It’s time to call the 2010 NASCAR season for what it was.
Who was the best driver? What was the best race? What did NASCAR do right and wrong?
Here’s our take:
DRIVER OF THE YEAR: Throughout the course of the year it was declared by competitors and media alike that Jimmie Johnson was somehow not up to snuff.
He had supposedly misplaced his lucky horseshoe. Those four championships in a row? Great, but five was not possible.
So, what does Johnson do? Not only does he win his fifth consecutive championship, he does it in dramatic come-from-behind fashion in the season finale.
Driver of the Year? Yes. Driver of the decade? He may very well be.
RACE OF THE YEAR: Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire. The Chase for the Cup opener featured a dramatic but unexpected ending as several drivers, who were contending for the win as well as the championship – including Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton – made huge fuel mileage gambles in attempting to win.
Both failed and immediately dropped out of contention for the title.
Days later, the car of race winner Clint Bowyer failed inspection at NASCAR’s research and development center and a 150-point penalty eliminated him from championship contention as well.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR: Richard Childress Racing ended the 2009 season with three teams, zero wins and zero teams competing in the Chase. It ended the 2010 season with all three of its drivers having made the Chase, a total of five Cup wins and driver Kevin Harvick with a career-best third-place finish in the series standings.
BEST QUOTE: “I’m the only one that will stand up to them, but they’ll show me how far to stand up.”
Unfortunately for Kyle Busch, owning this distinction doesn’t gain you any favors from NASCAR officials. He made the remark after he was penalized two laps during the fall at Texas race for unsportsmanlike conduct.
WORST QUOTE: “He races me way too hard, he races everybody too hard. I’m not the only one that complains about it every week.”
That would have been Joey Logano, talking about Ryan Newman after August race at Michigan.
Logano may have a point but it is never, ever a good idea to complain about drivers “racing too hard,” especially when many fans already think too many races are too long and drivers just “ride around” as it is.
BEST NASCAR DECISION: The competition on the track had already taken a step up before the season, but NASCAR’s decision to loosen the reins and give drivers more say in policing themselves proved an even bigger winner.
The decree, “Boys, have at it,” was put into practice many times throughout the year, featuring run-ins on the track and even a tussle between drivers Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton after they'd gotten out of their wrecked cars at Texas.
RUNNER-UP, BEST NASCAR DECISION: Bringing back more manufacturer identity – with the new cars in the Nationwide Series – is already a winner for fans and will pay off for the manufacturers and NASCAR.
WORST NASCAR DECISION: After years of NASCAR promoting the accessibility and openness of its drivers, the sanctioning body decided this season to levy a pair of hefty fines – secret – against drivers Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman for comments it considered “detrimental to the sport.”
Hamlin’s penalty came for comments he made on his Twitter account. As a result – and as no surprise – some drivers’ willingness to utilize social media on a regular basis dried up.
SCARIEST MOMENT: It’s a tie between one of the Edwards vs. Keselowski bouts and Sadler vs. SAFER barrier.
In the March race at Atlanta, Carl Edwards' "payback" sends Brad Keselowski into the fence upside down. Elliott Sadler’s dramatic wreck at Pocono Raceway, when his car plowed head-on into a barrier, was one of the hardest hits recorded by NASCAR.
Neither Keselowski nor Sadler was hurt.