Jimmie Johnson tops SI.com's biggest auto racing stories of 2009
With just a few days and hours left in 2009, it's a chance to look back and reflect on the year that is about to come to a close before wiping the slate clean to begin a New Year.
There were plenty of big stories in auto racing in 2009 with
So as 2009 is about to become history, let's look back at the 10 biggest auto racing stories of the year.
There has been no greater driver in this decade than Johnson, who burst into the NASCAR Cup Series as a rookie in 2002 and immediately showed he was capable of racing to the front. When NASCAR went to the "Chase" format to determine its series champion in 2004, Johnson was the runaway regular season leader in points the first two years only to falter in the final 10-race "Chase" as
But George's most controversial move was announcing the creation of the Indy Racing League in 1994 which would have the Indy 500 as its cornerstone race. At that time, CART was the sanctioning body of Indy racing and George's move created a bitter power struggle with CART, especially after the IRL's first race in January 1996. What followed was a bitter split that would last until unification of the sport in February 2008. By then, CART had folded only to re-emerge as Champ Car in 2004. By the end of the 2007 season, it was clear that George's IndyCar Series had won the bitter war and unification followed several months later.
But a year after George and his series had total control of the sport -- something that had not happened since 1978 when CART was formed in another split with USAC -- he was taken down by his own family. Upset with the direction of its business and how tough economic times were affecting the family business, George's sisters --
What makes this move so important is the IMS Corporation owns, among other things, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League, which sanctions the IndyCar Series.
Throughout the decade, no IndyCar driver had a better flare for the dramatic than Helio Castroneves. The likeable Brazilian won the Indy 500 in his first two attempts in 2001 and 2002. Because of his boyish exuberance and South American good looks he was an extremely popular athlete. The animated Castroneves lived vicariously through himself at times but his comical nature made him IndyCar's version of Fez from
When Martin announced he was returning to a full-season ride in the Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports after running a limited schedule the past two seasons, some wondered if the driver was making a mistake. After all, at 50 many drivers are starting to wind down their career rather than kick-start it. But Martin proved he is no ordinary driver and despite an early-season string of bad races that left him far behind in the standings, Martin was able to hit his stride in the summer with one of the best seasons of his career. He won five races to finish second in that category to eventual Cup champion and teammate Jimmie Johnson. Martin also finished second in the Cup points standings for the fifth time in his career continuing his role as the "Greatest NASCAR driver never to win a championship." But at the very least, Martin's 2009 season proved that it's "Nifty to be Fifty."
When Dario Franchitti left the IndyCar Series at the end of the 2007 season, he had accomplished everything he wanted in IndyCar including a win in the Indy 500 and the IndyCar championship. Both of those career goals were met in 2007 so Franchitti left the sport for a new challenge as the Scotsman attempted to switch to NASCAR in 2008. But that moved was a struggled and after team owner
No story in racing got more attention than the pursuit of Danica Patrick. Although the IndyCar Series driver did not win a race in 2009, she had her best all-around season in IndyCar finishing fifth in the standings. With her contract up, it began a flurry of speculation that she was going to abandon IndyCar and make a full-time jump to NASCAR. But in August, SI.com was the first to report that Patrick was going to re-sign with team owner
It's obvious that Tony Stewart is a talented race driver as evidenced by his
Button began the season in such strong fashion for Brawn F1 Racing that it appeared he would have the Formula One World Championship locked up by the end of June. But despite a mid-season slump, the popular driver from Great Britain was able to hang on and win the championship with one race remaining giving thousands of Union Jack waving fans in England cause for celebration. He held off a charge from teammate
Kyle Busch was able to run the disappointment of missing the "Chase" into a NASCAR season for the ages. He finished outside of the top-12 after the 26th race of the season so he missed the cutoff for the drivers who were qualified to contend for the championship. But he went on to win the Nationwide Series crown and won an astounding 20 NASCAR races in three divisions -- NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. That accomplishment earned him the Economaki Champion of Champions honor from National Speed Sport News, the most fabled trade publication in racing run by the legendary
The IndyCar Series is hoping to be "Dressed for Success" now that it has its first series sponsor in 10 years. Clothing company IZOD signed a six-year deal worth over $100 million to serve as the sponsor for IndyCar. By having a series sponsor, it will help give the series some much needed publicity and promotion because IndyCar truly has some of the most thrilling racing on the planet. It was also a great victory for IndyCar by striking up new business despite a troubling economy in the United States.