With the brief NASCAR offseason upon us (2013 car testing starts on Tuesday, after all), this seemed like a good time to look back at 2012 and evaluate some of the season's best and worst.
In 12 categories – our own version of the top 12 – SB Nation motorsports editor Jeff Gluck and contributors Jordan Bianchi and Matt Weaver made picks for each of the following "awards."
Check out our selections, then add yours in the comments section below.
The best overall race of 2012
Gluck: The Daytona 500. Ten years from now, that'll be the race people remember most from this year. There was so much that happened, between the rain pushing it into primetime, the jet dryer blowing up, Brad Keselowski's tweet, Danica's debut and – by the way – Matt Kenseth's win. Maybe it wasn't the best example of NASCAR racing, but the crazy stuff made it the most memorable.
Bianchi: The Daytona 500. Maybe it was because of the duel in the final laps between Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr.? On second thought, maybe it was Juan Pablo Montoya's fiery encounter with a jet dryer? Then again, it might have had something to do with the hype surrounding Danica Patrick's (abbreviated) first start in what was the first-ever primetime running of "The Great American Race." Whatever the reasoning, this year's 500 is not a race I will soon forget.
Weaver: Bristol night race. The grated Bristol track surface provided a perfect blend of old and new and produced some of the biggest stories of the regular season. Denny Hamlin's late-race duel with Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson was likely eclipsed by the Tony Stewart helmet toss. Race of the year.
Other nominees: Fall Phoenix, Watkins Glen, fall Richmond, fall Talladega, spring Pocono, spring Martinsville, fall Texas.
The worst overall race of 2012
Gluck: Texas spring race. There were a bunch of snoozers this year, but the Texas spring race really sticks out for some reason as particularly boring. In a 500-mile race, Texas had just two cautions (both for debris), the final 234 laps were all green and the last lead change occurred with 31 laps to go.
Bianchi: Texas spring race. Think of it like a math equation: An intermediate track + high winds + few cautions = a race that could easily cure insomnia.
Other nominees: Take your pick. There were more than a few.
The best overall finish of the season
Gluck: Watkins Glen. You'd have to say Watkins Glen, right? That was one of the most exciting finishes I've ever seen anywhere. Brad Keselowski got into Kyle Busch, then tried to hold off Marcos Ambrose as the two drivers navigated an oily track. It was crazy. And awesome!
Even more awesome in French:
Bianchi: Watkins Glen. An oiled-down track, drivers sliding around like they were on dirt, the second-place car spinning out the first-place car and multiple exchanges for the lead on the final lap led to a finish resembling something right out of a Michael Bay movie.
Weaver: Martinsville spring race. Ryan Newman shoved his way to his only victory of 2012 after Clint Bowyer spun the race leaders and spoiled the Jeff Gordon/Jimmie Johnson duel for what would have been Hendrick's 200th win.
Other nominees: Fall Texas (Johnson vs. Keselowski), spring Pocono (Logano vs. Martin), spring Talladega (Keselowski vs. Kyle Busch).
The top news story of the season
Gluck: AJ Allmendinger's failed drug test. It just felt like this was an endless saga, even though it only took a couple months from start to finish. The manner in which the details were released – in nuggets of half-truths – only added to the mess.
Bianchi: Matt Kenseth leaves Roush Fenway Racing. Since moving up to Cup in 2000, Roush had been the only team Kenseth had driven for and appeared to be a combination that would be together for a lifetime. But with his contract up and perhaps not feeling the love from team officials, Kenseth did the seemingly unthinkable and signed with Joe Gibbs Racing. It was a decision few saw coming and one that is going to take some time to get used to.
Weaver: Matt Kenseth leaves Roush Fenway Racing.
Other nominees: Brad Keselowski outraces Jimmie Johnson for the championship; Danica Patrick makes Cup debut; Television ratings and attendance continue to sag; Jet dryer explodes during the Daytona 500; Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecks Clint Bowyer; Kevin Harvick leaving Richard Childress Racing after next season.
MOST QUOTABLE DRIVER
The driver who consistently said the most interesting things in 2012
Gluck: Brad Keselowski. Duh. Whether it was his well-put analogies or colorful language in press conferences, jabs at Hendrick Motorsports' setups or rants about seemingly innocent topics like vitamins, Keselowski was rarely lacking for an opinion and a good quote.
Bianchi: Clint Bowyer. Rarely shy, armed with a quick wit and lacking an attention span, Bowyer has turned his press conferences into must-watch events – not only because of the hilarity, but also in part due to the unfiltered honesty Bowyer often emits.
Weaver: Brad Keselowski. The Sprint Cup Series champion was always must-see TV when he was in front of a camera. His most memorable interview followed the hectic conclusion to the Phoenix Chase race where he both waxed poetic and dropped F-bombs on the Jeff Gordon/Clint Bowyer incident.
Other nominees: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon.
The most surreal or crazy thing to happen this season
Gluck: Daytona jet dryer explosion. There were quite a few things that could win this category, but I don't see how anything can top the jet dryer. It was probably the most bizarre thing I've ever witnessed while covering sports, and it gained international attention.
Bianchi: Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecks Clint Bowyer at Phoenix, sparking brawl. Jeff Gordon is a lot of things, but one thing he is not is a hothead. But apparently every driver has his limit, and when four-time champ hit his, he proceeded to hit Bowyer – deliberately. Accordingly, jaws dropped in unison everywhere.
