NASCAR 2010 Season Highlights
A door-mat-sized mini crater formed just below the racing line between turns 1 and 2 early in the Daytona 500, prompting more than two hours of excruciating delay for NASCAR and International Speedway Corp. officials as a television audience of the faithful and curious and fans in attendance slowly tuned out or left. Crewman eventually filled the depression -- caused by a combination of heavy winter rains and unusually severe freeze/thaw cycles -- but the surfaced was repaved this summer.
Jamie McMurray became an aspiring star with owner Chip Ganassi in winning his second career Sprint Cup start in 2002, but he bottomed out, then left for a lucrative contract at Roush Fenway, where he foundered. McMurray celebrated his return with Ganassi, now the major force behind Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, winning the Daytona 500. It was the first time hoisting the Harley Earl J. trophy for each.
In 2009, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards were racing for the win in the final stretch at Atlanta when Edwards was nudged, sent aloft and into the catch fence at Talladega. Edwards' mid-race clipping of Keselowski at Atlanta this spring felt much more methodical and chilling, especially given the way the No. 12 Dodge went airborne toward the crowd. Edwards admitted intent to wreck but not so spectacularly. Keselowski was uninjured and NASCAR issued no penalties ... until Edwards wrecked him again later in the season at a Nationwide race.
Red Bull Racing's Brian Vickers ceded the No. 83 Toyota after just 11 races when he was discovered to have blood clots in his lungs and extremities after experiencing pain during a trip to Washington, D.C. Vickers has been cleared by physicians to race in 2011 after undergoing heart surgery to repair a hole and have a stent placed in his leg, and following a blood-thinner regimen to treat May-Thurner syndrome.
Nostalgia was thick as mid-summer humidity as Dale Earnhardt Jr. took a cooperatively produced Richard Childress Racing- Earnhardt Ganassi No. 3 Chevrolet to victory lane in the blue and gold Wrangler scheme made legend by his last father. Earnhardt Jr. says he won't race in the number again. The question remains, however, whether Childress will allow his increasingly successful grandson, Austin Dillon, to use it once he progresses from the truck and Nationwide series.
For most of the race, it appeared that Chip Ganassi had a wonderful chance to complete the most precious of North American racing doubles, as Juan Pablo Montoya led 86 of the first 139 laps. But a disastrous late pit stop and subsequent accident provided Jamie McMurray another historic moment. Coupled with McMurray's Daytona 500 win and Dario Franchitti's victory in the Indianapolis 500 in May, Ganassi became the first owner to win the Daytona 500 and open wheel and NASCAR races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the same season. His Daytona 500 win put him in even more exclusive company, as in alone.
The talented Kyle Busch has 19 career Sprint Cup victories, 42 in the Nationwide Series (and a 2010 championship) and 22 in the truck series. But never before had three of those victories overlapped until he completely overshadowed the weekend of racing at Bristol this summer.
Greg Biffle commemorated owner Jack Roush's return to the race track following a second horrific plane crash with a win at Kansas. Roush had crashed his private plane at a small airport in Wisconsin in late July, losing his right eye and requiring facial surgery.
The defending four-time series champion became a father in July when wife Chandra gave birth to Genevieve Marie. We all hope the Chevrolet-driving Johnson didn't realize until later that his daughter's initials were "GM."
NASCAR, which has long touted itself as the most accessible of major sports and recently implored its drivers to exhibit more personality, fined Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman undisclosed amounts for expressing opinions about the sport on Twitter. NASCAR officials defended the sanctions as "defending" their "brand."
Marcos Ambrose was leading under caution at Sonoma, had led 35 laps and showed every indication of winning his first Sprint Cup race when, inexplicably, he turned off his motor when instructed by his crew chief to save fuel. The engine stalled and Ambrose was passed by six drivers, including eventual winner Jimmie Johnson. Ambrose recovered to finish sixth after being denied his attempt to regain his spot in front before the restart. Officials ruled he had not maintained proper speed.
Four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson has few items left on his Sprint Cup wish list, even fewer after winning for the first time at Bristol and Sonoma. Johnson has won at all current Sprint Cup tracks except Chicago, Homestead, Michigan and Watkins Glen.
Clint Bowyer began the Chase for the Championship with a victory at New Hampshire, but was penalized 150 of his 195 points when NASCAR discovered an illegal rear-end modification in a post-race inspection. Team owner Richard Childress asserted in his appeal that a wrecker used to push the No. 33 Chevrolet after it ran out of fuel had caused it to fail template measures.
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon and fellow driver Jeff Burton came to blows following the eighth race of the Chase, at Texas. After the two wrecked on Lap 192 of the race, Gordon hopped out of his No. 24 Chevy and shoved Burton before the two were separated by officials.
Jimmie Johnson's unprecedented fifth straight Sprint Cup title may have been his most impressive of all. He not only had to erase Denny Hamlin's 15-point lead entering the Chase finale at Homestead, but he also had to overtake Hamlin in the final 69 laps, ultimately finishing second in the race -- and 39 points ahead of Hamlin in the final 2010 standings.