The NASCAR on FOX segment of the Sprint Cup season has ended, with a pair of first-time race winners and some of the most riveting finishes in recent history highlighting the 13 races.
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Trevor Bayne kicked off the season with an emotional win for the Wood Brothers Racing team, setting the tone for a season that has featured a slate of different winners in races contested until the final laps. Kyle Busch has amped up the fireworks factor by being the center of a pair of skirmishes while Kevin Harvick showcased a new winning formula for dealing with a fuel-mileage race.
So what are the top 10 moments of the year? NASCAR on FOX offers The Golden Diggers of 2011:
1. Most dramatic finish
Needed enough for 603
Who expected that after 600 miles the race would come down to a few drops of gas? Last month’s Coca-Cola 600 was impossible to predict right up to the finish. Teams were already cutting it close on fuel mileage when the race went into extra laps, so the question was who had enough to get to the line. Turns out, most did not. Cars began slowing quickly on the final restart, piling up in a Turn 1 crash. NASCAR opted not to throw the caution and the leaders raced to the finish, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. leading into the final turn before his tank, too, ran dry, handing the win to Harvick.
2. Best moment
Rookie wins one for legends
The veterans got knocked out early this year — and fans were treated to the ultimate feel-good story. Everyone likes Trevor Bayne. Everyone likes the 60-year-old Wood Brothers Racing organization. This old and new mixed in a stunning Daytona 500 as Bayne outfoxed the veterans and stormed to Victory Lane. New fans found a favorite in the 20-year-old while old fans found nostalgia as the Wood Brothers returned to Victory Lane with him.
3. Best fight
Boys . . . and owners . . . have at it!
There’s certainly been no shortage of altercations in recent weeks, but it looked like the Harvick-Kyle Busch skirmish at Darlington Raceway would top them all. However, the incident in which Harvick took a swing at Busch in the car, then Busch pushed Harvick’s car out of the way as he fled in his car, paled in comparison to reports of team owner Richard Childress’ wrath in Kansas. Childress confronted Busch after the Camping World Truck Series race in an altercation that reportedly involved the owner hitting Busch. Already on probation for his Darlington actions, Busch was cleared by NASCAR. Childress, however, didn’t fare as well.
4. Best victory celebration
You gonna pay for that bumper?
Who would have thought you could do something more memorable than winning your first All-Star race, and the million dollars that come with it? Edwards certainly did. As he prepared for a unique burnout, he decided to slam across the front-stretch grass at high speed. Unfortunately, his car dug into the turf and parts started flying. Edwards destroyed his race-winning car, leading to some red-faced postrace answers — and some good-hearted ribbing from team owner Jack Roush.
5. Best snapshot
2 x 4
The new tandem racing, a change in which two cars worked together in a partnership to gain ground, that was prevalent at NASCAR’s restrictor-plate track was maligned — until eight cars crossed the finish line in a four-wide, tight pack at Talladega. That riveting image, with Jimmie Johnson narrowly edging Clint Bowyer at the line, kept fans and drivers talking for days. Who could ask for more?
6. Most overrated driver
Sorry, Denny Hamlin, but things just haven’t fared as well as anticipated this year. Hamlin was expected to be the top gun in the championship race, the driver most likely to succeed in the quest to end Johnson’s stranglehold on the NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Instead, he seems to be operating in the shadow of his 2010 loss of the title to Johnson in the final race. While things have been improving, Hamlin remains the driver most struggling to match his own, and others’, early expectations.
7. Best strategy
BTF — Best Teammates Forever
OK, now we know just how far one can legally go when it comes to helping a teammate. Harvick showed us that in the Coca-Cola 600. Running low on fuel, he and teammate Jeff Burton linked up with teammate Paul Menard, who pushed their cars around the track under caution so that those two could conserve fuel. Turns out, that’s perfectly legal until the final lap of the race. Who knew? It also turns out that it’s also the key to a winning strategy in a fuel-mileage race as Harvick prevailed when others sputtered to a stop on the track.
8. Best comeback
He’s (almost) baaaack
Earnhardt Jr. gained a new crew chief in the offseason, and new confidence with his early 2011 performances. Long the most popular driver in the sport, he’s back to being noted for his on-track runs as well as for his healthy fan base. Junior fans have sighed in frustration as he’s come so close to victory this year, but it’s a lot better position to be in than he’s faced in recent years. Right now, it seems like just a matter of time before Junior heads back to Victory Lane.
9. Biggest meltdown
Warning: This headset contains explicit communications
His obscenity-laced tirade at Richmond International Raceway was spectacular both for its tenor and language. Kurt Busch took radio chatter to a new level with his angry rant against his own organization and individual members of it. Later in the year, he once more gained notice on the radio as he turned despondent over his struggling All-Star race car and failed to offer constructive feedback to his team. Clearly, the talented driver is dealing with a high level of frustration this season.
10. Best new member of bad-boy club
A new man
Harvick, Kyle Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya have been in and out of the group for years based on both their on-track and off-track actions and comments. Kurt Busch has been in and out of this group for years. But this year, Ryan Newman joined the ranks. The driver tangled with Montoya at Richmond, then opted to visit the NASCAR trailer after the race to talk about the incident. A week later, he joked about being new to the bad boy group after a history of clean racing and little confrontation in the series.