NASCAR never fails to display its human side, one of the more compelling characteristics of the discipline. This is especially true when looking back at the 2014 season, a campaign filled with rife controversy and inspiration.
Conflict, fist-fighting and political upheaval up all took turns in the spotlight this season, especially in the second half of the year once the new championship format took hold. While the season had its share of the inspirational, many fans and observers still continue to ask about the controversy.
In that spirit, here are the most controversial moments of 2014, listed in chronological order.
1. NASCAR Unveils New Championship Format
-- January 30 --
NASCAR itself set the tone for the entire season in January at the annual Media Tour when league chairman Brian France unveiled a new elimination-style championship format dubbed The Chase Grid. It was a radical departure from traditional championship formats and instantly earned NASCAR the ire from many of their most tenured fans.
The new championship format would ultimately feature a 16-driver field that, over the course of 10 playoff races, would eventually whittle down to four contenders competing in one NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship which would take place on Nov. 16 at the Ford-400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Fittingly enough, the decision to move to this format also led to several other controversial moments, as outlined in the list below.
2. Marcos Ambrose Punches Casey Mears at Richmond
-- April 26 --
Short track racing never fails to increase the emotions of drivers in the closing laps of an event. Those emotions tend to spill over into post-race and into the garage during the aftermath. This is what happened following the April Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway when Marcos Ambrose confronted Casey Mears following their tussle for 18th on the track.
Ambrose and Mears engaged in a tense conversation a few minutes after the Toyota Owners 400 when Mears shoved Ambrose into a car. The demure Aussie responded by punching Mears square in the face. Crew members quickly broke the rivals up but not before cameras caught the entire thing on video.
Mears was fined $15,000 while Ambrose was fined $25,000. Both were placed on probation for a month for their actions. The crime? Old-school actions detrimental to stock car racing.
3. NASCAR Quickly Calls July Daytona Race Due to Rain
-- July 6 --
For long time observers of the sport, it felt like NASCAR was quick to call the July race at Daytona for rain with just 48 laps remaining.
The decision allowed race leader Aric Almirola to celebrate his first career victory and the first in over a decade for the legendary Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 entry. The win came on the 30th anniversary of Petty's final career triumph in the 1984 Firecracker 400.
To be fair to NASCAR, rain had postponed the race to Sunday the night before and the forecast called for sporadic showers for the rest of the day. NASCAR has a clear-cut policy of making every attempt to get races to their scheduled conclusion but hastily called off the race following a 2 p.m. downpour. In hindsight, it proved to be the correct call as showers lingered throughout the evening.
Brian Vickers was running second at the time of the announcement and was left wishing NASCAR has persevered.
4. NASCAR Organizations form the Race Team Alliance
-- July 9 --
The top nine teams in NASCAR dropped a bombshell in July when they announced the formation of a single entity to collaborate on initiatives and issues facing the sport of stock car racing.
The teams initially included Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske but later expanded to include several other mid-pack squads.
The goals of the group include lowering costs for participation in NASCAR and creating a singular voice on issues facing the teams. The chairman of the group, MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman has insisted from Day One that the RTA is not a union.
Nevertheless, the formation of the group will ultimately play a factor in how NASCAR does business moving forward, no matter what those in the front office say on the matter.
5. 72-Year-Old Morgan Shepherd Crashes Joey Logano at NHMS
-- July 14 --
Morgan Shepherd, at 72-years-old, became the oldest driver to start a Sprint Cup race when he qualified for the July race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The celebration was short-lived when initiated an incident with front-running Joey Logano with less than 100 laps remaining in the race, igniting a debate on if the admittedly fit senior citizen even should have been allowed to compete in the first place.
Shepherd was 15 laps down when he connected with Logano, crashing both competitors. Logano was running second at the time but was sent to the garage for repairs. Shepherd completed the race, although far off the pace.
