By Jason Schultz/@NASCARJason – The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season was full of captivating moments.
From the early morning scene at Daytona International Speedway when Austin Dillon’s car flew into the catch fence to Kyle Busch’s championship celebration at Homestead-Miami Speedway after completing a miraculous comeback, it was a year of powerful images.
These moments among others tell the story of the 2015 season. While there were many moments and images to choose from, I’ll highlight five of the most powerful from a wild year in NASCAR.
5. Throwback Weekend at Darlington Raceway
As tradition returned to Darlington Raceway in terms of reclaiming the Labor Day Weekend date, the sport’s rich history was celebrated. Nearly everyone in the sport backed the raceway’s efforts to honor the past while promoting the beginning of a new tradition.
From the array of throwback paint schemes racing around the historic facility to NBC’s efforts to bring fans at home the authentic throwback feel, the celebration was an overwhelming success.
Turning one date on the schedule from just another race to a highly anticipated event was a brilliant move by Darlington. The track returned to prominence with the date change and the new tradition assures it will be an integral part of the sport’s future as it has been throughout the past.
4. Kenseth, Logano Tangle in Martinsville
Perhaps the most controversial moment of the season came on a November afternoon at Martinsville Speedway. As the intensity of the Chase for the Sprint Cup built with three races remaining before the championship event, every moment mattered more than ever.
This led to the culmination of the ongoing feud between Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano that sparked two weeks prior at Kansas Speedway. After Brian France praised the initial event that cost Kenseth a shot at the championship calling it “quintessential NASCAR,” retaliation evoked strong emotion.
The crash changed the face of the championship battle, ultimately eliminating the emerging favorite Logano. The response also changed how retaliation is viewed and put an end to the manipulating of a race’s outcome.
The pictured fan response contradicted NASCAR’s stance on the situation as they suspended Kenseth for two races. However, it surely provided the raw emotion the sport thrives on. This crash will surely not be forgotten anytime soon.
3. Daytona Crash Leaves Dillon in the Fence
The unpredictability of restrictor plate racing triggered another horrifying crash in Daytona in July. As the pack roared to the finish line, the pushing and shoving led to a majority of the field crashing as the checkered flag waved.
The contact sent Austin Dillon flying into the fence in a terrifying scene to end the rain delayed Coke Zero 400. This ingrained the initial image of the car piercing the recently strengthened fence into all watching and led to an alarming response to Dillon and the grandstands.
Thankfully, Dillon emerged from the destroyed car unharmed and no fans sustained serious injuries. While this image captures the horrific scene, it attests to the sport’s evolving safety.
As a result of DAYTONA Rising, fans had no access to path along the fence and were seated much higher than previously at the speedway. Following Kyle Larson’s NASCAR XFINITY Series crash in 2013, the fence was strengthened and performed its job in this situation.
2. Gordon Advances to Miami, Scores Final Career Victory in Martinsville
As darkness ascended upon Martinsville Speedway, Jeff Gordon celebrated his opportunity to compete for the championship in Miami and his final career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
A dismal year came to life on this afternoon. Despite what had unfolded throughout the season, he now had the opportunity to race for the championship and end his career on a high note. The emotion from Gordon in Victory Lane will be what is remembered most about this moment as he rejoiced in the glory of a win for the final time.
This added another element to the season finale as the Hendrick Motorsprots driver could claim his fifth championship in his final race. While he didn’t end up with the Sprint Cup, the new FOX Sports broadcaster received a well-deserved sendoff and delivered one final incredible moment.
1. Kyle Busch Completes Comeback, Captures Championship
The most powerful image of 2015 came in the season’s final moment as Kyle Busch capped off a remarkable comeback by taking the championship. As he hoisted the trophy in his celebration, it represented much more than just another milestone for the 30-year old.
It symbolized a year that started off with an unimaginable low when he broke his left foot and right leg during the NASCAR XFINITY Series opener and ended with the biggest accomplishment of his career.
His run to the title included five victories, including taking four of five during the summer months and will be one for the ages. It’s highly unlikely another competitor will be put in this situation and be able to produce the same level of performance ever again.
Busch showed incredible perseverance and resilience throughout 2015 and the smile that lit up his face in Miami was well deserved.
With 2016 right around the corner, another season of memories is nearing as NASCAR returns in February. It’s surely going to be a thrilling season that will produce many more powerful images. Don’t blink as the moments will soon begin in Daytona as SpeedWeeks kicks off the 2016 season.