Autoweek Racing report card: Our picks for the best and worst of NASCAR 2018

Autoweek Racing is ringing in the new year with a look back at the best and worst of the 2018 season. Check back all week as Formula 1, NASCAR and IndyCar all get report cards to determine the most memorable moments of the most recent season.

Without further ado, here is what NASCAR provided the racing community in 2018.

Best Race: Select the best overall race of the year

Mike Pryson, Motorsports Editor: With respect to the Roval race at Charlotte, Homestead takes the prize here. With so much at stake, the top four drivers and their teams delivered when it mattered most. Joey Logano’s late moves were worthy of a champion as the top four in the Playoff finished 1-2-3-4 in the race. Good stuff.

Matt Weaver, Associate Motorsports Editor: The summer race at Chicagoland Speedway was the best possible version of NASCAR’s intermediate presentation. While most everyone only remembers the finish, with Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson beating the hell out of each other at 190 mph, the entire race provided edge-of-your-seat excitement. It started with Clint Bowyer needing to recover from three trips down pit road after leading 21 laps early in the race. The second stage finish between teammates Kevon Harvick and Kurt Busch was just as good as the race finish. Truthfully, there was never a second that I found myself bored in Joliet in July. And with the 2019 rules package, races like this may not happen again — a shame.

Al Pearce, Senior Motorsports Writer: The ROVAL race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Greg Engle, Weekend Motorsports Editor: The July race at Daytona. Erik Jones won but led only the final lap and there was no dominate driver, as several led double-digit laps.

Worst Race: Which race from 2018 was the ultimate snoozer?

Mike: Normally, a Clint Bowyer win would make for good copy, but his win in June at Michigan was one for the other side of the pillow. Race ended under caution after a 2-hour rain delay. Two ingredients for a long – and less then riveting – NASCAR Cup afternoon. Bowyer led just 8 laps, and the race managed to get in just 133 of the schedule 200 laps.

Matt: Oh man, both races at Texas Motor Speedway take the cake for 1a and 1b on the worst race pylon. That track was awful for stock cars before the reconfiguration and is even worse with fresh pavement. Perhaps one day the pavement will age and NASCAR will have a rules package worthy of the No Limits moniker. I think I covered this topic pretty well the Monday after the fall race in the Lone Star State. The fall race at Michigan was indeed a close second.

Al: It’s hard to pick with so many, but Kyle Busch’s win in the Coca-Cola 600 was the worst of the lot when it comes to big track races this season.

Greg: The Coca-Cola 600 this year was less than exciting as Kyle Busch dominated from start to finish leading all but 23 laps

Best Finish: Regardless of the overall race, select the best finish of the year

Mike: It was great to see Chase Elliott break through with a great drive at Watkins Glen or his first career victory. A great last-lap battle ended when Martin Truex Jr. ran out of gas to pave the way for Elliott.

Matt: The finish at Chicagoland is easily P1 in this category for all the reasons I explained above. Here’s what I wrote after the race that weekend.

Al: Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. at Martinsville with Joey Logano and Kyle Busch at Chicagoland a close second

Greg: We actually saw several; the ones that stood out: The Slide job-slide job finish at Chicagoland, the Roval dust up and the second Martinsville and let’s not forget that truck finish at Eldora.

Kyle Larson wanted Kyle Busch to hit him on the final lap of the Overton’s 400, just not the way it actually played out in the wildest NASCAR finish you’re likely to see this summer.When .

Biggest Story: Select the No. 1 overall news story of the season

Mike: Joey Logano’s championship capped an incredible final season for the Ford Fusion, a car that Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski predicted would ‘take a drubbing’ in 2018. Logano’s victory gave Ford its first Manufacturers’ Championship since 2002 and the manufacturers’ first driver championship since 2004.

Matt: Change was the watchword for NASCAR moving forward. The 2019 season will feature a polarizing new competition package. The schedule for all three divisions will see an overhaul for the 2020 season. Brian France’s arrest had already forced leadership changes in the front office. There is even talks of the seventh-generation Cup car impending arrival. Everywhere you look, there is talks about how NASCAR could look completely different by the middle stages of the next decade.

Al: The biggest story for me was Ford dominating the season in their ‘old car’ while Chevrolet’s new car floundered. The closure of Furniture Row Racing and Hendrick Motorsport’s losing Lowe’s was a close second.

Greg: Furniture Row Racing’s shuttering followed by Jimmie Johnson losing Lowe’s.

Best Quote: Who was the most quotable driver of 2018?

Mike: Martin Truex Jr. to Joey Logano at Martinsville, “Yeah, he won the battle but he ain’t winning the damn war,” Truex said. “That’s it.” (Memo to Truex, Logano won the war).

