There certainly were some outstanding performances -- both from a competition and racing standpoint -- that took place during the recently completed Sprint Cup Series season. In fact, from a statistical standpoint, the 2010 season goes down as the most competitive in the history of NASCAR. The following is a look back at some of those standout performers and memorable races, as selected from discussions with the national series director, competition department and NASCAR PR managers.
Drivers of the Year (in alphabetical order)
Denny Hamlin -- Finished a career-best second in the point standings and was the championship points leader heading into the season finale at Homestead-Miami ... Posted a series-high eight victories, including seven that came after early-season knee surgery ... Had 14 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes.
Kevin Harvick -- Turned in a resurgent season to finish a career-best third in the point standings after missing the Chase in 2009 ... Was the points leader for 20 weeks ... Won three times ... Had a series-best 26 top-10 finishes, which included 16 top-fives ... His average finish of 8.7 was the best in the series.
Jimmie Johnson -- Won an unprecedented fifth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in come-from-behind fashion, overcoming a 15-point deficit heading into the season finale ... Relied upon a solid second-place finish at Homestead-Miami to win the title by 39 points over Denny Hamlin ... Was a six-time winner on the season ... Posted 23 top-10 and a series-best 17 top-five finishes ... Led a series-high 1,315 laps and also tallied a series-best 107.7 Driver Rating ... His five championships now trail only NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt -- both of whom won seven titles.
Top Team Owners (in alphabetical order)
Richard Childress -- The owner of Richard Childress Racing saw all three of his drivers -- Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick -- advance to the Chase after being shut out of the playoff competition in 2009 ... Harvick may have been the series' most consistent performer on the season, notching 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes ... Harvick was the points leader for 20 weeks, compiled three wins and finished a career-best third in the final standings ... Bowyer finished 10th, while winning twice, and Burton finished 12th.
Rick Hendrick -- The leader of Hendrick Motorsports continued his assault on the NASCAR record books and further reinforced the fact that his organization is one of the most dominant and successful in all of sports ... Johnson's fifth consecutive Cup championship gives Hendrick Motorsports a record 13th national series owner title and a record 10th Cup owner crown ... The No. 48 team's recent dominance in the sport can be likened to the great dynasties of the New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers and Boston Celtics.
Rookie of the Year
Kevin Conway -- In 28 starts, he finished 35th in the point standings ... His best finish was 14th at the July race at Daytona International Speedway.
Jamie McMurray -- After being out of a ride following the 2009 season, McMurray made the most of his opportunity driving for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing in 2010 ... His three wins included two of the sport's most prestigious races -- the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 ... His third victory came at the October Charlotte race ... McMurray finished 14th in points and posted nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes to go along with his three victories.
Comeback Driver of the Year
Kevin Harvick -- After finishing a disappointing 19th in the point standings in 2009, Harvick rebounded to turn in the best season of his Cup career, finishing a career-best third in the point standings ... Harvick led the points for 20 weeks ... He recorded 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes in 2010, which tripled his showing of five top fives and nine top 10s in 2009 ... After going winless in 2009, Harvick won three times in 2010 -- at Talladega (1), Daytona (2), and Michigan (2).
Top Races of the Year (in chronological order)
Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway -- Denny Hamlin plowed through traffic after a green-white-checkered restart to post his second consecutive win at Martinsville Speedway. It was Hamlin's first win and first top-10 finish in 2010. On fresh tires, thanks to a pit stop under caution on Lap 493, Hamlin powered past Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon on Lap 507 of 508 after Kenseth and Gordon traded shots earlier on the same lap. Hamlin cleared Gordon through Turns 3 and 4 and finished the race on a cut tire, .670 seconds ahead of teammate Joey Logano, who weaved his way through the melee to give Joe Gibbs Racing a 1-2 finish at the .526-mile short track. Later that week, Hamlin underwent knee surgery, and then proceeded to win seven more times and finish second in the point standings.
Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway -- In a race that set Cup records for the number of leaders (29) and lead changes (88) -- and fanned the flames of the increasingly combustible rivalry between teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon -- Kevin Harvick broke a 115-race winless streak. It was Harvick's first points race victory in the series since the 2007 Daytona 500. In the third and final attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, Harvick pushed 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray for all but the final quarter-mile before surging past McMurray to the inside and beating the No. 1 Chevrolet to the line by .011 seconds.
Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway -- Tony Stewart won for the third time at Atlanta and for the 38th time of his career when he beat Carl Edwards to the checkered flag by 1.316 seconds. The victory broke a 31-race winless streak for the two-time Cup champion. Edwards led Stewart coming out of the pits after the seventh caution of the race on Lap 295 of 325. Stewart surged to the lead after a restart on Lap 301, but a quick caution for debris on Lap 302 set up a restart on Lap 308. Stewart proved to be too strong the remainder of the way and drove the No. 14 Chevrolet to Victory Lane.
KOBALT Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway -- Pole-sitter Carl Edwards snapped a 70-race winless streak by winning at Phoenix, as the three Chase contenders -- Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick -- were caught up in a fuel mileage battle. Hamlin, who was the points leader, led a race-high 190 laps but had to short-pit on Lap 298 of 312 to get fuel. Meanwhile, Edwards, Johnson and Harvick were conserving fuel after pit stops under caution on Lap 224. All three won their gambles and Hamlin, who finished 12th in the race, saw his lead over second-place Johnson shrink from 33 points to 15.
Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway -- For the first time in his championship run, Jimmie Johnson had to come from behind to win his fifth consecutive Cup title. Johnson entered the race trailing Denny Hamlin by 15 points, but ran an aggressive and smart race to finish second and post yet another championship -- this time by 39 points over Hamlin. Carl Edwards won for the second week in a row and in doing so, recorded a perfect Driver Rating of 150.0. Edwards led 190 of 267 laps, but the drama unfolded behind him with Johnson, Hamlin and Kevin Harvick all battling hard down the stretch for the coveted title.