Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bests And Worsts Of 2011

The 2011 NASCAR season was one to remember; filled with highlights and a dizzying series of unexpected turns that a team of Hollywood scriptwriters could never have imagined. With 18 different winners, five first-time victors and a Chase that produced the first dead-heat tie in the history of the sport, this season set the competitive bar high enough that it may never be equaled, much less cleared.

Here are some of the highlights – and lowlights – of the season just complete.

Race Of The Year: Ford 400, Homestead Miami Speedway. Point leader Carl Edwards and second-place tony Stewart came to South Florida knowing that nothing short of a win would guarantee them the championship. They combined to lead virtually every lap of a spellbinding season finale, with Stewart overcoming multiple early race setbacks to win the race and earn a tie in points with Edwards. Stewart claimed the title on a tiebreaker, as fans filed out of the grandstands knowing they had witnessed a classic for the ages.

Biggest Disappointment: Red Bull Racing. NASCAR is different than Formula One. Unfortunately, that fact was lost on Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz, who hired NASCAR insider Jay Frye to serve as General Manager, then shackled him with a series of decisions that doomed the team to failure. The Austrian Energy Drink magnate hired AJ Allmendinger and Scott Speed to drive his Toyotas; neither of whom had a lick of stock car experience to fall back on. He then bailed out on them when they failed to produce immediately, keeping his team in constant turmoil for years. Only after announcing that he would shutter the team at the end of 2011 did he hire an experienced driver -- Kasey Kahne – who won a race at Phoenix and trailed only Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards in Chase performance. Honorable Mention: Kevin Harvick. Inc.’s withdrawal from the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

Best Comeback: Jeff Gordon. The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion struggled to adapt to NASCAR’s new race car, leading some to question whether age and his newfound status as a family man might have extinguished his competitive fire. The 2011 season put all that talk to rest. Three regular season victories made him a favorite to win it all at the start of the Chase, and while he eventually settled for eighth in the final standings, Gordon served notice that he will be a force to be reckoned with in 2012, and beyond.

Best News: Trucks to Rockingham in 2012. “The Rock” is tailor-made for the Tough Trucks of NASCAR, and the April 15th “Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200” is a can’t-miss race for NASCAR fans.

Worst News: No Trucks at Darlington in 2012. Heartbreaking. Simply heartbreaking.

Best New Act: Brad Keselowski. A year ago, Keselowski was NASCAR’s resident loose cannon; a volatile young talent best known for a nasty, long-running feud with Carl Edwards. This season, he emerged as a championship contender and one of the toughest customers in the business. A broken left ankle suffered in a testing crash at Road Atlanta sent him on a month-long hot streak and wins at Pocono and Bristol. That momentum carried him all the way to the Chase, where he finished the season fifth in points. For the Miller Lite Dodge driver, 2012 can’t come a moment too soon.

Classiest Loser: Carl Edwards/Ford 400, Homestead Miami Speedway. Moments after losing the 2011 Sprint Cup Series championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker, Edwards delivered one of the most gracious concession speeches in the history of this sport, or any other. More important than winning the championship, he said, was conducting himself in a way that would make his young children proud. Mission accomplished, Carl. Honorable Mention: Jimmie Johnson.

Most Self Destructive: The Busch Brothers. Al Qaeda suicide bombers do themselves less damage than the fabulous Busch Brothers. Whether it’s driving a $400,000 sports car 128 mph in a 45 mph zone (Kyle), tearing up a reporter’s notes when she dares to quote you directly (Kurt), intentionally wiping Ron Hornaday out of the Truck Series title chase (Kyle) or M-F’ing a pit reporter for attempting to do his job (Kurt), Al and Gay Busch’s boys consistently managed to lower the bar. They also performed a tandem flame-out in the final 10 races of the season, finishing the 2011 Chase in 11th and 12th place. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

Biggest Puzzler: Darian Grubb. After going winless in the regular season and sneaking into the 2011 Chase as an afterthought, Grubb guided Tony Stewart’s #14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet team to a record five victories in the 10-race Chase and a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship for the ages. He is now the most successful crew chief ever to be fired for his trouble. Honorable Mention: Gil Martin.

