Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was fifth in points heading to Dover International Speedway, a track where he has a record 10 victories. But a part failure in the rear end of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet left him 41st in the race and out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in the very first round.
Getty ImagesBrian Lawdermilk
Career year for Truex
Martin Truex Jr. won one race and had a career-best points finish of fourth in 2015. That was a jump of 20 positions in the standings from 2014. Truex and new crew chief Cole Pearn hit it off well in a banner season for Denver-based Furniture Row Racing, which announced it will switch to Toyotas for next year.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesJonathan Ferrey
Throwback weekend at Darlington
Hands down, the best promotion of the year was Darlington Raceway’s Throwback weekend. It is almost impossible to create a program simultaneously embraced by race teams, sponsors, NASCAR and fans alike, but this was a home run on every front.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesBrian Lawdermilk
Harvick posts huge numbers
Even if he came up one position short of repeating as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Kevin Harvick won three races, came home second 13 times and posted a ridiculously good 23 top-five finishes in 36 races. At virtually every track during the 2015 season, the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet was fast.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesSarah Crabill
Michael Waltrip Racing shuts down
In a tough blow for the more than 200 employees who worked there, Michael Waltrip Racing shut down at the end of the season. MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman bought an undisclosed minority share in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates for 2016.
Getty ImagesTodd Warshaw
Tony Stewart’s ups and downs
Behind the wheel, 2015 was another challenging season for three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, who finished 28th in points, four positions behind teammate Danica Patrick. Stewart announced 2016 will be his last season as a Sprint Cup driver. On a more positive note, Stewart-Haas Racing, the team he co-owns, continues to thrive.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesJonathan Moore
Jeff Gordon went out in style
In his final season of driving, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon made it all the way to the Championship Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, finishing third in points. Gordon’s emotional victory at Martinsville Speedway — and the joy evident in his post-race celebration — was something truly special.
Getty ImagesRainier Ehrhardt
Both Busch brothers miss the Daytona 500
One of the most shocking stories of the year happened at the very beginning: Neither Kurt (pictured) nor Kyle Busch competed in the Daytona 500. Kurt was suspended by NASCAR over domestic abuse allegations by a former girlfriend, and Kyle was injured in a gruesome crash in the XFINITY Series race. It was the first Daytona 500 without a Busch brother since 2000.
Getty ImagesJonathan Ferrey
Kyle Busch’s championship season
Nobody came up bigger this season than Kyle Busch, who recovered from a compound fracture of the lower right leg and a broken left foot to win five races and his first championship. Busch had always displayed tremendous talent behind the wheel; in 2015, he showed the courage and determination it takes to be a champion.
Getty ImagesEthan Miller
Kenseth vs. Logano
While Kyle Busch’s championship was the feel-good story of the year, nothing generated more debate and controversy than the acrimony between Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano. Logano spun Kenseth out at Kansas, and Kenseth (20) deliberately wrecked Logano (22) at Martinsville Speedway, where the Team Penske driver appeared headed for a fourth straight victory. Call it a quintessential case of 'boys have at it.'