NASCAR Sprint Cup: 2016 Season Review – Part 1

Jimmie Johnson - 2016 Sprint Cup champion

Jimmie Johnson wrested the Sprint Cup championship from Kyle Busch with a composed win at Homestead, Miami on November 20.

It was a victory which proved that the latter’s blazing 2015 Sprint Cup form was but a temporary peak that had been aided in no small part by the unrivaled pace of Joe Gibbs Racing.

By contrast, Johnson’s class is permanent. His famous versatility earned him a seventh Sprint Cup title in fifteen years of top-flight racing. Not a moment was wasted by Johnson’s team (Hendrick Motorsports) in pre-season, with every effort made to emulate the technical prowess of 2015’s top constructor.

JOHNSON SECURES EARLY PLAYOFF BERTH

The season began in anonymity for Johnson, when Denny Hamlin performed with typical gusto and emerged victorious at the opening race in Daytona on February 22. Johnson too boasts a strong record at the famous circuit, but a 16th place finish came as a huge disappointment to the man from Las Vegas.

However, that poor showing would be quickly consigned to history, as Johnson won the Atlanta 500 for the second year in succession. With the Johnson’s playoff place assured, attention turned to the reigning champion Kyle Busch.

busch

INCONSISTENCY FROM BUSCH

A straight flush of four top-five finishes between late-February and mid-March saw Busch once more established as the outright favourite to win the cup. A disastrous race at Fontana on March 20 saw the champion finish a lowly 25th, which enabled Jimmie Johnson to take victory for the second time in four races.

Kyle Busch began well, but inconsistency dogged the Sprint Cup champion
Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0)

Busch was not to be daunted however, scoring a brace of wins as April dawned. The schizophrenic form continued however, with Busch suffering yet another interruption to a promising hot streak, finishing 38th in Bristol, before scoring a trio of podiums (including a win in Kansas) that preceded finishes of 30th and 33rd in Dover and Charlotte respectively.

It would ultimately be this inconsistency which would see Busch lose his crown.

SURPRISE PACKAGES

A good run of eight top-10 finishes in the first nine races would be a sign of things to come for Carl Edwards, with back to back wins in Bristol and Richmond.

edwards

Naturally, the transfer of young Chase Elliott into the #24 of a retired Jeff Gordon was a huge talking point as the 2016 season began. Having shown such promise at junior level, expectations for Elliott were high but unfulfilled, with the youngster scoring a meager 37th place finish in Daytona.

Elliott’s spirit would not be deterred however, and three top-10 finishes in the following four races would serve as a truer indication of his talent.