Weaver: Jimmie Johnson's problems in the final two races of the season. The No. 48 team does not make a lot of mistakes, especially back-to-back when the championship is on the line. It was a foregone conclusion that Johnson was going to win that championship...until he didn't.
Other nominees: Martinsville spring race final laps; Rick Hendrick rides in car window after Johnson's win; Johnson rides in car window with concussed Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Tony Stewart's sarcastic post-Talladega remarks.
The dumbest move of the year
Gluck: Danica Patrick wrecks herself while trying to wreck Landon Cassill. Danica has a lot to learn about NASCAR racing – like the difference between someone racing hard and someone bullying her, for example – but you can't go crashing yourself when you're trying to take out another driver.
Bianchi: AJ Allmendinger ingesting an unknown pill given to him by a friend of a friend. For the first time in his career, Allmendinger had a ride with a top-flight team and seemed poised to fulfill his potential. Yet he stupidly threw out it all away because he needed an "energy boost." The moral of the story, kids: Just say no.
Weaver: Kurt Busch threatens a reporter at Dover. Busch was under such a high degree of scrutiny for fussing at another reporter at the end of 2011 that the 2004 Champion should have just plain known better. Plus, he was already on probation.
Other nominees: Michael Waltrip crashes on his own while trying to make Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hides serious concussion to keep racing.
The most memorable crash of the season
Gluck: Talladega Big One (fall race). When friends and family members who don't follow NASCAR call to talk about a crash, you know it's getting a lot of attention. The Talladega Big One – sparked by Tony Stewart – made all the morning news shows the next day. It also put Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of action with a concussion, though we didn't know that for several days afterward.
Bianchi: Jimmie Johnson blows right-front tire and slams the wall at Phoenix. The multi-car wreck on the final lap in the fall race at Talladega had just as big of an impact on the championship, but it was also predictable and had a "been there, done that" feel to it. But the 48 car hitting the wall at Phoenix and effectively ending Jimmie Johnson's title hopes was something we aren't accustomed to seeing; certainly not in the Chase, and certainly not with the championship within his reach.
Weaver: Talladega Big One (fall race). It took out most of the leaders, delivered Matt Kenseth his penultimate victory for Roush Fenway while Brad Keselowski survived and became a legitimate title threat. That, and the fact there were over 20 cars involved.
Other nominees: Juan Pablo Montoya and the jet dryer; Jimmie Johnson and Danica Patrick wrecking immediately in the Daytona 500; Clint Bowyer takes out both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon (Martinsville); Jeff Gordon pounds the wall at Chicagoland; Mark Martin's scary collision with the pit road wall at Michigan.
The driver who did the most with the least
Gluck: Clint Bowyer. The dude made the Chase with an organization which had never made it before and did so with a brand-new team in his first season there. That would have been impressive just by itself, but then he went and finished second in the point standings.
Bianchi: Clint Bowyer. Considering the all-around success Michael Waltrip Racing had in 2012, this may seem like a stretch. But when you consider that with a startup team, Bowyer won more races in a single year than MWR had in the previous five years combined, this selection should make more sense.
Weaver: Bobby Labonte. Finished 23rd in points, an improvement of six positions from last year.
Other nominees: Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch.
The driver who did the least with the most
Gluck: Carl Edwards. From preseason favorite to almost an afterthought the year after signing a huge new contract.
Bianchi: Carl Edwards. Not only did Edwards fall from title contender to also-ran status, he also went winless and failed to qualify for the Chase – all while his two teammates won a combined five races and were atop the standings for the majority of the regular season. Call it the "Curse of the Runner-up Finish" if you must, but regardless, Edwards easily laid the biggest egg of 2012.
Weaver: Carl Edwards. Failed to win a race and missed the Chase.
Other nominees: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, AJ Allmendinger.
BEST PAINT SCHEME
Our favorite car design of 2012
Gluck: Kurt Busch's Talladega Nights car. I was so torn between this one and David Ragan's "Where's Waldo?" car, but I loved Busch's homage to Ricky Bobby. Plus, he had a stuffed panther in the car, wore the "Me" firesuit and recited movie lines while racing. What could be better than that?
Bianchi: Phoenix Racing's smiley face hood at Charlotte. When Kurt Busch leaves an organization, rarely does he do so with a good feelings all the way around, with his late-season departure from Phoenix Racing seemingly fitting that pattern. And that ill will by the team was expressed concisely with a giant smiley face Phoenix put on the hood of its car in the first race without Busch behind the wheel. Never has a team said so much by saying so little.
Weaver: Jeff Gordon's standard DuPont scheme. Sam Bass does it again.
Other nominees: David Ragan's "Where's Waldo?" car at Martinsville, T.J. Bell's "Eastbound and Down" car at Daytona, Brad Keselowski's classic Miller Lite car.
WORST PAINT SCHEME
The ugliest car design of 2012
Gluck: Jimmie Johnson's green Kansas car. The ugly hue was "Mountain Green," which was some sort of throwback color used by General Motors in the '60s. I wish it would have stayed there.
Bianchi: Juan Pablo Montoya's Taylor Swift car. Maybe it's because I'm not a fan of the singer, but there was something about seeing Taylor Swift's face on the hood of Montoya's car that made me a bit uneasy.
Weaver: Jimmie Johnson's Madagascar movie car. Gawd-awful...but I'm sure the highly sought-after 6-year-old demographic went bananas.
Other nominees: Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles scheme (Charlotte); Carl Edwards' Kellogg's/Cheez-It car; Greg Biffle's bright green scheme (fall Dover), Clint Bowyer's 5-Hour Energy car.