NASCAR spent the week honoring it’s best NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in Las Vegas, a celebration culminated with Friday night’s awards ceremony highlighted by the crowning of champion Brad Keselowski and filled with celebrity moments. While the drivers (pictured) spent the week being feted, though, we thought we’d offer our own take on the season – with a variety of awards for events on and off the track. Here are 10 awards from a season filled with excitement, clashes and surreal moments.
Biggest impact award
Dale Earnhardt Jr. proved once again that he is a fan favorite in winning his 10th consecutive most popular driver award. Before that, though, he once more showed that he is an introspective and intelligent man outside of being a competitive racer. Earnhardt Jr. drew attention to the issues of concussions in the sport when he made the somewhat shocking and well-informed decision to talk to his doctor about a pair of concussions and, subsequently, sit out a pair of races. It cost him dearly in the Chase – Earnhardt Jr. (sitting at the announcement with team owner Rick Hendrick and crew chief Steve Letarte) is not among the top 10 drivers this season despite a comeback kind of year – but drew attention to an important issue that is already being considered among several major sports. He showed once more why fans keep paying attention to this driver.
Brad Keselowski brought a new look to Twitter, and a new wave of fans to his account, when he tweeted a photo of the fiery track during a lengthy red-flag period, that followed a series of rain delays, in the Monday-night Daytona 500. Keselowski (hanging with a group of drivers during the stoppage) was not punished for the tweet, since it came during a red-flag period, and in less than 140 characters brought NASCAR’s social media efforts into a new realm.
Confusing penalty of the year
After Brad Keselowski brought so much attention to the social media world and his Twitter-verse with his Daytona tweet, NASCAR slapped him with a penalty for having a cell phone in his car and tweeting during a red-flag period at Phoenix. Despite the explanations of how a cell phone could be used for more than tweeting, specifically to enhance the car, one still found it confusing to laud the driver for one usage and punish him for another.
Smooth move award
Denny Hamlin proved that he should be on a dancing show – or maybe not – with his performances during the Bristol Motor Speedway driver introductions. After coming out and showing his moves to “Teach me how to Dougie” for the first race, he ramped up the fun and entertainment by doing the “Wobble” for the fall race. You’ve got to love a guy who has moves both on and off the track.
Golden gloves award:
OK, we hate to keep mentioning this, but was there a more played, more publicized moment of the season than when Clint Bowyer’s team stepped to his defense and brawled with Jeff Gordon’s crew – which was trying to protect its driver – in the garage at Phoenix after the pair had an on-track incident? Gordon was obviously incensed with Bowyer, as his crashing into the driver and post-altercation comments highlighted. But Bowyer’s crew could not be contained in the garage as the video played of the fight that carried on as the rest of the field looked to restart the race on the track.
Rant of the year
So many to choose from, so little space. Future champion Brad Keselowski, though, took the lead with his postrace outburst at Phoenix. One would think that exiting the race with a 20-point edge in the standings would have pleased him, but instead Keselowski took the moment to point out his indignation over criticism some had made of his driving the previous week then watching aggressive driving mar the race at Phoenix. “It's the double standard that I spent a whole week being bashed by a half a dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and how I'm out of control and have a death wish, and then I see (expletive) like that. That's (expletive). That's all you can call that. These guys just tried to kill each other. You race hard and I get called an (expletive) for racing hard and called with a death wish, and I see (expletive) like that, and it just (expletive) me off. … it's just (expletive) ridiculous, and they should be ashamed. It's embarrassing.”
Must be a movie moment
It was beyond scary at the time, but Juan Pablo Montoya’s crash into a jet dryer at Daytona looked like something from an action flick. It was just too surreal. After a race that was scheduled to run on Sunday then pushed to Monday night by rain was finally under way and then under caution, suddenly a plume of fire and smoke rose from the track. What had happened? Montoya had a parts failure and his car slammed into the jet dryer, sparking a fireball at the track. Both the driver and Montoya escaped unhurt but the fire raged as fuel spilled across the track. The fire was finally doused, the track repaired and the race continued – but even to those who witnessed it this remained an image just too horrifying and too movie-like to accept as something that had really happened.
Tweet of the year
Certainly NASCAR drivers, like other athletes, often take to Twitter to defend, explain or ramp up the more intriguing moments on the track. Sometimes, though, their families get involved as well. Take the case of Jeff Gordon’s dustup with Clint Bowyer, then Bowyer’s crew, at Phoenix this fall. When Blake Shelton tweeted out a couple of comments to driver Elliott Sadler and team owner Michael Waltrip questioning Gordon after the deal, Vandebosch (pictured with her husband) was quick to jump to the defense. Just check out the exchange – and you go girl! Blake Shelton @blakeshelton: "Hey @Elliott_Sadler... Did you see that s**t the 24 car pulled today?!! Glad Clint wasn't hurt..." "Hey @mw55... I still can't believe that s**t... Ha! Ha! And then to run and hide?!!! Ha!" ________________________________________ Ingrid Vandebosch @ivandebosch: "@blakeshelton Hey Blake did you see that #$^^%^*()) the 15 pulled on the 24 the past 5 weeks?" ________________________________________ Blake Shelton @blakeshelton: "@ivandebosch: Explain that to the 43 and 20. Waiting..?"
It was the however-many-yard dash witnessed on camera. Fans sat riveted as Clint Bowyer raced his way through the Sprint Cup garage, dashing around obstacles in his path. No one was slowing down Bowyer (seen here walking back to his car) as he raced to confront Jeff Gordon, with whom he’d just had a series of incidents on the track. His Olympic effort was thwarted, though, as he met with security forces when he reached Gordon’s trailer.
I love my sponsor award
Brad Keselowski takes the cake – or the drink – here. No matter how smoothly a driver works a plug into his comments, no matter how many clever takes or plays on its products he makes, it will be tough to surpass Keselowski – ever. The images flashed across the sports world, the references to celebrating like Keselowski showed up on sports shows and in stories from other sports after the driver swilled his Miller Lite sponsors product from a giant beer stein in Victory Lane. On the "Victory Lane" show. On the live television broadcast. … You get the idea.