Well, we’ve all made yet another trip around the Sun. Another year and another NASCAR season has crossed the finish line. Kyle Larson was the popular Cup series champion, and through his title seem almost ordained given his dominance during the season few people, save for those who lost out to him, seemed to mind Larson winning it all.
Getting to that final race in Phoenix however saw a lot of stories along the way. Here are the top 10 by views on CupScene.com in 2021.
It was the tire seen around the world at Kansas Speedway on May 2, at least the NASCAR world. During a round of green flag stops a tire got away from the crew servicing the car of Tyler Reddick on lap 225. The tire rolled onto the ballfield in front of pit road and stopped.
Chris Buescher had yet to pit and stayed out hoping for a caution. Had NASCAR thrown it, Buescher would have had the field a lap down. NASCAR however waited for the stops to cycle through and moments after Buescher pitted from the lead, threw the caution 15 laps after the tire first rolled away from the car.
While the laps were adding up and the tire wasn’t moving, social media exploded with many questioning why NASCAR didn’t throw a caution sooner. Had they done so, Buescher could have kept the lead, and perhaps changed the entire complexion of the race.
NASCAR’s reasoning was that the tire was far enough away from the racing surface, and they felt comfortable completing the pit stop sequence before retrieving the tire. Once the cycle ended, they felt the time was right to display the yellow. Kyle Busch won the race, though many fans felt Buscher deserved the trophy.
Joey Logano’s day in the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway on April 25 ended early. On lap 59 Logano was among the leaders racing back to the line to end Stage 1. Racing on the outside lane behind Matt DiBenedetto, Logano had to slow stacking up the field behind him. Denny Hamlin just behind Logano dropped out of line getting into the rear of Logano’s Ford sending the car sideways entering turn 3. The car flipped sliding by the Toyota of Bubba Wallace; Logano’s Ford ended up back on four wheels, but he was done for the day.
“I guess I don’t know exactly what to think,” Logano said after being cleared at the infield medical center. “It is a product of this racing.”
“On one hand, I am mad about being in the crash and on the other, I am happy to be alive,” he added. “On another hand, I am wondering when we are going to stop because this is dangerous doing what we are doing. I got a roll bar in my head. That is not okay.”
If it had been almost any other driver a great deal more anger might have been on display as part of the post-race activities in the season opening Daytona 500, which actually ended Monday morning thanks to a 6-hour delay getting started thanks to rain.
But there weren’t.
There were no cuss words, no fists, nothing save for a few hurt feelings perhaps. Michael McDowell won his first NASCAR Cup series race in stunning fashion on the final lap of the Daytona 500, arguably the sport’s biggest stage. He did so with a last lap pass while running third as the field entered turn 3. But, as the group exited turn 3, a wild melee erupted started by Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, and ended with McDowell winning after charging through the carnage.
“I admire him as a person,” Denny Hamlin, who finished fifth said. “I think he’s a great guy and certainly deserving of this.”
“It’s definitely no fluke,” he added. “I certainly hope it’s not like ‘look anybody can win’. No look he’s been in the top five so many times at the superspeedway races, it’s no fluke. I’ve said many times, this is a skill game and he’s got the skill and skill set to win these and he finally got it done.”
When Alex Bowman took over as the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, he was well aware he had some big shoes to fill. And in the final year of his contract with Hendrick he entered 2021 facing a somewhat uncertain future.
He scored this second win of the season, that coming at Dover on May 16. And after the fourth of his career, his future was a little less certain.
Team owner Rick Hendrick let it be known after the race that Bowman has a place at his team confirming that contract negotiations for a multi-year deal are already underway.
“It should be done any time,” Hendrick said. “We want Alex there. He wants to be there. It’s kind of at this point just a formality.”
That formality became a done deal, one that will keep Bowman in the No. 28 through 2023, just a few weeks later on June 18.
To say that Christopher Bell had a hard Sunday on August 8 at Watkins Glen might be a bit of an understatement. The trouble started before the race began when Bell’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota failed pre-race inspection twice.
Not only was he forced to give up his seventh place starting spot and start at the rear of the field, but his crew chief Adam Stevens was ejected, fined $25,000 and Bell was hit with a loss of 10 championship points.
Bell fought his way towards the front and by lap 30 was second and by lap 48 was looking for the lead after finishing second in Stage 2. Then on lap 54 while racing with Martin Truex Jr. for the lead disaster struck.
Heading into Turn 1, eventual race winner Kyle Larson was charging from third, and got on the inside of Bell. Bell was sent spinning as Larson continued. With no damage, Bell rejoined the field 10th. He would rally and finish the day 7th. After the race Bell said he had not seen the replay.
“I don’t know if I crowded him (Kyle Larson) at all,” Bell said. “But he shouldn’t have been in there in the first place. He didn’t really have a run coming off of (turn) seven. We were all packed up. I was faster than the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) but never could make a run on him to get by him, and same thing with him. It’s very disappointing.”
Larson was quick to take the blame for the incident and the two moved on.
Kevin Harvick doesn’t forget it seems.
Harvick and Chase Elliott came into the Roval race at Charlotte on Oct. 10, an elimination race, in relatively good shape to make the cut and move to the next round.
On lap 33 however, Harvick tried to exact his revenge for an incident involving Elliott a few weeks prior at Bristol, that ended with the two face to face on pit road after it was over. At the Roval Coming out of Turn 7, with Elliott just ahead, Harvick put a bumper to Elliott’s Chevy sending the car into the outside wall. With a heavily damaged racecar, Elliott limped to the pits where the crew began furious repairs. Meanwhile in the Playoff race, Elliott fell below the cutline while Harvick was above.
