #88 car he made quite an accounting for himself (3 top 10’s, 1 pole) earning the respect and confidence of both Mr. Hendrick and Dale Jr.
The simple formula for success in 2018 relies squarely on the shoulders of Alexander Bowman.
Bowman’s familiarity with crew chief Greg Ives and the entire #88 team perpetuates some of the chemistry established back in 2016. A contingent of smart fans out there including myself firmly believe Alex Bowman was on his way to capturing the checked flag at his home track(Phoenix) in November of 2016. On this day Bowman dazzled, starting the race from the pole ultimately leading 194 laps on his way to a career best 6th place finish.
Even though the former self-proclaimed bad luck Bowman left the desert without the checked flag, indisputably he walked away a winner. Bowman’s courageous showing converted the cynics into believers. Without this fine performance in the bag Bowman could have found himself easily lost in the shuffle never to be heard from again.
Perseverance spearheaded the rise of Bowman mania. The whimsical wave of momentum Bowman’s been on since that race at Phoenix spilled over into 2017. Bowman turned heads in February finishing third in the Clash at Daytona, once again piloting the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet. He would also capture his first career Xfinity Series victory at Charlotte in the fall of 2017 driving for Chip Ganassi.
Perceptibly this young buck is completely equipped for the fate that awaits him once the green flag drops on the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series at Daytona in February.
Rick Hendrick has all the confidence in the world in Bowman’s capabilities. Mr. H could have taken the high road and hired an established veteran driver, instead trusting Bowman’s youthful exuberance lets the entire racing world know he’s committed for the long haul.
Alex Bowman has the credentials to resuscitate Rick Hendrick’s anaemic #88 team from the ashes. Fresh blood can unite an entire nation of fans that are starving for a breath of fresh air.
Don’t Be Dale Jr, Be Alex Bowman. That’s paramount.
Alex Bowman has an entire nation on his side. So watcha gonna do when Bowmanmania runs wild on you?
Final grade – B
Photo courtesy of Autoweek
Grading 2018′s New Driver/ Team Pairings – Aric Almirola/SHR
Following a disappointing 2017 campaign (29 starts, o wins, 3top 5’s, 6 top 10’s 29th in the driver standings) the former Fresh Prince of Tampa made perhaps the most difficult decision of his racing career leaving RPM, a place he’s called home for the past six seasons.
Despite never setting the world ablaze in their six years together Almirola & RPM collected (1 victory, 10 top 5 finishes, 30 top 10 finishes, 1 pole, 1 Playoff appearance 2014) disguisedly respectable numbers for a driver/team combination absolutely, nobody had ever given a fighting chance back in 2012.
Gradually as time progressed Almirola found his groove in the #43 car, collecting a dramatic victory at the mecca of racing, Daytona in July of 2014. The win would be the first of Aric Almirola’s career in the Monster Energy Cup series and the first for RPM since 2012. Winning at Daytona elevated Almirola in to the playoff picture that season (2014) ultimately finishing 16th in the final driver standings following a first-round exit.
Qualifying for the playoffs in 2014 generated new life into both RPM & Aric Almirola. Hitting their stride when it mattered most Almirola would once again solidified himself as a playoff contender in 2015.
Finishing inside the top 20 in 19 of the first 26 races of the season. Aric Almirola entered the final race of the regular season at Richmond in September firmly inside the playoff picture sitting 16th in the driver standings.
Notwithstanding his courageous efforts in the closing moments of the race, the Fresh Prince of Tampa would fall one lap shy of producing back to back playoff seasons. Finishing 4th in the race dropped him into 17th place in the driver standings one position short of making it back atop center stage with the sports elite drivers.
The cyclical nature of the business would have a profound impact on Richard Petty Motorsports over the next two seasons. Incapable of replicating prior successes RPM regressed considerably. A bevy of changes within the organization ranging from crew chief changes to downsizing the King’s multi car operation into a single car team for 2017 left the door wide open for Aric Almirola to take his talents elsewhere.
Aric Almirola and longtime Richard Petty Motorsports sponsor Smithfield foods are on the move for 2018. Both are set to take over the #10 car at Stewart Haas Racing.
Stewart Haas Racing made an official announcement in mid-November, welcoming Almirola into the fold after weeks of speculation regarding the future of the #10 car. Even with championship caliber drivers on the open market SHR was one hundred percent committed to signing Mr. Almirola once he became a free agent at the end of the summer.
Crew Chief Billy Scott will remain with the team in 2018, his third overall with SHR. Scott was hired in December of 2015 to work with then driver of the ##10 car Danica Patrick in hopes of turning her racing career around following flashes of brilliance on the track the previous season in 2014. With Billy Scott at the helm Danica would only record 1 top ten finish in three seasons. Vainly the Danica/ Billy Scott experiment lost its gleam.
Smithfield’s involvement is paramount for a team that found itself overwhelmed by sponsorship woes last season. For Almirola having Smithfield grace the hood of the #10 car provides him with a sense of familiarity. Both driver and sponsor have been together through thick and thin for the past 6 years. Smithfield’s undying loyalty to Aric Almirola is incredibly remarkable.
Joining a championship winning organization for the first time in his 11-year Cup career undoubtedly elevates Almirola’s confidence beyond any fragment of time prior to his arrival at SHR.
