2014 was a time for change, heated moments and odd occurrences. After the NASCAR world reeled from a controversy that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, several changes were made.
At Richmond Raceway in 2013, the final race of the regular season, Michael Waltrip Racing allegedly attempted to manipulate the final few laps in its favor. Ryan Newman was leading with about seven laps to go when Clint Bowyer spun out, bringing out the caution. Newman lost a few spots on pit road, while Bowyer’s teammate Martin Truex Jr. gained several positions. Then after the race restarted, Brian Vickers returned to pit road, allowing Truex to move up a spot and tie Newman in points. Since Truex held the tiebreaker, he would take the final wildcard spot. Or would he?
Further investigation into the spin, and Vickers’ return to pit road revealed a manipulation involving team orders. MWR was fined $300,000, MWR General Manager Ty Norris was indefinitely suspended and each driver was deducted 50 points. This put Truex out of the Chase for the Cup and put Newman in.
Later that week, Jeff Gordon, who was ahead of Joey Logano in points before the caution, was also added to the Chase field. Yes, that meant 13 drivers — not the original 12 — were in the Chase.
So What Changed in 2014?
The Chase format, for one. Instead of getting rid of the Chase altogether, NASCAR increased the Chase field to 16 drivers. The top 15 drivers with the most wins would be locked into the Chase, while the 16th spot was reserved for whoever had the most points. If there were 16 or more drivers with victories, then the driver highest in points without a victory after 26 races would be in the Chase grid.
The rounds were called the Challenger, Contender and Eliminator Rounds, and the final race was the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship race. Chase competitors who won a race in each round automatically locked themselves into the next round.
The format is very similar to that used today, except it’s called the playoffs now and there are bonus playoff points for stage wins.
As is the case every year, many drivers and teams changed in 2014; MWR was especially affected. As a result of previous year’s controversy, the No. 56 team was shut down after NAPA left to sponsor Chase Elliott in the then-Nationwide Series (now-NASCAR Xfinity Series). NAPA still sponsors Elliott in the Cup Series and recently extended their sponsorship through 2022.
Meanwhile, Truex joined the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing in its No. 78 car. Tom Bowles said it best, “it’s how people recover from adversity that truly defines them.” Truex’s successful run with FRR, which included the 2017 championship, came to an end after the organization shut down at the end of the 2018 season. However, he and then crew chief Cole Pearn signed with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019. Truex won seven times last year and was runner-up in the standings. Pearn is no longer with the team though, so it remains to be seen how Truex will perform this year, currently 15th in points after four races.
Bowyer and Vickers remained with MWR in 2014 but didn’t make the Chase, finishing 19th and 22nd in the standings, respectively. Vickers hasn’t raced since 2016 due to recurring health issues, while Bowyer currently drives the No. 14 car for Stewart-Haas Racing. MWR shut down at the end of the 2015 season; Waltrip now works for FOX Sports.
Other shifts in the 2014 Cup Series included Kurt Busch moving from FRR to Stewart-Haas Racing in the new No. 41 Chevrolet. Kevin Harvick also joined the team after competing with Richard Childress Racing for his entire Cup career until that point. He still drives the No. 4 car, though the manufacturer switched from Chevrolet to Ford in 2017.
Who replaced Harvick at RCR in 2014? None other than Austin Dillon. The 2018 Daytona 500 champion continues to drive the No. 3 Chevrolet for his grandfather’s team. Newman also joined RCR in the No. 31 car, formerly driven by Jeff Burton, who semi-retired in preparation for his current role as an NBC Sports analyst. Burton competed in four races that year — two for MWR and two more in August subbing for Tony Stewart in the No. 14 car. Stewart voluntarily sat out three races after an incident in a dirt race that resulted in the death of driver Kevin Ward Jr.
Additionally, Germain Racing changed manufacturers from Ford to Chevrolet, which it still uses to this day.
There was one more significant change in 2014: NASCAR eliminated single-car qualifying. The multi-car qualifying format was used on road courses in the year prior but was extended across all racetracks in ’14. On tracks longer than 1.25 miles, there were three sessions. The first session was 25 minutes and all cars would be on track. The 24 fastest cars would then move on to a 10-minute session, and then the top 12 would go for the pole in the third five-minute session. The shorter tracks featured two sessions: the first for 30 minutes and the final one for 10 minutes. In September 2014, NASCAR made each of the three rounds at the Talladega five minutes long.
Is this format still used today? No. You may remember the debacle last year at Auto Club Speedway where no one crossed the line in the final round. Since the rules package allowed for more drafting, drivers wanted to take advantage of that by staying on pit road as long as they could. No one wanted to be first if they wanted to nab the pole, which eventually bit them at Auto Club. While single-car qualifying may not be as interesting as multi-car, at least it won’t be like it was that day.
Enough with the Changes, What Happened that Season?
Harvick won the Cup Series Championship in his first year with SHR. The end.
Actually, the season started off on fire — literally — in the Sprint Unlimited as the pace car caught fire during a caution.
Then, after a lengthy rain delay, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hung on to capture his second Daytona 500 victory.
Harvick’s first win with his new team would come the following week at Phoenix Raceway, and Earnhardt took second. Harvick would go on to win four more races, including three in the Chase.
