Welcome to the Frontstretch Five, a brand-new column for 2014! Each week, Amy Henderson takes a look at the racing, the drivers, and the storylines that drive NASCAR and produces a list of five people, places, things, and ideas that define the current state of our sport. This week, Amy says that love it or hate it, the Chase has produced some memorable moments.
While the Chase certainly produces some debate about its validity as a way of determining the Sprint Cup champion, it has given us some memories we’re not likely to forget anytime soon. From an incredible stroke of luck to a rare moment of emotion, race fans have been treated to some unforgettable moments along the way. The five listed here (in no particular order, by the way) are just a sampling. Be sure to leave your favorite Chase memories in the comments!
Johnson won the battle while Keselowski ultimately won the war in 2012, but their late-race duel at Texas Motor Speedway was one of the finest displays of good, hard racing anywhere. The pair raced as if their lives depended on it, but they raced with respect; either one could have easily spun the other out, but they raced the other the way they expected to be raced, and the result is an instant classic.
2. You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel…
Kurt Busch was the championship leader at Homestead in 2004 when the wheels almost fell off his title hopes when the wheel literally fell off his No. 97 car. Busch came within inches of slamming into the pit road barrier, which would have ended his title hopes – and thanks to the caution that flew for the wheel, which rolled up the frontstretch at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he remained on the lead lap. Busch went on to win the title by a scant eight points.
3. Gee, thanks, teammate…
Nobody wants to be “that guy,” the one not in the Chase who makes the mistake that affects a contender’s chances, and this mistake was a car owner’s worst nightmare. Brian Vickers, not in the Chase and still searching for his first Cup win, misjudged a pass by inches, turning teammate Jimmie Johnson as well as then-Dale Earnhardt, Inc. driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., both title contenders. Vickers got his first win, but Johnson and Earnhardt saw their title hopes slip a little. Johnson recovered to win the title, but Earnhardt saw one of his best chances to make up ground in the Chase slip away.
4. It All Comes Down To This
By his own admission, Tony Stewart struggled to even make the Chase in 2011. Carl Edwards, meanwhile, was a title favorite when the Chase started. The two drivers had totally different strategies; for Edwards, it looked to be a matter of simply running near the front and coasting to the title, while Stewart had to go for broke every week and let the chips fall where they might. And when the dust cleared after a Homestead race that was fought to the wire, Stewart won the race and Edwards finished second – and the points were a dead heat. Stewart won the title on the tiebreaker (five wins to Edwards’ one), the only time in history the rule has been needed to decide the winner.
5. Pure Joy
To the chagrin of many, emotion is often seemingly lacking in NASCAR, with drivers worried about pleasing sponsors and toeing the company line, but there are times when a chink in the armor shows a driver’s true feelings. Jimmie Johnson has often been criticized for being vanilla and unemotional, but it’s hard to deny the pure joy Johnson displayed when he won his first Cup title. When he was given the Cup trophy, Johnson holds it aloft, but then pulls it down and hugs it close. For a driver who, until that moment, still feared that his job could be in jeopardy, it’s a moment of relief and joy.
(It was incredibly hard to find a video of this celebration, for some reason. The moment I’m referring to is in the final seconds here.)
About the author
Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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