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Five 2016 Premier Series Thrillers We Won’t Soon Forget
- Updated: December 18, 2016
By Summer Bedgood, Managing Editor
As many of us are sitting in our living rooms drinking hot chocolate, trying not to triple our energy bill while combatting the sub-zero temperatures, spring and the start of a new race season cannot come soon enough.
As quickly as the offseason has come upon us, so too will it quickly fade away as another February and another long season begins. The moments while we wait are a poignant time to reflect and reminisce, recalling the moments that stand out and perhaps the ones that were overshadowed.
One sure way to get the juices flowing again is to recall the moments that spiked our heartrate, sent shivers up and down our spines, or gave us goosebumps. The moments we live for in racing are those where we are peeking through our fingers as we cover our eyes in tense moments or slide to the edge of our seat while our stomach churns in anticipation of an exciting finish.
Here are five of those races, those moments, from the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season that will still get our hearts racing when we look back years from now:
- Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway’s title as the “World Center of Racing” was earned with many exciting and dramatic moments in the track’s 57-year history.
2016 was no exception. As usual, the buildup to the opening race of the season was filled with hype and pageantry. It can sometimes be hard for a race to live up to that kind of expectation year after year. While this Daytona 500 was tame – at least in comparison to past races – for much of the event, the closing laps were clearly setting up for a fantastic finish.
The Joe Gibbs Racing teammates and Furniture Row Racing alliance teammate Martin Truex Jr. had been working together at the front of the field all day, and Matt Kenseth seemed to be in the best position to take advantage of it. Leading with just five laps to go, the driver of the No. 20 looked like he may be on his way to his third Daytona 500 win.
That didn’t happen. Out of desperation to make a move, Hamlin pulled up to the top lane in front of Kevin Harvick and quickly made gains on Kenseth heading to the checkered flag. Kenseth moved up to throw a block. In response, Hamlin dove to Kenseth’s inside, and Kenseth again tried to block. This time, the two made contact. Kenseth fell back through the field, and this opened the door for Truex to drag race with Hamlin to the finish line.
Truex and Hamlin were side-by-side all the way to the checkered flag and, in less than the blink of an eye, Hamlin was the victor in the closest finish in Daytona 500 history.
Watching the finish live, it was difficult to tell for sure who won. NASCAR even went back to verify the video evidence before establishing Hamlin as the winner in a .010 second margin of victory.
The first race of the season created perhaps the most electrifying finish of the year. No matter how many times it is replayed or revisited, watching the final lap of that race still calls to memory the stomach-churning uncertainty that often comes with a race at Daytona.
- Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Speedway
Revisiting 2016 reminds us that we may have been a little bit spoiled at the beginning of the season. The spring (ish?) race at PIR was only the fourth race of the season, barely enough time for the smoke to clear from the finish in Daytona.
Whenever Phoenix comes around on the schedule, Kevin Harvick is the odds-on favorite, with eight career victories at the one-mile oval. He went out and proved why on this particular day, leading 139 of the 313 laps. Though he eventually won the race, Carl Edwards didn’t make it easy, creating another thrilling finish in the process.
An “overtime” finish for NASCAR gave Edwards one last opportunity at Harvick and he made the most of it. Coming out of turn four, Edwards got underneath Harvick and the two, akin to Truex and Edwards, drag raced to the checkered flag. Harvick won with the exact same margin of victory as Hamlin, giving fans two extremely close finishes in the first four races of the season.
- Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway
Carl Edwards sure has a way of making things exciting, doesn’t he?
Typically, the “exciting” Richmond race comes in the fall during the cutoff race for the Chase. However, this time around, the spring race had some fireworks between teammates.
Just a couple of months after those same teammates worked so well together in Daytona, Edwards and Kyle Busch found themselves in a head-to-head battle for the race win. Busch had already accrued two victories by this point in the season and Edwards had won the week prior in Bristol, so both had secured a spot in the postseason. This victory was for nothing other than bonus points and pride.
Busch held the lead over Edwards on the last lap, but not by very much. Edwards was right on his bumper all the way to the checkered flag. Coming out of turn four to the finish, Edwards unexpectedly bumped Busch out of the way, allowing Edwards to just barely drive by for the victory.
Afterwards, Busch maintained that he owed Edwards one right up until the end of the season. He never had the opportunity (or more likely, never cashed in the opportunity) to recreate the situation, so perhaps there will be a repeat of this move with the roles reversed some time in 2017.
- Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway
There are always many different opinions, agendas, and hopes for the NASCAR season, but it seemed nearly unanimous that people wanted Tony Stewart to go out on top in his final season in the Sprint Cup Series.
And, in typical Stewart fashion, he did so in the most exciting way possible. A head-to-head last-lap battle with Denny Hamlin and lots of contact between the two had Smoke fans, Hamlin fans, and everyone in between holding their breaths.
Ultimately, Stewart put the bumper to the back of Hamlin’s No. 11 and drove to victory lane in arguably the most popular victory of the season.
- Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway
The stakes were so high in this race, it would have been hard for the race to have been boring. However, it was left up until the last lap to determine who would be racing for the Championship 4 at Homestead.
On a very-late-in-the-race restart, Kenseth was leading the race and in good shape to win the race at advance to the season finale at Homestead. A hard crash following contact with Alex Bowman ruined any chances he had of that, opening up the door for Joey Logano to make a run for it. One more restart with Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Larson – all of whom, except for Larson, were racing for a spot in Homestead – left the field wide open.
Logano eventually won the race with a fairly comfortable distance, but the entirety of this race had that knot-in-your stomach feel that wasn’t quite sealed until the checkered flag flew.