Five Things The 2016 NASCAR Season Taught All Of Us
The 2016 NASCAR season has come and gone but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t teach us a thing or two along the way.
You can’t go 36 races and a couple of exhibition races and not learn a thing or two as a NASCAR fan. Coming into the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season everyone had their own ideas and predictions about how the season was going to unfold.
Coming out of the 2016 NASCAR season, some of us were right and some of us were wrong. That being said, all of us were left being taught a thing or two, whether we know it or not. Here are five things that the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season taught all of us.
Honorable Mention – No Two Legends Are The Same
The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season brought with it the end of Jeff Gordon’s full-time career in NASCAR. Gordon announced prior to the start of the season that 2015 would be his final run and it seemed as though we were reminded of it almost every race.
Gordon made the NASCAR Chase in 2015, won a race and went to the final-four and had a shot at a fifth title before walking off into the sunset. Gordon was showered with gifts and special honors at tracks throughout the season and in the end it was somewhat of a magical season for him.
The 2016 season brought with it the end of Tony Stewart’s NASCAR career and it felt nothing like what we had all witnessed the prior season with Jeff Gordon. Sure, Stewart made it clear when he announced his retirement from NASCAR that he didn’t want nor felt that he deserved the send-off that Gordon received.
However, despite his words, it still felt like NASCAR let their three-time champion down. There is a fine line between respecting someone’s wishes and paying someone the respect they deserve and NASCAR missed the boat with Stewart. Leading into the final weekend in Miami, teammate Kevin Harvick voiced his displeasure with the farewell that his friend received.
It’s a shame that others didn’t speak up sooner and that NASCAR couldn’t find a way to do a little more.
No. 5 – Danica Patrick Is Who We Thought She Was
The Danica Patrick experiment is finally over in NASCAR.
No, she isn’t leaving the sport or moving to a new team. However, 2016 was the season that the sport and the mainstream attention seemed to finally move off of her. In previous seasons Patrick was in the public eye because of her gender, what she was trying to do in a male-dominated sport and of course her marketability.
While the results were not there folks that were pro-Danica (myself included) scolded the anti-Danica crowd and encouraged them to give her more time. The Danica-supporters believed that within a few seasons she would be running inside of the top-20 consistently and contending for top-10 finishes at certain tracks.
Heading into 2017 reality has finally bubbled to the surface and the truth is that Danica is exactly what we thought she was, an average driver at best. Now this isn’t a dig at her or the impact that she has made in NASCAR, it is just simply the truth. Most weeks she will run somewhere between 18th and 25th, she will have a couple of top-10 runs a season and she might lead a handful of laps. Maybe she will win once before her career ends but it’s highly unlikely that she will win twice and at the end of the day that’s okay.
On any given Sunday there are only about 12 drivers on the track with a legitimate chance of winning. That means there are 28 drivers out there that most likely won’t win, she is simply one of those 28 and now it seems that everyone has accepted that.
No. 4 – JGR Is Still The Team To Beat
Coming into the season there is always the question of which team is going to perform the best. Coming out of 2016 many believed that it would be Joe Gibbs Racing and if you were one of the many, you were 100 percent correct.
If you count their alliance with the No. 78 machine (which you should) JGR won 16 out of 36 races (44 percent). All four JGR cars plus the pseudo-teammate in the No. 78 machine went to the NASCAR Chase. Once in the Chase all four JGR cars advanced to the Round of Eight. Half of the final-four was made up of JGR cars and if not for a late-race wreck, Carl Edwards most likely would have won the championship.
Heading into 2017 there is no reason to believe that the JGR dominance is going to stop. Their alliance will double with the addition of Erik Jones as a teammate to Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 78 machine. Hamlin and JGR are talking contract extension and the rest of the drivers will be back as well. They might not be the youngest team in NASCAR but they are certainly the most talented right now.
No. 3 – The Future Is Bright
Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are gone. Over the next few seasons it would not be a stretch if the likes of Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all walk away from NASCAR as well.
As the sport transitions over the next five years, one has to wonder who is going to lead when the established names are gone. 2016 answered that question and reassured NASCAR fans that the future is going to be bright.
Kyle Larson won his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 2016, something that has been a long time coming. Chase Elliott took Rookie of the Year honors while making the Chase in his first NASCAR season. Austin Dillon finally took the next step and improved his on-track consistency while pushing himself into the Chase for the first time as well.
Add in drivers like Ryan Blaney who had a nice rookie season, Chris Buescher who won a race and Erika Jones and Ty Dillon, both of which will debut full-time in 2017 and it looks like the kids are going to be alright. NASCAR has the talent for the future now they just have to wait until they make themselves stars.
No. 2 – There Is No Such Thing As A Sure Thing
The 2016 NASCAR season taught us not to take anything for granted and never to say never. In the middle of the season we lost Dale Earnhardt Jr. to his battle with concussions. While we though Earnhardt was going to only miss a few races, he ended up missing half of the season.
In the absence of Earnhardt, we also go the return of Jeff Gordon. Gordon came out of retirement to drive a handful of races in the No. 88 machine for his former teammate and friend.
Heading into the season nobody could have predicted Earnhardt missing half of the schedule or Gordon returning to the track in a car that wasn’t the No. 24. Coming into the season it was also unlikely that anyone would have guessed a concussion issue would cost any driver as much time as it cost Earnhardt.
Earnhardt’s struggles highlighted the dangers that these drivers face every time they get into the cars and it pushed the concussion conversation to the forefront in NASCAR. Although Earnhardt is returning in 2017, one has to wonder if he is one wreck away from having more issues.
No. 1 – History Can Happen In Front Of Us
Did you see Richard Petty win his seventh championship? If so, you most likely never thought anyone would match him, and then there was Dale Earnhardt.
If you saw Earnhardt win his seventh you most likely felt the same way, although Jeff Gordon might have scared you a bit.
Then came Jimmie Johnson and with him came NASCAR history. Johnson closed out the 2016 season by winning his seventh championship and he now sits one away from being the only driver in NASCAR history to win eight.
Love him, hate him, despise him, it doesn’t matter because at the end of the day you have to respect what he has accomplished in this sport and what he still might accomplish. Why can’t Johnson win No. 8 in 2017? Why can’t Johnson win No. 9 in 2018? Now that Johnson has won in the current Chase format there is no reason to believe that he won’t be able to do it again.
Some thought Johnson would never get there, some thought they would never see seven again or even a run at eight, Johnson is making it all happen and that’s pretty incredible.