NASCAR: Top 20 Wrecks of 2012 so Far
This one's not going to go over so well, I'm sure.
First of all, compiling a list of 20 wrecks from this NASCAR season takes contributions from all three of the sanctioning body's national series. We've had plenty of accident-free races in Sprint Cup this season, enough for Bruton Smith to suggest "mandatory cautions" in order to bunch up the field for entertainment purposes.
Second of all, I'm sure there are going to be plenty of fans who disparage this list as against the spirit of real racing. In a way, yes, it is. Nobody wants to see their favorite driver wreck, nobody wants to see anybody get hurt, and nobody competing wants to come home 38th with a write-off in the back of the hauler.
But as we saw at Watkins Glen on Sunday, there's a fine line between the type of hard racing that we want (as demonstrated by Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski) and an accident (Keselowski spinning Kyle Busch). When drivers don't push that line, the races get boring, as plenty have complained about all season.
The long and short of it is, if you want to see hard racing, there are going to be accidents, whether drivers are reckless or not.
We're here to break down some of those accidents, going chronologically from the start of the year at Daytona to Watkins Glen on Sunday. We'll touch on all three series, showing you what went wrong to lead to these wrecks. Without further justification, here we go.
Stewart Spins Busch in Bud Shootout Practice
Bump drafting is a precise art that can either push a pair of drivers forward or lead to a major accident. If one driver bumps the other at a bad angle, as Tony Stewart does to Kurt Busch here, it can result in the front car spinning out.
With the return of pack racing in full force this year, that leaves the entire pack of cars behind the spinning driver vulnerable, as multiple cars sustained damage in this wreck.
No Points, No Restraint in Daytona
The Budweiser Shootout was more of a demolition derby and an exercise in survival than a typical NASCAR race, as only 10 of the 25 cars entered finished on the lead lap. The major accidents came on laps nine, 55 and 74, eliminating 12 cars that led 52 of the 82 laps between them. In the end, Kyle Busch came out on top after having to make a desperate save of his own in the middle of the race.
Danica Takes Her First Big Hit in Sprint Cup
After driving a clean race in the Gatorade Duel, her de facto first Sprint Cup race, Danica Patrick had almost made it to the finish before contact with Aric Almirola on the final lap sent her car screaming into the inside backstretch wall.
It wouldn't be Patrick's last wreck of the weekend, as she also suffered incidents in the Nationwide race and the Daytona 500, but it may have been the most controversial; much was made of footage of Patrick letting go of the wheel as the car spun out of control, as most IndyCar drivers do in order to avoid hand or wrist injuries.
Paludo's Truck Destroyed in Season Opener
Brazilian driver Miguel Paludo got more than he bargained for in the first race of his second season in the Camping World Truck Series.
While racing near the front of the lead pack of trucks, Paludo was spun into the inside wall, hitting it much like Ricky Rudd's terrifying Winston Cup wreck there in the 1980s. Paludo, who had been the race's polesitter, hasn't finished better than 10th since.
Busch Brothers Alter Nationwide Finish at Daytona
Kurt and Kyle Busch drafted their way to the front of the pack in the last lap of this year's season-opening Nationwide race at Daytona.
But when Kurt attempted to block a hard-charging Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne in turn four, the entire field got squeezed. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got into the back of Kyle, sending him head-on into the wall at full speed.
The win fell to James Buescher, who had been 11th before the accident began.
Montoya Sets Bar for Strange Accidents in Daytona 500
In the movie Days of Thunder, crew chief Harry Hogge famously told driver Cole Trickle to "hit the pace car."
In this year's Daytona 500, Juan Pablo Montoya did Hogge one better by hitting a jet dryer on the track. The resulting fuel spill further delayed the sport's biggest race, which had already been pushed to Monday night due to rain on Sunday, and nearly forced its early end.
While Dave Blaney, who had been leading at the time, may have appreciated that, the track was cleaned up (thanks to Tide), and the race was eventually resumed.
Bristol Accident Bumps Kahne out of Top 30 in Points
Kasey Kahne may be in prime position to score a wild card berth in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, but that certainly wasn't always the case.
This wreck at Bristol in March, which began when he cut Regan Smith off on the frontstretch, sent Kahne reeling into 32nd place in points, leaving some to worry if the new Hendrick Motorsports acquisition would fall out of the top 35 in points and lose his guaranteed starting spot in the race each weekend.
The accident also collected a number of top Bristol drivers, including Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
No Love Lost Between Teammates at Bristol
Kahne wasn't the only Hendrick driver with a run of bad luck to start the season, as Jeff Gordon also had a string of bad finishes to begin the year.
This wreck at Bristol happened when teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. clipped Gordon on the backstretch, deflating Gordon's left rear tire and spinning the No. 24 around. Gordon, who had started fourth and ran towards the front all day, finished a disappointing 35th.