He didn’t hesitate to answer when asked if the earlier move on Elliott was in retaliation for Bristol.
“Sometimes real life teaches you good lessons,” he said, adding: “You remember Bristol.”
After it was over, Elliott’s Hendrick crew had done a stellar job repairing the damage, and Elliott had a lot to be proud off. After falling below the cutoff after his accident Elliott finished 12th and moved onto the Round of 8.
Harvick was eliminated from the Playoffs.
Drivers and crew chiefs swap all the time in NASCAR. It is usually one of the first moves made when a team isn’t preforming up to standards.
Towards the end of the 2020 season, Joe Gibbs Racing announced a crew shakeup that included driver Kyle Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens parting after six seasons and two Cup championships.
The duo won 25 Cup races and the titles in 2015 and 2019 and had 19 wins in the Xfinity series. But Busch went winless for much of 2020 winning only once and was eliminated from the Playoffs early on.
As it turns out the breakup of Busch and Stevens may have gone a bit deeper. On February 10, Busch dropped somewhat of a bombshell.
“I asked Adam for a couple of changes to be made over the off season,” Busch said. “And he didn’t agree with my philosophy on those changes. So he said, ‘You know what, I’m going to go do something different and let you do something different and we’ll see what happens.’”
Busch he wasn’t expecting that answer.
“I was shocked because I was like, ‘Well, essentially you just told me you quit on me. So, um, OK. See you later. Now I have to go find somebody else…’
In July, Atlanta Motor Speedway announced that the track would be repaved and will be reprofiled; a move that will increase the current 24-degree banking in Atlanta’s turns to 28 degrees. In addition, the racing surface will become narrower with an overall decrease in width from 55 feet to 40 feet. New widths will be 52 feet on the front stretch, 42 feet on the back stretch and 40 feet in the turns.
NASCAR Cup champion crew chief Rodney Childers said after the announcement that he isn’t in favor of the changes.
“My opinion is it’s gonna make the racing horrible and it’s gonna be one lane and nobody is gonna pass anybody,” Childers. “That part sucks, but Atlanta is one of the last racetracks that we have with a surface like that, that you can run up against the fence or you can run on the bottom, you can run through the middle of one and two. You have so many options.
“Even though it was a racetrack that had so many options and what old school racers would call good racing, a lot of people thought that those races down there became boring because the runs are really long. They get spread out. The cars that are good on long runs just drive away from the field and all those things.”
The initial start of the July 18 NASCAR Cup race at Loudon wasn’t the only controversy.
After a nearly one hour and 45-minute rain delay, rain that came on lap 6 and ended with Kyle Busch crashing, the field restarted; Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford however was still sitting on pit road as the field got ready to rake the green. Logano and his crew were penalized by NASCAR for working on the car under the red flag.
The car was held for two laps. Logano however spent the race clawing his way forward making up those 2 laps and coming home 4th.
After the race Logano disputed the penalty.
“When you come to your home track all you want to do is win,” Logano said. “A straight kick to the gut to start the race with a piece of rubber getting in the linkage, the throttle linkage, and not letting me get wide-open. All we did was take a picture under the red flag, underneath the hood to see what was under there. We took a picture with a camera phone, and they gave us a two-lap penalty for that.
“I understand the rules are the rules, but it’s also a safety factor and the last thing you want is a throttle to stick and get hurt. I don’t know. Hindsight is 20/20, but you would never know what it was if you didn’t take a picture, but it still had the piece of rubber in it. It’s frustrating. We got a good finish out of it, but it’s frustrating when you’re at your home track and you feel like you could have got a win out of it, out of a safety issue that we got a penalty for.”
Unfortunately, and probably unbeknownst to Logano at the time, NBC had already aired footage from Logano’s roof cam taken during the red flag that showed a crew member going under the hood, with no camera phone.
1 .Kyle Busch frustrated with himself and Brad Keselowski after missing the cut at Martinsville
On October 31, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski both came up short of advancing to NASCAR’s Championship 4 and won’t be racing for the Cup series title. It wasn’t for lack of effort on both driver’s parts. Both Busch and Keselowski raced hard slicing through the field and both had opportunities for the win; something that both needed to advance.
Busch finished second to race winner Alex Bowman, Keselowski finished third behind Busch.
For Busch missing out on the Championship 4 is his second in a row. After the race Busch made no effort to hide his frustration.
“Oh, we ran like dog—- last week and this week. So we had a Hail Mary opportunity there at the end and we were trying to make something out of nothing,” Busch said. “Great effort. We did everything we could all day long. We never stopped working on it, but we have missed it way too much lately, so I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The valiant effort by Busch was even more impressive given that he had to overcome a pit road speeding penalty to start the final stage. His day, and his title hopes, ended however when Bowman won, and Martin Truex Jr. finished fourth, leaving Busch three points below the cutline.
His frustration was only increased after the checkered flag when Busch ended the day with his Toyota backwards in Turn 1 after contact from Keselowski.
“He drills my ass coming out of (Turn) 4 for no reason,” Busch said. “Where was he going? What was he going to do — spin me out? He was trying to do a Harvick is what he was trying to do. For what? Second place? To do what? He wasn’t going to transfer through with that. … So stupid. I don’t understand these guys. I should beat the shit out of him right now is what I should do, but that doesn’t do me any good either.”
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