MotorSportsTalk will be counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December.
Here’s what we’ve done so far:
- 20 – XFINITY takes over title sponsorship for NASCAR Nationwide Series
- 19 – The NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015
- 18 – Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger’s upset victories
- 17 – Bubba Wallace wins 4 races, finishes 3rd in Trucks, but has no ride for 2015
- 16 — Kyle Larson, super-rookie
- 15 — Danica Patrick’s progress in Year 2
- 14 – Matt Crafton doubles up in the Trucks
- 13 – Chase Elliott becomes youngest NASCAR national series champion
Today, we’re at No. 12 and how two of NASCAR’s top stars made waves in the Chase without winning a race…
No racer worth his or her salt likes a zero in the win column at the end of a season. Finishing first ahead of all the other guys and gals is always the goal, whether it’s under the bright lights of NASCAR or on some nondescript dirt oval in Anytown, USA.
Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth each failed to win a race in 2014. But in the big picture, their seasons were still largely successful ones.
Newman made the Chase for the Sprint Cup but without a signature victory in the regular season, many observers considered him to be up for an early elimination.
But the former Daytona 500 winner defied the odds with a superb run of finishes. And a last-lap shove of Kyle Larson in the Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix thrust Newman into the Championship 4 at the season-finale in Homestead.
With the new Chase format having put more emphasis on winning than ever before, here was Newman riding consistency all the way to the final battle.
The prospect of him as the first winless Sprint Cup champion ever became a major storyline in the lead-up to the Ford Ecoboost 400. But in the end, it was Kevin Harvick outlasting Newman to win the race and the title following a three-lap dash to the checkered flag.
Newman’s runner-up at Homestead was his best finish of 2014. He earned just five Top-5 finishes and led just 41 laps all season. Yet he came within half a second of delivering perhaps the greatest title upset in NASCAR history.
As for Kenseth, he was unable to get off the schnide in his followup campaign to a 2013 season that had him take a series-high seven wins and fight Jimmie Johnson for the championship.
To be fair, a noticeable power deficit for the Toyota camp against the dominant Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Team Penske meant that Kenseth had to use the consistency card as well during the regular season.
Kenseth used it to perfection by staying within the Top 5 of the points standings from Fontana all the way to the Chase. He ended up earning his post-season berth on points alone with one race remaining in the regular season.
Strong efforts in the first two elimination races – a fifth in the Challenger Round finale at Dover and a second in the Contender Round finale at Talladega – helped Kenseth go into the Eliminator Round along with Newman.
Unfortunately for the 2003 Cup champ, a 25th-place finish at Texas put him in what proved to be too big a hole for him to advance to the Championship 4. Kenseth was knocked out the next week at Phoenix despite coming home in third place.
Obviously, Newman and Kenseth will be seeking to get wins under their belts and punch their tickets to the Chase early in 2015. But this past year, they proved that winning isn’t the only way to make an impact.