Bowyer Takes out Gordon, Johnson at Martinsville
Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson had dominated the majority of the Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville in April, but when David Reutimann's car stopped on track, it gave other drivers an opportunity to steal the victory under a green-white-checkered finish. Ryan Newman helped push Clint Bowyer to the inside of the track after taking the green flag, but Martinsville doesn't offer drivers too much room to run three wide. Bowyer, Gordon, and Johnson all spun, while Newman inherited the lead and eventually the victory.
Trucks Make Contact at Kansas
Camping World Truck Series legend Ron Hornaday managed to save his truck after this contact at Kansas in April got him loose, but multiple drivers behind him weren't so lucky. Paulie Harraka, David Starr and Brennan Newberry were among those collected, with Newberry hitting the outside wall head-on after over-correcting from his contact with Starr.
McClure Tests SAFER Barrier at Talladega
Thanks to safer cars and SAFER barriers, few drivers spend all that much time out of the car after a major accident in this era of racing. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for Eric McClure after this hard hit in the Talladega Nationwide race in May.
McClure missed five races with concussion-like symptoms after slamming into the inside wall, handing over his Tri-Star Motorsports ride to Jeff Green while he recovered. McClure returned at Road America, where he scored a 21st place finish, his best result of the year at the time.
Big One in Final Laps at Talladega
It didn't take long after this restart with four laps to go in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega in May for drivers to start wrecking and cause another caution.
Denny Hamlin tries to cut to the middle to get by A.J. Allmendinger. When Allmendinger attempts to block, Hamlin spins him into Paul Menard and begins a chain reaction that takes out such top superspeedway drivers as Kevin Harvick and Michael Waltrip.
Former Penske Teammates Synchronize Spins at Darlington
There's a lot of Kurt Busch on this list because he's had a lot of bad luck this season—not a great trait for a driver with well-documented anger issues over the past year or so.
In Darlington's Southern 500, Busch lost his right rear tire and spun coming off of turn two, while Aric Almirola hit Ryan Newman's rear bumper to send him spinning alongside his former Penske Racing teammate.
Stewart, Cassill Seal off Dover's Backstretch
For 13 Sprint Cup drivers, many of whom were with underfunded teams, June's race at Dover ended before it even started. Coming off of turn two, Tony Stewart bumped into Landon Cassill and slowed, leaving him vulnerable to contact from Regan Smith. David Ragan got by that, but when Michael McDowell got turned around in the resulting backup, many drivers at the rear of the field got caught up in the mess.
16 Cars Collected in Nationwide at Daytona
Mike Wallace and Kevin Harvick were at the front of this wreck in July's Nationwide race at Daytona, which started when Wallace slowed coming out of turn two and dropped into James Buescher's car at the bottom of the track. That sent Wallace up into Brad Keselowski and Buescher up into Harvick, Cole Whitt, and others, with 16 cars collected in total. Kurt Busch, whose No. 1 car barely slipped by a spinning Wallace, managed to hang on for the victory, his first of any sort with Phoenix Racing.
Busch Causes More Fireworks at Daytona
Unfortunately, the elder Busch brother couldn't carry that momentum into Saturday's Coke Zero 400.
On lap 91 of 160, he moves aggressively towards the bottom of the track, fighting Aric Almirola for real estate. Almirola's car pushes back, and the momentum sends both Busch and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne into the first turn wall. The damage limited Busch to 132 laps completed and a 35th-place finish, while Almirola finished 19th and Bayne came home 27th after another crash later in the race.
Wild Finish Hands Stewart Daytona Victory
Contact between Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle started this wreck on the final lap of the Coke Zero 400.
Kenseth and Biffle were both chasing leader Tony Stewart, who managed to hold off Jeff Burton as the majority of the field wrecked behind them. Biffle spun to the inside of the track, sending Dale Earnhardt Jr. hard into the outside wall. Then Aric Almirola slammed into Biffle's driver's side door at full speed.
Hornish Wrecks Busch, Gaughan in Chicago
With eight laps to go in July's Nationwide race at Chicago, Sam Hornish Jr. tried to follow Kyle Busch past Brendan Gaughan to get back into the top 10. Instead, while ducking out of line, Hornish clipped Busch's rear bumper to send both drivers into the wall.
Hornish claimed after the race that he was checking to see if the hood pins on his car were loose. Gaughan dismissed the excuse as "lame," noting that drivers can't see the hood pins from behind the wheel.
Truck Points Leader Peters Collected at Pocono
With 12 laps to go in the Camping World Truck Series race at Pocono, Paulie Harraka struggled to find a decent line into Turn Two and got into Ron Hornaday, sending both into the wall.
At the same time, just ahead of them, points leader Timothy Peters made contact with Matt Crafton and spun into Miguel Paludo. Interestingly enough, these were two separate accidents that simply happened to take place at the exact same time.
Wild Finish at Watkins Glen
Here it is, the epitome of good, hard racing in NASCAR this season—the final lap of Sunday's Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen.
Though Kyle Busch's lead was a casualty of this sort of all-out, reckless racing, the majority of the lap presented a battle between Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski that few other races have offered this year. This is the kind of racing that every NASCAR fan wants.