The 2018 NASCAR season was a tough one. Between the unexpected death of Dale Earnhardt and the injury to Chris Evans, the racing season was shaken. But despite the tragedies that befell the sport in 2018, it wasn’t all bad. The cars are getting faster, the tracks are getting longer, and the drivers are driving harder. Let’s take a look at some of the most important developments this year.
New Winners Are Emerging
The Grand Marshall of the 2018 Charlotte 400 was Kevin Harvick, the four-time NASCAR champion. Despite having the most wins of any driver in the 2018 season, Harvick was far from being the favorite going into the event. Kevin Harvick Racing picked up its 13th win of the season coming in a hard-fought battle with Kyle Busch. Harvick, who also led the most laps (254), beat Busch by 0.024 seconds. All these wins have put Kevin Harvick Racing in good position to challenge for the championship in 2019.
More Poles Are Standing Tall
The longest-running NASCAR race is the Daytona 500. It has been held annually since its first running in February of 1963. The biggest change this year was the switch from absolute to comparative times for the winner’s circle celebrations. That means that the winners won’t simply be known for the number of laps they covered, but will be determined based on the performance of their cars compared to the rest of the field. While this may be a small detail for many, it certainly won’t be for the teams that missed the cut in 2018. The extra half a second per lap may not sound like a lot, but it can add up quickly when you factor in all the bonus time that teams get because of the way the racing is currently scored.
Nascar Is Adapting
What happens when tragedy strikes a sport? You might expect the participants to break off into a bout of self-reflection and contemplation. But you’d be wrong. The sporting world quickly adapts, and the 2018 NASCAR season was no different. Shortly after the tragic events of the summer, NASCAR made some key changes to their regulations and equipment in order to make the sport more dangerous. Many feel that at least three of the big five NASCAR events (the Daytona 500, the Coke Zero 400, and the Brickyard 400) are now more suitable for drivers than they’ve ever been before. Teams are using that extra bit of caution to their advantage, practicing longer and harder than ever before.
The Racing Is Getting More Exciting
Let’s face it, the last couple of years have not been kind to NASCAR fans. Between the endless replays and montages of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s wins, and the countless commercials and magazine spreads dedicated to Jimmie Johnson and his chase for the championship, it’s safe to say that 2018 wasn’t exactly the year of joy and excitement that NASCAR fans were hoping for. And we’re not just talking about the fans in the United States. Around the world, fans tuned in to watch the big races in person, but found themselves distracted by all the technology surrounding them, particularly the smartphones.
It’s clear that NASCAR isn’t going to stop anytime soon in its quest to boost its popularity. Between the longer races and the changes in technology, the sport is going to make things interesting again. The hard-fought battles for the 2018 championship are a perfect example of how NASCAR is adapting and making the sport more exciting for fans. While Johnson may have been the favorite heading into the year, the race against time and tradition to be the first ever NASCAR Cup champion belonging to the team owner from Dallas was an unforgettable race to behold.
The Dirtiest Race Is Back
One of the many interesting changes this year was that the traditional post-race shower has been replaced by a celebration in the winner’s circle. For years, after the checkered flag dropped, a few drivers would rush to the shower, eager to wash away the stench of gasoline and oil that permeated every inch of their bodies. These post-race showers were always a highlight, with the drivers engaging in friendly battles to determine who was dirtiest. But after the rise of social media and its influence on sports, these traditional winners’ circle celebrations have been replaced by a few humble handshakes and a photo op.
It’s a subtle change, but one that was well-received by fans and the media. While the shower scene may have been a tad more civilized in 2019, there’s no doubting that the post-race celebration has evolved to fit the Twitter Generation.
Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Legacy Lived On Through His Children
One of the biggest surprises of the 2018 season was the early exit of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Injuries had taken their toll on the seven-time NASCAR champion, and eventually the team owner had to announce that it was time for him to retire from competition. But before he walked away, he left a lasting legacy, not just in the sport, but in the families he had brought into the sport. His children Jack, Tina, and Amy, along with his great-grandchildren, joined the driver’s wives, Kelly and Lea, in the winners’ circle after the season-finale banquet, taking over for their late father. It was a touching moment, as the group of drivers celebrated their hard-earned wins together, paying tribute to their fallen leader and friend.
Chris Evans’ Injury Was A Devastating Loss
And then there was Chris Evans. The actor turned NASCAR champion was the face of the sport in the 2010s, starring in multiple advertisements and appearing at almost all the big races during that time. Before the beginning of the 2018 season, Evans had already stated that he wanted to end his NASCAR career on a high note, but he failed to do so when he crashed during a qualifying run at Daytona International Speedway in February. A few weeks later, at the Coke Zero 400, Evans attempted to qualify for the race and ended up breaking his forearm. The injury required multiple surgeries and kept Evans off the track for the remainder of the season. Evans had one final race, the season finale, where he got one final chance at glory. Unfortunately, Evans sustained more injuries during that race and had to withdraw from the event. It was a crushing end to a remarkable career. The 45-year-old racer was both an inspiration and a source of pride for many, especially in his home state of North Carolina, where the economy has been badly impacted by his frequent absences due to injury. While Evans had a lot of success in his career, he will be missed more than anything else. He will be remembered for his quick wit, devilish grin, and ability to laugh off misfortune.
The Longer Races Are Suitable For Everyone
One of the biggest talking points heading into the 2018 season was the length of the NASCAR races. Many were frustrated that the shorter races had been taken off the schedule, but the longer ones had proven to be more suitable for today’s NASCAR drivers. The longer the race, the more room for mistakes, and that’s made the difference. In the premier series, the average race length is increasing by about one or two miles per year. But this hasn’t lessened the intensity of the competition, as the drivers are still driving as hard as they can, trying to beat their opponents instead of just finishing in the same place.
That’s the beauty of NASCAR. No matter how much things change, the heart of the sport will always remain the same. While it’s sad to see one of the most beloved sports figures in history depart from the sport, it’s also a testament to the power of memory, particularly when it comes to rivalries and friendships. When tragedy strikes, the sporting world temporarily pauses, but it quickly moves on, adapting as it goes along. In some ways, that’s what made the 2018 season so incredible, as those who were there will never forget the feeling of that final race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the site of the former Monster Energy Cup.