Most Underrated: Steve Letarte. One year ago, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., left Homestead Miami Speedway 21st in points, nursing a two-year winless streak and the bruises inflicted by a fan base grown tired of mediocrity. Twelve months later, virtually everything had changed. Earnhardt finished the 2011 campaign seventh in championship points, due in large part to Letarte’s ability to keep his driver focused, positive and productive. The winless streak rolls on, but NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver regained his relevance this season. Letarte is 100-percent responsible.

Biggest Upset: Trevor Bayne/Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway. Calling Bayne a dark horse bet to win the 2011 season opener would be an understatement of colossal proportions. He had less experience on the 2-5-mile Daytona high banks than Danica Patrick will have coming into next year’s race, but managed to drive his Wood Brothers Ford all the way to Victory Lane. It was NASCAR’s ultimate Cinderella story, and it set the standard for a year filled with first-time winners. Honorable Mention: Regan Smith/Southern 500, Darlington Raceway.

Biggest Blowhard: Peter DeLorenzo, AutoExtremist.com. In this category, DeLorenzo never fails to disappoint. After incorrectly predicting the imminent withdrawal of at least one automaker from NASCAR in each of the last five years, the self-proclaimed automotive insider changed gears in 2011, predicting that “the 2011 Daytona 500 is likely to be a processional, follow-the-leader exercise that will be as exciting as watching paint dry.” A classic race ensued, with Bayne scoring one of the most shocking upsets in the history of the sport. Honorable Mention: DeLorenzo again, who predicted in January that “unless and until somebody beats the Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus/Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut at their own game, these guys are going to win the whole damn deal yet again.” In short, “unless Jimmie loses, he’ll win.”

14 comments:

  1. Anonymous7:02 PM

    Missed you today....but, I still got my fix! hope you get extra special care over the holiday..

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  2. Best or worst they made NASCAR history. You really put up the best classics.

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  3. It's funny that you can almost trace the demise of Red Bull back to not being patient with Allmendinger

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  4. Well said about DeLorenzo. I have never read someone who claims to know so much, yet is rarely right about anything. I often think he confuses what he hears and what he would like to hear...

    Hmmmm... Reminds me of an ex...

    Keep up the good work Dave, enjoy your holiday

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  5. Anonymous1:09 AM

    Oh those Busch boys, classy with a capital K.

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  6. Anonymous5:16 AM

    I believe that Kasey Kahne was hired by Red Bull Racing several months before the announced shut down of the teams.

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  7. I sure enjoyed the last race, especially not having to hear Kyle Busch's name and his #18 Toyota mentioned 783 times. Do you think ESPN is paying attention? Now what will it take to wake up Fox?

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  8. Anonymous1:39 AM

    I do not choose my drivers based on their pedigree nor their media skills. I choose them based on their determination. The Busch boys are first class assholes but if I were to field a car to win and not sell product they would be near the top of the list. Being an employee of Mr Brian France the author of this article has a bias. I do not know if this determines the content of his postings but none the less is suspect.

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  9. For the record, the author of this article is not now, and never has been, an employee of Brian France.

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  10. Anonymous8:10 PM

    I must be misinformed because I was of the understanding that mrn was owned by Nascar. Therefore any employees of mrn would also be employees of Nascar. If this were true you could understand how influence from above may impair impartiality.

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  11. You are absolutely misinformed. MRN is not owned by NASCAR, and never has been.

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  12. Anonymous8:39 PM

    I did my research and I was misinformed. MRN is not owned by Nascar it is owned by ISC. I can not see how Mr Moody can say with a straight face he is not an employee of the France family. But then again President Clinton did not have sexual relations with that woman either. I guess people like me should not think for ourselves we should let people like Mr Moody tell us what the facts are.

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  13. You're as bad a reader as you are a researcher. You stated that I work for Brian France and NASCAR. I do not. MRN is a subsidiary of International Speedway Corporation, which is owned by other members of the France Family.

    In an effort to explain the difference in a way you might understand, let me try this analogy. My younger brother owns a property maintenance company. He and I are members of the same family, but I do not own his company. Does that make sense at all?

    The bottom line on this discussion is that this is my blog. I write what I want, and if you don't like it, you have every right to go elsewhere. And honestly, if you think my opinions are bought and paid for, I can't imagine why you'd come here in the first place.

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  14. Jeff Breuer12:29 PM

    I have never heard of the guy you mentioned for blowhard. I would have suggested either Mike Mulhern or "Captain Thunder".

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