In May, Kurt Busch finished sixth in the Indianapolis 500, but saw his chance to complete the double go up in smoke in the Coca-Cola 600. Over halfway through the race, Busch radioed to his team that he was down a cylinder, and soon after, his engine blew, leaving him with a 40th-place finish. He remains the last person to attempt the Memorial Day weekend double.
Jimmie Johnson took the victory in the Charlotte Motor Speedway 600-miler after he passed Matt Kenseth in the closing laps. Harvick also went around Kenseth and was runner-up in the longest race of the season.
The following week at Dover International Speedway featured two red flags: one for a crash and another for an odd occurrence. Jamie McMurray hit a piece of concrete that had come up off the track and damaged his front splitter as a result. NASCAR halted the race for 22 minutes to repair the track and the glass window in the bridge above the track.
After the race resumed, Johnson led 272 laps en route to his ninth Monster Mile victory.
It was a rainy Fourth of July weekend; weather pushed the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway to Sunday, and even then, the race was delayed a few laps. There were two big crashes that brought out the red flag, with the first one involving 16 cars and the second 26 cars. The latter, dubbed “The Huge One” by the broadcast team, ended with Kyle Busch slowly rolling over onto his roof.
The race resumed on lap 105, but shortly stopped thereafter due to rain, and Aric Almirola won his first Cup Series race in Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 car. Almirola’s win occurred 30 years after Richard Petty picked up his 200th victory at Daytona and snapped a 15-year winless streak for the King’s car (John Andretti, Martinsville Speedway, 1999).
There was another first-time winner that year: AJ Allmendinger at Watkins Glen International. Driving the No. 47 car for JTG Daugherty Racing, Allmendinger held off Marcos Ambrose on a restart to capture his first and only Cup win of his career.
‘You Hit Me Under Yellow’ and Other Altercations
Let’s just say, Brad Keselowski didn’t make many friends in 2014.
One of the first feuds happened at Martinsville between he and Kurt Busch. As is often the case at short tracks like the Paperclip, pit road was congested. It was so congested that Keselowski ran into Kasey Kahne when Kahne was pitting. Busch attempted to pass on the outside, but it appeared that Keselowski didn’t realize he was there and ran into him. Keselowski’s car was heavily damaged as a result. The team cut away the sheet metal in the garage, and Keselowski came back on the track. When Busch came near him, Keselowski displayed his displeasure with a hand gesture.
“I can’t believe he overreacted and he’s as upset as he is,” Busch said. “The [No.] 5 car was trying to pull into his box, Brad ran into the back of him, I steered right to go around Brad and then he clobbers our left‑side door, and it’s like, ‘Okay, accidents happen on pit road.’ It’s congested. It’s not a place to race, because of all the pit-crew guys down there and I didn’t think much of it, and then once we were back out running, he targeted us, he was aiming for us. He tried to flatten all four of my tires. That’s a no‑fly zone. That’s a punk‑ass move, and he will get what he gets back when I decide to give it back.”
It didn’t ruin Busch’s race, though, as he later took the victory, his first since driving for Team Penske in 2011.
Much of the heated moments came during the Chase, and understandably so. Tensions were already high for everyone wanting to make their way into the next round and ultimately win the championship. In the fall event at Charlotte, Keselowski had issues after the race with three different drivers. He was upset with Denny Hamlin after the race and turned Hamlin on the cool-down lap. Then, on pit road, he ran into Kenseth, leading to an altercation at the haulers. But Keselowski also made contact with Stewart’s stopped car. Stewart then backed up quickly and caused severe damage to Keselowski’s front end.
Keselowski was fined $50,000 and Stewart $25,000 for what they did after the race. Both were also placed on probation for four races.
Three in one race? That should be enough, right?
Well, the altercations were not over yet. Gordon had an issue with how he was raced on a late restart at Texas Motor Speedway and wanted to have a word with Keselowski after the finish. Some of their crew members were already shoving and arguing, but it seemed things would cool down a bit. That was not to be the case. Harvick came from behind, shoved Keselowski and mayhem ensued.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) March 31, 2020
The only penalties issued were to crew members and crew chiefs.
One more punch occurred in 2014, but this time it was from Ambrose. Casey Mears went to talk with Ambrose about an incident during the spring race at Richmond Raceway, but ended up grabbing him. Next thing he knew was Ambrose punched him in the eye. NASCAR penalized both drivers for their actions in the altercation; Ambrose was fined $25,000 while Mears was fined $15,000. Each driver was also put on probation until May 28.
How Did Harvick Win the Championship?
He first needed to win at Phoenix to avoid elimination, as he was too far behind in points to the others. Not only did he win there, but he dominated, leading 264 of 312 laps. It was his fourth victory in five events at the desert track.
Newman also raced his way in; he needed one more position to secure his spot in the championship race. On the final turn, Newman went door-to-door with then-rookie Kyle Larson and sent him up into the outside wall. This move bumped Gordon out of the race for the Homestead-Miami Speedway. The other two drivers moving on were Joey Logano and Hamlin.
Though Gordon dominated the final race at Homestead, late restarts put him further in the field. Harvick gained several positions and held off Newman in the final three laps to take his first ever Cup Series championship.
This was a key moment for SHR. It was the team’s second championship, and the first bright spot since Stewart’s dirt track incident in August. It helped solidify how strong Harvick and his team was and still is to this day.