There was no shortage of thrills or surprises in motorsports this year. SI racing writer Andrew Lawrence has picked his top 10.
December 31, 2015
1 of 10Orlando Sentinel/Getty Images
10. Austin Dillon wrecks at Daytona
Rain delays were nearly the story of this July race, which started late (at 11:42 p.m. Eastern) and wound down well after bedtime (2:40 a.m.). But on the last lap, a Big One bubbled up just as race leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. crossed the finish line. The chain reaction sent Dillon’s No. 3 Chevy soaring off the track and flipping sideways into the Turn 1 catch fence. The car landed back on track, roof-side down, and suffered another hit from the No. 2 car of Brad Keselowski. Dillon walked away unscathed, but some fans behind the fence had to be hospitalized after being struck by debris.
2 of 10Linden Adams Photography via Getty Images
9. Redefining "kickstand"
MotoGP stars Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez ONCE had a friendly rivalry. But this year it took a decidedly sour turn. The nadir came during the Malaysian GP in October—the penultimate race of 2015. During a battle for third place, Rossi, after being reeled in by a fourth-place Marquez through a bend, appeared to kick Marquez out of the way and send him skidding off course and out of his saddle. (Physically at least, Marquez was unhurt.) As intentional roughness penalties in racing go, this one took the cake. (A cyclist’s only protection is his helmet, after all.) For his actions, Rossi was docked three points and forced to start the finale at the back of the grid. He’d finish fourth and lose the championship race by five points.
3 of 10Clive Mason/Getty Images
8. Lewis Hamilton's Texas triumph
Just when it seemed wins in nine of the season’s first 15 races had set Mercedes’ top gun on an easy path to the F1 crown, he found himself facing a gale force headwind entering the U.S. GP in Austin, Texas. Hard, steady rain threw off his practices and qualifying opportunities. Then Nico Rosberg, his teammate and best frenemy, edged him for the pole. But the young Englishman got his revenge, passing Rosberg one turn into the first lap and again later in the race (after a mysterious wind knocked Rosberg off course) on the way to claiming his third series crown. Only four drivers—Michael Schumacher (seven), Juan Manuel Fangio (five), Alan Prost and Sebastian Vettel (four)—have more.
4 of 10Robert Laberge/Getty Images
7. Juan Pablo Montoya wins Indy 500
After qualifying for the 99th running of the Indy 500 in 15th place and dropping to 30th after sustaining contact damage early, the Team Penske ace rushed back to the front, seized the lead with four laps to go on the way to winning his second Borg Warner trophy. The victory, which came 15 years after Montoya, 39, conquered the Brickyard on his first try, provided the exclamation point on the Colombian’s return to open-wheel racing (which he deserted for nine years to go walkabout in NASCAR) and furnished him with a seemingly insurmountable lead in the IndyCar points standing.
5 of 10Will Schneekloth/Getty Images
6. Scott Dixon rallies to IndyCar title
Yet again Ganassi’s ranking Kiwi proved that slow and steady is the best way to win. All season he stalked points leader Juan Pablo Montoya. At the IndyCar finale at Sonoma he made his move, rallying from ninth to the checkered flag. In the process he netted a double points bonus (which put him even with Montoya atop the leaderboard) and a third win (enough for a tiebreaker). The come-from-behind win gave Dixon with his fourth series crown. It also was a cathartic ending for IndyCar after the jolting on-track death of veteran driver Justin Wilson just a week earlier.
6 of 10Will Schneekloth/Getty Images
5. Trouble for Kurt Busch
Just before the end of the 2014 season, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion was accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, during a fall race weekend in Dover, Del. A month later she petitioned a family court there for a restraining order against him, saying he attacked her inside his motor home. A hearing that should’ve taken an hour or so devolved into a four-part trial that spanned two months and played out like a reboot of War of the Roses. In the end Driscoll got her restraining order (and kept it on appeal) while Busch was suspended for the first three races of the season. Upon returning, he won three races and hung in the ’15 championship hunt until the penultimate race of the season at Phoenix.
7 of 10Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
4. Matt Kenseth vs. Joey Logano
In a Chase race at Kansas, Logano (right) spun out Kenseth late on the way to claiming a checkered flag he arguably didn’t need. (Logano had already earned a free pass into the next round; the wreck eliminated Kenseth from playoff contention.) Payback came at Martinsville. Nursing a wounded car 10 laps behind, Kenseth waited for Logano (then leading) to pull alongside, jabbed the nose of his car into right rear of Logano’s racer and plowed him into the wall. Kenseth, who walked away OK, was hit with a two-race suspension. Logano's championship hopes were dashed.
8 of 10Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
3. James Hinchcliffe survives
A week before the Indy 500, on a practice run, Hinchliffe lost control and hit the outside wall at such speed that it collapsed the right side of his car, causing it to burst into flames before tumbling to rest. A piece of the front suspension punctured the carbon fiber tub the driver sits in and impaled Hinchcliffe’s lower body. If it hadn’t been for the quick response of IndyCar’s Holmatro safety team, which extracted him and rushed him to the hospital, he might not be alive today, let alone able to offer the traditional "start your engines" call at Texas in June.
9 of 10Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
2. Kyle Busch's comeback
On the eve of making his 2015 Sprint Cup debut at Daytona, the Joe Gibbs Racing pilot veered away from an Xfinity race and crashed hood-first into a concrete interior wall. He sustained a compound fracture in his lower right leg, a small fracture in his left foot and a sprained finger. In recovery, he wondered whether his days as a pro racer were through, but he returned to the Cup series four months later and won four of five races. After being granted a waiver into the Chase, he points-raced his way to Homestead and prevailed in that winner-take-all contest on a final restart on the way to his first series championship.
10 of 10Sean Gardner/Getty Images
1. Jeff Gordon's farewell
After a lifetime in NASCAR, Gordon, 43, decided this was the year he’d hang up his firesuit. He proved in 2015 that he had plenty left, grabbing four poles and a win at Martinsville to put himself in position to place among the last four drivers in the Cup championship hunt at Homestead. Though he raced valiantly and even led the pack around a few times, he didn’t have enough oomph in his No. 24 to catch Kyle Busch. Nevertheless, he leaves on a high note—with 93 wins, four Cup series titles and the satisfaction of having forever changed the face of the sport.
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