STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Blog and photo by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda —
As I learned in the journalism business, many writers don’t like to deal with numbers. I’m one of the exceptions because I like crunching numbers and statistics in the sports world.
2014 was another big year in racing. NASCAR used its knockout Chase for the Sprint Cup system and Will Power won his elusive IndyCar championship. Not only for the big racing series, as well as NASCAR’s lower series and ARCA. Ben Rhodes made it back-to-back K&N East championships for Turner Scott Motorsports (TSM). The last three East champions (Dylan Kwasniewski in 2013 and Kyle Larson in 2012 ) all drove for TSM in some capacity in 2014.
The organization also saw two first-time winners in Brandon Jones at Iowa in Aug. and Scott Heckert a week later at Watkins Glen. Heckert scored a victory the week after at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) and becoming the first driver to win his first two races back-to-back in K&N East since Max Gresham in 2010.
Heckert wasn’t alone, as Nationwide Series champion Chase Elliott achieved the similar feat back in April, with wins at Texas and Darlington. Elliott became the first rookie and the youngest-ever champion in NASCAR’s top-three series at 18 years old. The second-generation driver was part of a 1-2 points finish for JR Motorsports, as teammate Regan Smith came home in second.
Both the NNS and ARCA champs won at Chicagoland in July en route to their titles, as Mason Mitchell finally broke into victory lane in the Ansell ActivArmr 150. Mitchell finished runner-up six times before the win, and at one point. nearly took the victory away from Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson at Pocono in June. The Pennsylvania track was good to Mitchell this season, as the 20-year-old driver took the points lead after the ModSpace 125 in August and never looked back to claim the championship.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards saw six first-time winners, including Larson and Mitchell, in 2014. Brandon Jones won in his first two starts, joining Alex Bowman (2011) as the only two drivers to do so. A famous racing name returned to victory lane, as Justin Allison wheeled the No. 88 HAVACO Ford to victory at Pocono in August and the first Allison to win at the Tricky Triangle since great uncle, Bobby, won a Cup race in June 1983. Justin Boston (Toledo), Austin Theriault (Michigan) and Spencer Gallagher (Kansas) were the other three.
Three Nationwide Series rookies won: Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher. Brendan Gaughan and Kyle Larson also joined the first-time winner list in NNS. Gaughan won in NASCAR for the first time since the Craftsman Truck Series in 2003. Dillon’s win came at the Brickyard and the very next week, brother Austin won the truck race at Pocono.
Still on the subject of first-time winners, the Sprint Cup Series had first-time winners (two) for the first time since 2011, which had five. Aric Almirola (July Daytona) and A.J. Allmendinger (Watkins Glen) both guaranteed themselves a spot in the Chase.
A Cup driver joined a list of drivers winning in all three of NASCAR’s top-three series, as Brad Keselowski captured the Truck Series win at Bristol in August. Three weeks later, 16-year-old Cole Custer put on a masterful drive in the Loudon event to become NASCAR’s youngest national series winner.
From those tasting victory for the first time, to the champions who took home the hardware in 2014. A season of consistency gave Matt Crafton another Truck Series title and the only driver ever to win back-to-back championships in the series. K&N East champ Ben Rhodes bulldozed the competition, by winning four straight races from mid-May to mid-June. He wouldn’t win another race after the streak, but strong runs put the 17-year-old in the catbird’s seat to win the war at season’s end.
The Sprint Cup Series saw a new champion in Kevin Harvick, winning the season finale in the new Chase format. Harvick also won the last two races of the season, the first to do so since Carl Edwards in 2010. Jeff Gordon also did it in 1998, and like Harvick, also in his championship-winning season. Brad Keselowski accrued the most Cup wins with six, along with Joey Logano’s five, for 11 victories for Penske Racing, the most in one season for the organization.
Some other tidbits from the 2014 racing season: Juan Pablo Montoya won his first IndyCar Series race since Sept. 2000. Montoya scored the triumph in the Pocono IndyCar 500 in July. The same weekend also saw a Colombia sweep, with Indy Lights champ Gabby Chaves taking that race the day before, and also the first time for back-to-back wins in his short Indy Lights carer.