Matt: Clint Bowyer is the low-hanging fruit and he certainly warrants the nomination, but I want to go a different direction here. Brad Keselowski isn’t always the most bombastic quote, but he’s always the most analytical and thoughtful. You know when you ask Keselowski a question, he will always make a point to give it an honest and thorough response. I’ve always appreciated that as both a journalist and a racing guy.

Al: I don’t remember one intsance, but Clint Bowyer is the only driver who really goes off-script these days …

Greg: Name me a season when Clint Bowyer was not the most quotable …

The 2018 year in motorsports will be remembered for three legendary champions who added to their legacies, a tragic accident and for an electric car that conquered a mountain. From Scott Dixon to .

Unbelievable Moment: Choose the most surreal or hard-to-believe event of 2018

Mike: The shuttering of Furniture Row Racing. Less than one year from a Cup championship, Barney Visser’s outfit announces they’re done after the 20018 season. Furniture Row went on to finish strong in 2018 with Martin Truex Jr.’s second-place finish. If a Cup championship-winning team can’t find enough sponsorship to stay in business, what does that say for the stability of the series?

Matt: Two moments stick out. The first is the arrest of Brian France and the other is the closure of Furniture Row Racing. But upon further evaluaton, were either really that surprising? Things rarely happen overnight in this sport. It’s usual a slow burn that manifest as a blaze over time. The writing is on the figurative wall for everything that happens, but both moments were still pretty impactful in the grand scheme of things.

Al: The return on ‘the buzz’ at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the race on the ROVAL. There hasn’t been an energy like that, before a race, since the One Hot Night All-Star Race.

Greg: Snow postponing the race at Martinsville.

Bonehead Moment: What was the dumbest move of the year?

Mike: What was the dumbest move of the year? Jimmie Johnson’s decision to go for the win on the Roval at Charlotte instead of worrying about qualifying for the next round of the playoffs. Sure, the Playoff format rewards winners – but it’s not the only way to win a championship.

Matt: Look, I understand why Jimmie Johnson went for it on the final lap at the ROVAL, but damn was that short-sighted. The No. 48 team has always excelled at playing the big picture and Johnson just suffered from a brain cramp while in pursuit of Martin Truex Jr. If Johnson simply runs second, he advances to the next round of the playoffs with Dover, his best track, looming around the corner. Of course, we learned later that the decision had already been made that Johnson and Chad Knaus would be split-up for the 2019 season and the seven-time champion really wanted to get the most successful driver-engineer tandem of the Modern Era one last victory. Still … the decision was not very well conceived.

Al: Jimmie Johnson throwing away a sure-fire playoff advancement at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL after spinning himself out on the final lap battling for the win.

Greg: Bubba Wallace getting airborne at the Charlotte ROVAL.

NASCAR conducted its annual state of the sport press conference on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, featuring a new look and atmosphere with president Steve Phelps on the stage.Brian France has .

Overachiever: Which driver did the most with the least?

Mike: While there were no real surprises in the 16 drivers who qualified for the Playoffs, it was great to see Aric Almirola take the No. 10 car, not only into the Playoffs, but all the way to a No. 5 finish in the final standings.

Matt: Here’s a shotout to veteran David Ragan, who enjoyed his best season with Front Row Motorsports. There is very little fanfare to be had in racing for 25th, but the 33-year-old gave that car a much better run this season that it probably would have with any other driver.

Al: Aric Almirola in the No. 10

Biggest Bust: Which driver did the least with the most?

Mike: Jimmie Johnson. While youngster Chase Elliott made the Playoffs for Hendrick Motorsports, seven-time champion Johnson was little more than a mid-packer in 2018.

Matt: On one hand, William Byron took his lumps in the No. 24, but he’s a rookie so he gets a free pass. Daniel Suarez was pretty underwhelming in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing car, with equipment that contended for a championship elsewhere in the stable. Bubba Wallace also gets the rookie free pass, but the numbers should have been better in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43. All three drivers have talent, but it was a learning year for the trio.

Al: It was a tie between the winless-for-the-first-time Jimmie Johnson and the winless-for-the-first-time Denny Hamlin.

Greg: Denny Who? Denny Where?

Best wrap: Choose the most awesome paint job from 2018

Mike: For my money, I’ll take the No. 9 Hooters paint scheme of Chase Elliott’s ride at Hendrick Motorsports. How can you not look at that and think of the great Alan Kulwicki?

Matt: It’s probably an paint scheme that needs to be seen in person but the No. 12 Team Penske PPG car driven by Ryan Blaney takes the top honors for best wrap. William Byron’s Axalta scheme wins the award for best paint job since the car was, y’know, actually painted.

Al: Sorry, I never pay attention to this gimmicky stuff.

Greg: I’m like drivers who rarely care what the car looks like on the outside since they can’t see it inside the car, but whenever we go to Darlington I love the throwback schemes.