The good, the bad and the ugly
The 2018 NASCAR season saw its share of great racing moments...and some not so great racing moments. With the 2019 NASCAR season coming soon, here's our look back at the best and worst of last season.
BEST: Charlotte Roval
This race truly lived up to the hype. Heading into the event, concerns mounted that turning this 1.5-mile oval into a street course would make it a crashfest. Testing crunched up plenty of sheet metal, indeed, but the race itself was relatively clean and highly competitive until the end. A wild wreck on a late restart wiped out contenders Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski after Keselowski flat out drove straight into the wall. That opened the door for Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson to battle tooth and nail for a victory that would have extended Johnson’s streak of winning one Cup race every year since 2002.
Sensing the moment, Johnson nosedived under Truex in the final two turns, a move that backfired as contact spun them both out. Ryan Blaney motored past to grab the victory as Johnson experienced a double whammy; Larson, with an opportunity to advance in the playoffs, went into overdrive. He was forced to ride the wall with his highly damaged car, a move reminiscent of a video game, as he slid by another spinning car (Jeffrey Earnhardt) to pass Johnson for a spot in the Round of 12. One point, one position would have made the difference in a race that ended with a standing ovation and a rare increase in TV viewership.
WORST: Charlotte Oval
For the second time in three years, the Coca-Cola 600 turned into an absolute snoozer of an event. In 2016, Martin Truex Jr. led a race-record 392 of 400 laps to win the race. This time, Kyle Busch led 377 of 400 circuits, putting together a dominant performance in a race that had just nine lead changes despite 11 caution flags that bunched up the field. In restart after restart, Busch simply pulled away in a showcase of how NASCAR’s 2018 aero package made it impossible to pass on 1.5-mile ovals once the leader got in clean air. Even worse was the fact that this track hosted the best intermediate racing in years at the All-Star Race the week before in an experiment with the rules package that became the basis for the 2019 changes we’ll see on these types of tracks.
BEST: Fall Martinsville race
Leave it to NASCAR’s oldest, shortest track to breathe excitement into the playoffs. Joey Logano’s last-lap bump and run of Martin Truex Jr. sparked emotion from the stands and changed the complexion of the entire postseason. Without that victory, Logano wouldn’t have made the Championship 4 in Homestead, let alone earn his Cup title. Truex, for his part, remained without a short track win and found himself runner-up to the Team Penske driver, again, one month later. And what about Denny Hamlin? A last-ditch effort off Turn 4 fell just short as he came within inches of continuing his streak of winning one race a year since 2006.
WORST: Spring Las Vegas race
Early on in 2018, Kevin Harvick was in another stratosphere when it came to intermediate tracks. After winning in Atlanta by a comfortable margin, he cruised to victory by nearly three seconds over Kyle Busch in a race in which he was never seriously challenged. Just nine cars finished on the lead lap, the fewest in the 20-year history of NASCAR Cup racing in Vegas. Harvick was so much faster early in the race that stage breaks were the only thing preventing the No. 4 car from lapping the entire field.
BEST & WORST: Daytona 500
A thrilling late-race battle in NASCAR’s Great American Race was once again decided on the final lap. Aric Almirola appeared to be in control on the backstretch when Austin Dillon, who hadn’t led a lap all day, got himself a run. He refused to budge while Almirola came up to block, spinning out the No. 10 Ford and sending Dillon and the iconic No. 3 car into Victory Lane.
The win came 20 years to the day after the car’s previous occupant, Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, ended his winless drought in the Daytona 500 in his 20th start. It was a historic moment for the sport, one that also saw Bubba Wallace rise to second, the highest finish by an African-American driver ever at Daytona.
But many fans and drivers alike disliked Dillon’s aggression, believing it was dirty to turn someone to win NASCAR’s biggest race. And neither Dillon nor Wallace harnessed the momentum gained from strong finishes at Daytona over the course of a full season. Neither was a factor in the championship race, and Wallace failed to earn another top-5 run the rest of the year.