Another year another NASCAR season is in the books. Kyle Busch is your champion, and Jeff Gordon finishes off his career on a high note. Let’s look back on what made 2015 so great and what gives NASCAR a future that it can build on.
Kyle Busch won his first Sprint Cup Championship in 2015 after missing the first 11 races of the year due to a broken leg. Busch won the championship simply because he won the races he needed to win. Busch returned from injury and won three straight over the summer. He won the final race at Homestead and cemented his legacy as a champion rather than a race winner. Busch finally got the chip off of his shoulder now, and can call himself a champion.
But the real winner of 2015 was Toyota. Toyota not only won its first NASCAR Cup championship, but also won its first major professional racing champion in any form. Toyota and Joe Gibbs racing also were the only team to get all of its drivers in the chase and with Furniture Row Racing and Martin Truex Jr. moving from Chevy to Toyota next year after making the final chase race in Miami, Toyota has strengthened its driver and team lineup for 2016. While Michael Waltrip Racing is folding this offseason, Toyota, with JGR and FRR, should be one of the favorites next season.
The big loser of 2015 is Roush-Fenway Racing and Ford. After being the premier Ford team for years, RFR had a disappointing season in 2015 with its drivers not winning any races and not making the chase. While Joey Logano, who won six races this season, and had 22 top 5’s, will be the favorite in 2016, he failed to make the final race in Miami even after winning four out of the last 10 races of the season. The two-car Penske established itself in 2015 as the new premier Ford team, but at the same time, the blue oval took a step backwards with failures across the board. Ford needs to step in 2016 if it wants any shot at the title.
The Unknown Looking Forward
With 2015 coming to a close, a lot of unknown will remain heading into the offseason and into next year. The first big unknown is how Chase Elliott will somehow fill the shoes of the retiring Jeff Gordon. Elliott has a lot of talent, and with the resources of Hendrick Motorsports at his disposal it shouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that Elliot could make the playoffs in 2016. But will the pressure of racing with the 24 on his car, get to him? We will wait and see.
2016 will be Tony Stewart’s final season in Sprint Cup, and if it’s anything like 2015, Stewart could be in for a long final 36 races. Stewart, who is going to be replaced by Clint Bowyer in 2017, has been nothing but a winner in his NASCAR career, winning three championships. Stewart has yet to win the Daytona 500 and “Smoke” would nothing better than winning the “Great American Race” in February and guaranteeing his spot for the Chase next season.
So that was 2015, a year that will soon not be forgotten by fans for a while. My personal favorite moment of 2015 was Jeff Gordon, winning his final race at Martinsville, securing his spot for the final round in Homestead.