In the Sprint Cup, the bookmakers’ favourites were stealing the show, but the summer of 2016 would prove that even the likes of Jimmie Johnson and reigning champion Kyle Busch are prone to off-days.
— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) June 4, 2016
The latter, in particular, endured a torrid start to the summer period of the 2016 Sprint Cup, respectively scoring 31st and 40th place in Pocono and Michigan. Capitalising on the champion’s failings in Pocono was none other than his own brother, Kurt Busch, who stormed home with a determined performance to book his place in the playoffs.
Of those in genuine title contention, Joey Logano was notable for being winless as the race weekend in Michigan dawned. Having secured a hat trick of Contender Round wins in the autumn of 2015, Joey Logano’s odds for glory shortened drastically, before an controversial (but legal) shunt from Matt Kenseth deprived him of further progress.
In 2016, early indications showed that Logano would take a significant amount of time to recover his form. Yet, a lower downforce on a circuit notable for pace worked in Logano’s favour, with his strong reflexes eliminating much of the competition en-route to victory lane.
Rookie driver Chase Elliott also finished second, in what remains his best finish to date.
BUSCH CONTINUES TO FALTER
The summer of 2015 was a true scorcher for Kyle Busch, whose championship win was aided in no small part by the unrivalled machinery of Joe Gibbs Racing. By contrast, this summer yielded just one win for the now-deposed champion.
The spring period of 2016 had delivered no major surprises, but the improvement of weather conditions appeared to drastically level the playing field. Following Logano’s win in Michigan, only one of the remaining nine summer races would be won by an eventual Sprint Cup finalist.
CLASS IS PERMANENT
For three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, the 2016 season was to be a stock car racing swansong, ending a trophy-laden professional career spanning more than two decades. Sadly, Stewart was to miss the first eight races of the season with a serious back injury.
His comeback was unremarkable, save for a top-six finish in Talladega on 1 May, but a truly inspirational moment for Stewart would occur in the very next race, at the Toyota/SaveMart 350 in Sonoma.
Starting tenth on the grid, Stewart remained in contention throughout, but it was a late hole shot from a restart which gave him a sustained lead until the end. Only through years of experience can a driver exploit a restart with such composure, and Tony Stewart utilised every grain of wisdom from twenty professional racing years to score that memorable win.
A life affirming turn of events – but it was nothing compared to what would unfold later in the summer…