Ten stories to watch in 2010
It was only a few short weeks ago that
Johnson and crew chief
Johnson's fourth-straight championship was truly historic, but for the most part, he sealed the deal by finishing eighth at Talladega on Halloween Weekend, when he stayed out of trouble while his closest title contenders got knocked out in multi-car crashes. At some point, though, Johnson's streak has to end because the immutable laws of probability come into play. Even the best driver will admit that a little bit of luck can go a long way in racing, and while this is a sport where drivers and teams make their own, eventually fortunes change. Inevitably, Johnson will fall prey to a flat tire or dropped cylinder, or be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get taken out by another driver's mistake. After all, there are 42 other drivers in each race and even the best are sometimes vanquished by a competitor's knucklehead move.
If on nothing more than gut-feeling, I say someone other than Johnson will win the Sprint Cup title in 2010.
The answer: a resounding "yes."
Because of a quirk in the calendar, NASCAR's SpeedWeeks at Daytona will be on Super Bowl Weekend. In the past, the game has been the week before the Budweiser Shootout and Daytona 500 pole. To avoid going head-to-head against the year's biggest sports event, NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway officials decided to move pole qualifications from Sunday to Saturday along with the 200-mile ARCA race and the shootout.
With IndyCar Series star
The Budweiser Shootout was once a battle of the previous season's pole-winners, but it turned into nothing more than a "tune-up" exhibition that pits the same old drivers and same old teams. When Coors took over the pole award, Budweiser opted for a manufacturer's showcase with the top drivers for each automaker. With Dodge having just one team -- the three-car Penske Racing effort -- it has been changed yet again to where teams with a big-name driver and sponsor, former Daytona 500 winners, and the like are automatically in the race.
So nearly all media attention will be focused on the most compelling event: the ARCA season opener and Danica. This race has been nicknamed "The Jaws of Life 200" because its huge crashes leave cars so mangled that they sometimes have to be cut apart. Whether Danica finishes in the top five or the back of the pack, more words will be written detailing her day at Daytona than about the driver who wins the pole or the shootout.
This reminds me too much of another great athlete named Michael --
The best answer is: why not? After all, Castroneves finished "the aughts" as the winningest Indianapolis 500 driver of the decade (3), including his storybook triumph over legal adversity (he was accused by the IRS of cheating on his taxes) with a win in 2009. And while drivers such as defending IndyCar Series champion and 2007 Indy 500-winner
When Button overcame a mid-season slump to score his first F-1 title in 2009, it capped a magical season for Brawn F1 Racing, a team made from the remains of the Honda F1 program after the Japanese automaker pulled out. But many a talented driver has gone to McLaren and failed because of the pressure that comes from within the organization. Just ask
The sad answer is "yes" because 2010 will be the true test of how well racing survives the economic downturn. Many of NASCAR's teams were able to hang on last year because of sponsor contracts in force prior to September 2008. Some deals were lowered, but many companies continued to honor their agreements for legal reasons. When they reach the end of a contract, they may opt to leave the sport, sending some teams scrambling for sponsorship relief.
Several NASCAR insiders have admitted that teams are taking 70 to 80 percent less to run a Sprint Cup car than in 2007 and '08. To remain solvent and competitive, many merged with other organizations to pool resources. That means fewer cars competing for the 43 starting positions, and a majority in the lineup controlled by fewer team owners. So far during this "Merger Mania" few have been able to compete with Hendrick Motorsports,
The most popular driver in NASCAR has just one win since May 2006. Last season was perhaps his worst ever, so until he's able to regain his focus, his slump will continue. But with 36 races on the Sprint Cup schedule, expect him to have one or two where he comes close to victory.
Despite getting a car into the Chase with
This is purely dependent on the economy and interest level. If NASCAR has an interesting storyline early with some exciting racing and renewed rivalries, there is a chance attendance can increase. Sunday races beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern, West Coast races starting at noon Pacific, and night races at 7:30 p.m. should help get fans home at a decent hour for work on Monday. But as one of NASCAR's top track promoters told me in November, every speedway in America built too many seats during the boom of the late 1980s and '90s, and there isn't a promoter who wouldn't want to "remove 30,000 seats from their facilities." That is a telling sign on the state of the economy and the sport.