Tom Bowles
Thursday July 8th, 2010

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon will fight for the "five-time" label later this season, but another "champion" trophy already got there first: The Bowlesy. Now entering their fifth season, the Bowlesy awards recognize the good, the bad and the ugly of what's gone on in NASCAR 2010. Let's check in from the red carpet ceremony to see who takes top honors at the halfway point:

The Richard Petty Award (best points racer): Jimmie Johnson.

He may be third in points, but the reigning four-time champ knows how to play this game. His four DNFs are the worst in four years, but two of them came at plate tracks that double as three-hour Russian Roulette wheels: Daytona and Talladega. Tied for the series lead with five wins, Johnson has two victories at ovals featured in the Chase this fall. The frustration he's caused his rivals is to the point they're willing to bump the No. 48 out of the way - and even that doesn't work. Kurt Busch's rear bumper was the latest victim, his rival streaking by to Victory Lane at Loudon laps after a nudge knocked him out of the lead. Packed with the perfect blend of driver/crew chief chemistry, the Johnson/Knaus duo knows when to hold 'em and knows when to fold 'em: when they don't have a winner, they snag one of 11 top-10 finishes, second in that category to Kevin Harvick. With new baby in the making, he's clearly riding the label "title favorite" until someone -- or Lady Luck -- finally knocks him off.

The David Pearson Award (hardest charger): Denny Hamlin.

Consider this: In four of Denny Hamlin's five wins, he took the lead for the final time with less than 20 laps to go. Frantic charges at Pocono and Martinsville define the No. 11's year, where poor pit strategies forced him to slice through the field with an aero package that puts passing at a premium. The second of those sparked a 10-race pre- and post-ACL "tear," with all his victories, seven top-5 finishes, and over 500 laps led during that stretch. His knee on the mend, inconsistency now serves as a hurdle this challenger must overcome: twice already this season, he's gone three races without so much as a sniff at a top-10 finish. Repeat that kind of performance in the playoffs, and Cinderella might as well throw her glass slipper off the balcony and end it now.

The Tim Richmond Award (comeback driver of the year): Kevin Harvick.

Hamlin earns kudos for ACL surgery-turned-success, but Harvick as the point leader may be the year's most shocking story. Some thought he wouldn't even be driving the No. 29 at this point, seemingly closing the book on his tenure at Childress after suffering through last season 19th in points. But a strong start led to a contract extension this May, and 13 top-10 finishes combine with two victories to leave him a strong title contender. Can he pull off an unlikely title run? Maybe. Let's see him win on an unrestricted track - which he hasn't done since Phoenix in November, 2006 - and sign a 2011 sponsor before it becomes an off-track distraction.

The Carl Edwards Award (pleasant surprise): Jamie McMurray.

This time last year, everyone left McMurray for dead after Jack Roush sent him the pink slip. But former owner Chip Ganassi picked him up off the scrap heap, and McMurray responded with a win in NASCAR's Super Bowl this February. He's piled up three second-place finishes since then, challenging for wins in other major races at Talladega, Darlington and the Coke 600 at Charlotte. If it wasn't for the Daytona 500 curse (four wrecks and a broken rear suspension), we'd be talking about his first-ever Chase bid come September.

The Buckshot Jones Award (biggest disappointment): Juan Pablo Montoya.

Montoya is a longshot, once again, to even make the Chase after a feast-or-famine season personified by six DNFs. The series' most aggressive driver, he's regained that nasty habit of pushing too hard which haunted him in earlier years. Irking everyone from Jeff Gordon, to Joey Logano, to former teammate Reed Sorenson, he's already been put in the wall by one and better watch it with the other two. Using your car like a battering ram just doesn't work under this point system. It really doesn't.

The Davey Allison Award (top rookie): Kevin Conway.

Conway's season personifies how you would feel if you saw sponsor Extenze on your friend's kitchen counter. You'd be part curious, part just plain disgusted, right? That's about what one top-15 finish in 18 races gets you.

At least Conway's opened the door to this promotion: now you can drive your very own Sprint Cup car in 2011! All you need is some marketing savvy, millions in sponsorship, and a dream...

The Jayski Award (best move): NASCAR's "Have at it, boys" policy.

Silly Season has been rather sedate (let's put it this way: Kasey Kahne is no LeBron) so how about an attaboy for NASCAR's change in attitude? In January, Brian France sat down the troops and said there would be no more penalties for driver aggression on the track. Six months later, half the field is going at it in the equivalent of bumper cars du jour. Sometimes, it's gone over the edge but a little fender-banging is what the sport used to be about. Once drivers strike the perfect balance, it's a good first step towards bringing fans back.

The Breaking News Award (biggest story to watch): NASCAR's money problem.

What do Jeff Gordon, Harvick, and Tony Stewart have in common? They're all in need of at least partial sponsorship for 2011 despite being inside the top 10 in points. All of them are in serious negotiations, but they're with companies who already sponsor other teams, meaning someone's going to lose out somewhere. Early indicators are it's Richard Petty Motorsports. If RPM falls apart, it would leave NASCAR with as little as 30 fully-funded teams next year. Would the sport trim the field from 43 to 36 cars in response? Can they get new owners to do business in a bad economy? Or will the Big Five -- Roush, Hendrick, Gibbs, Penske and Childress -- come together on a way to control costs? Something needs to be done, because the rich getting richer dynamic is just causing the rest of NASCAR's class system to dry up.

The Dale Earnhardt Sr. Award (best on-track altercation/finish): Matt Kenseth vs. Jeff Gordon, Martinsville.

These two longtime rivals went at it again at Martinsville, beating and banging in a green-white-checkered finish that cost them both the win. Said a frustrated Kenseth afterwards of his banzai charge into the turn: "It was a dumb move on my part. I should have just finished third and collected some points and got one of our best finishes at Martinsville, but I figured I'd go for the win, which, I guess in hindsight, was probably a mistake." At least Gordon didn't back down from it; he said of his retaliatory move, "I made sure he wasn't going to win the race after that."

The Tony Stewart Award (best off-track altercation): Kevin Harvick vs. Joey Logano.

Joey Logano claims Mark Martin as his mentor, but his post-race tirade against Harvick was more like teammate Kyle Busch. Calling out Kevin Harvick's wife DeLana for wearing a firesuit was great theater. But perhaps the best part of all was how she chose to spin it. Taking it like a good sport, the Harvicks produced "I Wear The Firesuit In My Family!" t-shirts that have raised thousands for charity since.

The Darrell Waltrip Award (quotes of the year):

"It's probably not his fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do." -- Joey Logano to Kevin Harvick after Pocono.

"Yo creo que el #1 lo estaba manejando el payaso de McDonalds y no McMurray.....debe ser parte del nuevo sponsorship" -- Connie Freydell, Juan Pablo Montoya's wife; in English, it loosely means the McDonald's clown was driving the No. 1 car. It was tweeted after McMurray spun out the No. 1 car at Las Vegas.

"If she's anything like her mother, she'll be late." -- Jimmie Johnson on the impending birth of his daughter, who wound up coming into the world early after all (born Wednesday).

"A case of dynamite -- blow that place up." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s response to what he would be bringing to Infineon Raceway.

"The racing today is about the thrill of watching it on TV, and the racing 20 years ago or 25 years ago was about the sport." -- Mark Martin, on how NASCAR has changed.

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