Superlatives for the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season:
Driver of the Year
Kyle Busch: Not the champion? Nope. Joey Logano may have walked away from Homestead with his first Cup title, but with just three wins all year and glaring inconsistency before the playoffs, he was far from this year’s best driver. That honor instead goes to Kyle Busch, who tied for the series lead with eight wins. Busch won on intermediate tracks and short tracks, in dominant fashion and by coming from behind — the man just found ways to win all season long, up until the final race of the year.
Race of the Year
Bank of America Roval 400: A terrific ending, chaos, playoff implications, huge wrecks at critical junctures... yeah, there was a reason Charlotte Motor Speedway’s inaugural Roval race had so much hype. Jimmie Johnson’s last-second decision to go for the race win instead of settling for playoff advancement cost both him and Martin Truex Jr. the race, leaving the win there for Ryan Blaney’s taking. Oh yeah, and Kyle Larson limping around the track and trying not to blow up with his season on the line was a pretty entertaining sidebar. Kudos, Marcus Smith, on the successful brainchild.
Car of the Year
Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford: Logano comes up short again here, but to the other driver this season who won eight races. While Harvick wasn’t much of a factor in the Cup Series championship race, he still finished 2018 with more or as many wins, Top 5’s, Top 10’s, and poles as anyone else. That’s really impressive. Harvick also probably had a few races that slipped away from him, like a rain-shortened Michigan that instead went to his teammate, Clint Bowyer. Logano and Busch deserve consideration here, but Harvick was the most consistently excellent.
Team of the Year
Stewart-Haas Racing: Had Truex pulled off the storybook win at Homestead and taken home consecutive Cup championships, it would have been hard to go against Furniture Row Racing. But Truex couldn’t, Furniture Row has now folded, meaning we move onto the most well-rounded team of the year. All four of Stewart-Haas Racing’s drivers — Harvick, Bowyer, Kurt Busch, and Aric Almirola — advanced to the final eight of the playoffs, the only team to do so. Altogether, their 12 wins surpassed every other organization, too.
Story of the Year (on track)
The Big 3: While NASCAR touted its many young drivers before the 2018 season began, it quickly became apparent which drivers had the edge this season. Specifically, which three drivers — Harvick, Truex, and Kyle Busch, who were quickly nicknamed, “The Big 3.” Instead of the much-needed youth movement NASCAR’s marketing machine hyped up, we saw this trio win 20 of the year’s 36 races and all advance to the championship race. So much for the “young guns,” huh?
Story of the Year (off track)
Brian France’s arrest and subsequent leave: The night after superstar-in-the-making Chase Elliott won his first career Cup Series race — which understandably ignited the NASCAR world with hope — this saga unfolded. France, NASCAR’s CEO and chairman, was pulled over while driving through the Hamptons Sunday night, and was subsequently arrested for aggravated driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of a controlled substance. NASCAR quickly announced that France would be taking an indefinite leave from the sport to deal with his personal matters, replacing him with his uncle Jim. France’s strange, confrontational demeanor had been a blemish on the racing community for years, and while his health is paramount in any discussion, this saga completely diminished any goodwill from Elliott’s breakthrough.
Wreck of the Year (unintentional)
Bubba Wallace (Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval): So technically this happened during practice and not an actual race, but the damage was still severe. Wallace got loose on the same backstretch chicane that had troubled every driver, but instead of correcting and nipping the edge of the barrier, Wallace pummeled straight through an entire wall. Debris went everyone, Wallace went airborne, and the entire front of his car looked like... well, like it had plowed straight through a wall. Thankfully he was okay and able to walk off under his own power, but that was as violent a collision as we saw in any race in 2018.
Wreck of the Year (intentional)
TIE: Joey Logano-Martin Truex Jr. (Martinsville) AND Austin Dillon-Aric Almirola (Daytona): Dillon’s last-lap bump on Almirola won him the Daytona 500 and earned him a playoff spot, and both drivers involved said they understood what happened. An intentional move, but level heads prevailed. Then there’s the Logano-Truex situation, where Logano bumped Truex at the finish in Martinsville to clinch his berth in the championship race. Truex was understandably (and rightfully?) peeved, as were the fans in attendance who booed Logano, but “Sliced Bread” wouldn’t have qualified for the title race otherwise. You can argue it was dirty, but for the cost of a championship? You can’t fault Logano for going and getting what he’s always dreamed of.