Most memorable moments of the first half
July 17, 2013, Staff reports, NASCAR.com
Through the first half of the NASCAR season, we’ve seen feuds and fights, history and heartache and, unfortunately, even terrible tragedy.
What does it all mean?
NASCAR.com attempted to make sense of a season that stands out as uniquely different from years past, from a new car, to new rivalries to moments that will be remembered long after 2013 is over.
Below is our list of the most memorable moments through the first half of the season, as voted on by six members of our editorial staff. The list is in descending order, culminating in what we collectively think is the biggest story from the first half.
Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments below.
TOP 10 VIEWED STORIES ON NASCAR.COM
From January to today
1. Daytona 500 starting lineup locked in
2. Hamlin suffers L1 compression fracture
3. Danica Patrick responds to Kyle Petty’s criticism
4. Leffler killed in sprint car race accident
5. Kenseth draws 50-point penalty out of Kansas
6. Video: Stewart, Logano fight after race
7. Lineups take shape for dicey duels at Daytona
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes his first pole of 2013
9. Kyle Petty: Danica ‘not a race car driver’
10. Stewart avoids late wrecks, takes opener
The final race of the 1992 season was a farewell to Richard Petty. The King was set to retire, and he soaked up the adulation at Atlanta Motor Speedway from fans and drivers alike. Fans didn’t realize until years later, of course, that the 1992 finale was also a passing of the torch.
Out went Petty, in came a young hotshot named Jeff Gordon. Gordon had secured a ride with Rick Hendrick in the 1992 finale, and he hasn’t left the track since.
A mainstay in the No. 24 Chevrolet, Gordon recorded his 700th consecutive start in May. Fittingly, it came at Darlington Raceway, a track steeped in history. Gordon finished third in that race, and has since run his streak up to 708. With Ricky Rudd’s all-time record of 788 consecutive starts in sight, Gordon shows no signs of slowing down.
Over the past few years, drivers couldn’t talk about Jason Leffler without immediately mentioning his son, Charlie Dean. Charlie transformed his dad’s life. The two were inseparable in the garage and at home.
Although Leffler didn’t have a full-time ride in one of NASCAR’s three national series this year, he couldn’t stay away from the track. Racing was in his blood. Leffler died in a sprint car race accident on June 12 in New Jersey. He was 37.
Among the many thoughts from his friends and former teammates, perhaps former team owner Todd Braun said it best at Leffler’s funeral: “Charlie came along, and I watched the transformation of Jason. Jason the racer became Jason the dad. I’ve never seen a transformation of a person like I saw with Jason Leffler. He cared more about Charlie than anything there was. It was one of the best things I ever saw.”
Jimmie Johnson is defined by success. Whether it’s 64 wins since 2002, or five consecutive championships from 2006-2010, the No. 48 team is the envy of the garage.
Five-Time is still making new marks, too. Months after winning the season-opening Daytona 500, Johnson won the Coke Zero 400 summer event at the historic 2.5-mile track.
Winning twice in one season at Daytona International Speedway is nearly impossible. The very nature of restrictor-plate racing, not to mention how the track changes over the months, makes it so difficult. In fact, Johnson’s sweep was the first of its kind since Bobby Allison accomplished it in 1982 and is just the fourth such occurrence in NASCAR history.
Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch is one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR.
And that tends to rub people the wrong way when they see ol’ KB on the entry list for a number of NASCAR Nationwide Series races. Given the fact that Busch is driving the No. 54 for Joe Gibbs Racing, it’s a surprise when Busch isn’t in Victory Lane. He has seven wins and 12 top-fives in 14 starts.
That’s led to some fans clamoring for a maximum number of events Sprint Cup regulars can race at lower levels. As long as that edict is not around, though, Busch will keep racing -- and winning.
We knew something was up at Texas when the Nos. 2 and 22 weren’t immediately on the starting grid with the other 41 drivers. That’s because the Penske Racing Fords, driven by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, respectively, failed pre-race inspection for being too low.
Although both drivers eventually took the track and recovered to finish in the top 10, they were penalized 25 driver points and handed heavy suspensions to personnel. The suspensions were later reduced, but the points penalties stood; as a result, both drivers are fighting to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series’ debut featured two “Big Ones” in the final three laps of the 120-lap event.
In the second incident, on the final lap, 12 cars were collected in a brutal scene that included the lasting image of Kyle Larson climbing out from his No. 32 Chevrolet that had almost been cut in half. A total of 28 fans were treated for injuries as a result of the accident.
Matt Kenseth picked up his second win of the year in April at Kansas. He didn’t have time to celebrate. One of the connecting rods on the engine of his No. 20 Toyota came in too light, and the punishment was powerful.
In addition to a $200,000 fine and six-week suspension to crew chief Jason Ratcliff, Kenseth was docked a whopping 50 points. The penalty led the news cycle for more than a week before the appeal hearing was heard -- a procedure in which Kenseth and his team saw most of the penalties reduced significantly.
The result of a comprehensive overhaul on the machines NASCAR competitors drive, a car that took more than two years to develop took center stage this year. And the result were rave reviews.
Teams, drivers and owners alike have gushed about the new Generation-6 car, which combines new technology to provide competitive upgrades and a way to re-establish brand identity among auto manufacturers.
As teams continue to explore what these vehicles can do, expect even more changes -- and even better racing -- over the next few years.
Patrick on the pole. Danica at Daytona. Whichever alliterative phrase you prefer, there’s no questioning that this year’s most historic moment came early -- in February, to be precise.
Danica Patrick, entering her first full-time year at the Cup Series level, won the pole for the biggest race of the year. She became the first woman to win a pole for the historic season-opener, and simultaneously answered the question of whether she has the talent to compete at NASCAR’s highest level.
First, Denny Hamlin tapped Joey Logano at Bristol, spinning out the No. 22. Then an angry Logano confronted Hamlin on pit road after the race -- before Hamlin had even gotten out of the car.
Then there were the verbal jabs.
From Logano: “We've got a freaking genius behind the wheel of the 11. Probably the worst teammate I ever had.”
From Hamlin: "He said he was coming for me. I usually don't see him, so it's usually not a factor."
After a week’s worth of words, the feud hit a new level the next week at Fontana. While racing for the win on the last lap, Hamlin and Logano -- running 1-2 -- bumped and banged their way down the stretch, eventually wrecking each other.
Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota took the brunt of that crash, and the result was a fractured vertebra in Hamlin’s back, which caused him to miss four races and essentially ended his Chase chances.
The former teammates are no longer on speaking terms.
Note: This order was determined by a poll that included staff members Zack Albert, Kristen Boghosian, Pat DeCola, Stu Hothem, Brad Norman and George Winkler.