Big storylines as NASCAR wraps up first half of 2015 season

Featured image courtesy of Alex Gallardo/AP

Wild, wacky, and weird: this has been the first half of the 2015 NASCAR season in a nutshell.

From a superstar’s retirement announcement to the surprise dominance by a single-car team, the first half of the season has been anything but ordinary. As the unofficial start of the latter half of the season approaches (the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway), let’s take a look at the surprising moments of the season so far:

Jeff Gordon’s retirement announcement.

At the beginning of the season, Jeff Gordon, 4-time Cup Series Champion and future NASCAR Hall of Famer, announced that 2015 would be his last full-time season. Many tracks have honored Gordon and given him presents in order to celebrate his NASCAR career, including a blackjack table from Las Vegas Motor Speedway. However, Gordon’s farewell parade hasn’t fared well for him: he had a few bad finishes at the beginning of the season, and he has not won a race yet. Next year, Gordon will be working with FOX, providing commentary on races.

Troubles plague the Busch brothers.

Both Kyle and Kurt Busch were forced to miss some races this season for different reasons. Kyle Busch broke his right leg and left foot in a crash while racing in the season-opening Daytona race in the Xfinity Series, a second-tier series. He returned to racing in time for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in late May. Meanwhile, Kurt Busch was suspended by NASCAR after a judge in family court ruled that he likely caused bodily harm to his ex-girlfriend when she confronted him in his motorhome in 2014. The suspension was lifted after three races when it was revealed that there would be no criminal charges filed against Kurt Busch.

For both drivers, NASCAR determined that if they get a win and are 30th or better in the driver point standings by the start of the Chase, NASCAR’s 10-race playoff for the championship, then they would be eligible for the Chase. Kurt Busch has won two races (Richmond and Michigan) and is in the top 30 in points, so he will make the Chase. Kyle Busch won the race at Sonoma, but there is no guarantee that he will he will make the Chase this year, as he still needs many points to make the 30th place cut-off. Still, there’s a whole summer of racing left before the Chase begins, and anything can happen.

Martin Truex Jr.’s dominance.

Sure, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and the reigning champion Kevin Harvick have been dominant for most of the year, but no one has come as a bigger surprise than Martin Truex Jr., the driver for the single-car team Furniture Row Racing. This year, Truex Jr. has acquired 14 top-10 finishes in the first 16 races of the season, a mark unachieved ever since Richard Petty did it in 1969. In addition, this team, led by crew chief Cole Pearn, is 2nd in the point standings and has one win (at Pocono), which means that he is locked into the Chase. This is a significant improvement over Truex Jr.’s performance last year, in which he had only four top-10s the whole season and was 24th in points.

The baby games.

Ever since the end of the 2014 season, many drivers have been making baby announcements. It all started when Brian Scott, a driver in the Xfinity series, announced the arrival of a baby boy on November 26. A few months later, Cup driver Kyle Larson and Xfinity driver Regan Smith became fathers. However, the biggest baby boom came in May, when Cup drivers Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Landon Cassill became fathers in a course of ten days. If this doesn’t seem like baby overload yet, Trevor Bayne and Kasey Khane also announced that they both have babies coming. And while Dale Earnhardt Jr. just got engaged, he says that he is planning on having kids – perhaps Dale Earnhardt III will continue his family’s legacy. Who knows: maybe these babies will be racing each other in 2035, looking to become the next NASCAR star.

Standing up for Steve Byrnes.

Steve Byrnes was a broadcaster for NASCAR on various television stations for over 30 years. In October 2014, Byrnes took indefinite leave from his FOX broadcasting job in order to focus on the treatment of his stage 4 head and neck cancer. To honor his courageous fight with cancer, the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway was renamed the Food City 500 In Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer. Even though the race ran long after a rain delay, Byrnes managed to watch the entire race, tweeting, “I went the distance.” Two days after the race, on April 21, Byrnes passed away after his valiant fight against cancer. The entire NASCAR community came together to honor Byrnes after the sudden news, and President Obama even sent his condolences to the Byrnes family. Byrnes is survived by his parents, wife, and son.

As the first half of the season comes to an end, the broadcasting shifts from FOX Sports to NBC Sports. That’s right: for the first time since 2006, NASCAR is returning to NBC, who will air Cup and Xfinity races on your local NBC station and also NBC Sports Network. NBC’s first Cup race broadcast will be the Coke Zero 400 on July 5 at 7:30pm on your local NBC station, so make sure you tune in.

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