While Logano called the situation 'dumb,' it is worth mentioning that Shepherd maintained NASCAR's mandated minimum speed throughout the event.
6. Tony Stewart/ Kevin Ward Tragedy
-- August 9 --
This is not a forum to place blame but rather an outline of the facts of the incident that took place at Canandaigua Motorsports Park on the weekend of the Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International.
Tony Stewart was involved in a prototypical racing incident with Kevin Ward Jr. in a Empire Sprint Series event at CMP that sent Ward into the wall. In frustration, Ward walked down the banking of the track to confront Stewart as he passed by under caution.
The rear wheel of Stewart's car struck and killed Ward, sending the latter through the air, after he seemingly tried to reach into the moving race car.
Stewart missed the next three Sprint Cup races but was not charged with a crime. The autopsy on Ward found marijuana in the 20-year-old dirt-track driver's system at the time of his death.
7. New Talladega Qualifying Format Backfires
-- October 19 --
NASCAR attempted to interject some excitement into the knockout qualifying format for the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway but only added chaos and confusion as several full-time teams missed the race.
Three familiar names -- Ricky Stenhouse, Justin Allgaier and Joe Nemechek -- failed to make the race as drivers were admittedly unaware of how the qualifying format worked. The session broke the field into two groups and was radically different from what teams had utilized at the Alabama track in April.
Kevin Harvick called the session "the stupidest thing I had ever seen," while Jeff Gordon called it "a mess." Both drivers were at risk of missing the race as a result but barely made it into the field.
8. Joey Logano Blocks for Brad Keselowski at Talladega
-- October 20 --
Joey Logano was obviously blocking for his teammate, Brad Keselowski, at Talladega as the latter desperately needed a victory to advance to the penultimate round of the Chase for the Championship.
By virtue of his victory two weeks prior at Kansas Speedway, Logano was already locked into the Eliminator Round of the format and had nothing to gain or lose by participating in the event.
His tactics ultimately proved successful as Keselowski won, angering several of his rival competitors, who believed that Logano was acting in an unsportly manner.
But NASCAR ultimately deemed that Team Penske were well in their rights, adhering to the 100 percent rule that mandates drivers give it their all in the effort to win the race and prevent race-fixing.
READ MORE: Debating the good and bad of the Chase Grid
9. Brad Keselowski Versus The World at Charlotte
-- October 11 --
It was Brad Keselowski versus the entire Sprint Cup garage following the completion of the Bank of America 500 Chase race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Keselowski had bad blood with both Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin following the race and attempted to spin both competitors out under the cool down lap after the checkered flag. He inadvertently ran into the back of Tony Stewart on pit road and also chased Denny Hamlin (with their cars) through the garage.
Following the incidents, the always low-key Kesneth charged Keselowski and attempted to tackle him between two haulers but was separated by crew members and NASCAR officials before punches could be exchanged.
This was not the last time in 2014 that Keselowski would be involved in controversy however...
10. Brad Keselowski Fights Jeff Gordon at Texas
-- November 3 --
Brad Keselowski shot the gap between leaders Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson on a green-white-checkered restart at Texas Motor Speedway, cutting Gordon's tire and ending his bid for a victory that would have advanced him to the championship race at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Keselowski had finished in the bottom half of the field the week prior at Martinsville Speedway and seemingly sensed an opportunity to elevate himself back into the championship mix. Johnson ultimately held off Keselowski to win the race but the dramatics did not end with the conclusion of the race.
Gordon walked over to Keselowski on pit road to confont him about the incident. Keselowski responded by attempting to walk away and received a shove from an onlooking Kevin Harvick towards Gordon, instigating a brawl that left both Gordon and Keselowski bruised and bloodied. For his part, Harvick said he simply wanted to force the 2012 Sprint Cup champ to face his accusor -- something he has never been willing to do throughout his career, Harvick stated.
Follow the About.com NASCAR Expert on Twitter @MattWeaverSBN.