The simple fact Tony Stewart believes whole heartedly in Almirola’s credentials speaks volumes for a driver most racing fan have failed to connect with.
Perhaps the most integral component of Almirola’s future success at SHR relies heavily on establishing a firm working relationship with championship winning teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. Both whom have experienced a career renaissance since joining Stewart Haas Racing in 2014.
Taking a few pointers from two of the sport’s finest drivers can only make Almirola better on race day.
Unquestionably, the addition of Aric Almirola transforms the #10 car from a middle of the pack team into a team that will most certainly contend for a coveted playoff position in 2018. Having tasted bittersweet playoff glory in the past, Almirola knows he’s been given a second chance to make a profound impression on the entire Monster Energy cup series garage.
Although he most likely won’t compete for the championship in 2018, Aric Almirola’s number one goal in year one with SHR is establishing the #10 car as a legit playoff hopeful for the next several years. Building a successful campaign in 2018 automatically gives credence to Tony Stewart’s unconventional driver choice.
While the jury is still out on Aric Almirola following a couple of dismal seasons, I’m totally convinced this is the best possible situation for both a team and driver in dire need of a positive transformation.
Yes, Aric Almirola is a minor upgrade from Danica Patrick as driver of the #10 car, but under no circumstances can we expect a career year from the Fresh Prince of Tampa in 2018.
The pieces are finally fitting, but the puzzle won’t be completed until 2019.
Final grade C+
Photo courtesy of MRN
Recap of the Go Bowling 400
For the second time in as many races at Kansas Speedway, Martin Truex Jr flexed his muscle and totally outclassed his comrades leading 104 laps of the scheduled 267 run on Saturday night.
Positive karma was certainly on the side of NASCAR’s resident Jersey boy on Saturday night as he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the closing laps of the race. After letting one slip away at Kansas last season there’s no way Truex Jr would be denied on this night. Once Martin finally cleared Ryan Blaney who arguably had the fastest car of the evening on lap 249 there was no going back. The race was in the bag despite a few late restarts that Turex Jr ultimately controlled down the final stretch.
Saturday night’s victory was the seventh since 2015 for the powerhouse combination of Martin Truex Jr and Furniture Row Racing. Who are clearly primed for another deep playoff run once the chase starts in the fall of 2017.
While the Furniture Row Racing team celebrated in the winner’s circle the entire NASCAR community was overcome with deep despondency. Overshadowing Furniture Row’s jubilation was one of the most vicious wrecks in recent memory. On lap 201 Joey Logano’s car got loose and sent Danica Patrick hard into the wall in turn 1, in the process collection an oncoming Aric Almirola. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver would take the hardest lick of the three drivers involved in the wreckage.
After several tense moments Almirola with the assistance of the Kansas Speedway safety crew would be cut from his car, and air lifted to a local medical facility. Richard Petty Motorsports released a statement early Sunday morning that Aric Almirola suffered a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra. He returned home to North Carolina Sunday and his driving status at this time has yet to be determined.
As for Danica Patrick, Saturday night’s carnage was the cherry on top of a melted sundae that is the queen of speeds hellacious 2017 campaign.
Heading into next weekend’s Coca Cola 600, Danica Patrick sits 33rd in the driver standings, making this the worst start to her five year Monster Energy cup career.
Danica’s slow start has many speculating 2017 could indeed be the final year we see the popular driver turns laps on Sunday afternoons.
One of these weekends Ryan Blaney is going to put it all together and capture his first career Monster Energy Cup series victory. If it weren’t for bad luck Ryan Blaney would have no luck at all in 2017. With that being said the second generation driver put some of the bad karma behind him at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night. Ryan Blaney looked untouchable for a better part of Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400 before Martin Turex Jr passed him and put of bow on the race.
Moral victories don’t count however bringing home a 4th place finish after several weeks of unfortunate misfires is a step in the right direction for the Wood Bros and young Ryan Blaney.
Momentum breathes confidence.
Despite the fact Blaney should have scored 3 victories by my account this season, putting these failures in the back of the ol memory bank makes this guy one of the most intriguing drivers to keep an eye on as the summer months roll on.
Although Ricky Stenhouse Jr failed in his bid to go back to back fresh of the heels of his first career cup win, he and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Trevor Bayne continue their meteoric rise to the top of the heap in the Monster Energy cup series.
The Roush Fenway Racing drivers finished 10th & 11th respectively in Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400. If the chase stared today both drivers would be firmly in the thick of the title picture.
While Stenhouse Jr is working on a career year ( 1 win, 3 top 5’s, 5 top 10’s, 1 pole) though the first 11 races, his teammate Trevor Bayne continues his vast improvement finishing inside the top 20 in 8 of the 11 races run this season.
Daniel Suarez is one incredible driver. Is he not?
The 2016 Xfinity series champion continues his march towards the winners circle just 11 races into his cup series career.
Suarez tied his career best finish of 7th on Saturday night.
In a time when Joe Gibbs Racing looks completely out of sync, Daniel Suarez represents a beacon of hope for an organization in desperate need of a pick me up.
Despite being unexpectedly trust into the role as driver of the #19 Toyota weeks before the Daytona 500 and working with two different crew chiefs this season Suarez has completely shattered all expectations while looking like a seasoned pro instead of a green horn.
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