Friday, November 27, 2009

2009 NASCAR in the rear view mirror

Matt Kenseth's double-up: Matt improbably wins the Daytona 500 and then backs it up with a bi-coastal win at California. He's ready to roll, right? Wrong. Not only does Kenseth not win again the rest of the year, the rest of the Roushketeers don't win the rest of the year except for a lone victory by lame duck Jamie McFrigginmurray deep in the year.

Dega: Brad Keselowski held his line at Talladega, Carl Edwards said "I dare ya", and Brad responded with OK. Cuzzin tears down the fence, and Brad continues for a jaw-dropping win.

Kez seems to have a ton of talent. Yet how he managed to win with his limited experience and in a perennial also-ran #09 James Finch car still baffles me. Admittedly, this was no hand-me-down Chevrolet - it was Hendrick Motorsports-built car just for Keselowski. Yet the driver had to race it, and the crew had to pit it. Its still amazing. The question of the future, however, is one of continuity. Will Kez be the next Cup superstar? Or will he be the next Bobby Hillin, Jr., Ron Bouchard, Phil Parsons, or Greg Sacks?

A restoration of history: The race name "Southern 500" returned to Darlington. Running it Mother's Day weekend rather than Labor Day isn't the same, but at least its a start.

All Star Wooooo! = NOOOOO!: A burn-out contest judged by Ric Flair, Kevin Costner, and Randy Moss?

And then having Joey Logano announced as the "fan's favorite" for the all-star race wild card entry? The all-star race has truly jumped the shark. The funniest part of the whole deal for me is that Flair leaked the news about Logano, and suddenly Twitter entries ran wild - several minutes before the announcement could be made on TV.

Coke 600: Scrambled eggs, sausage, and a Schaefer to start the day on a promising North Carolina spring morning...before the rain set-in to rain out the Coke 600. Had I known how much rain was going to fall, I would have chosen Noah in the Ark as the race winner in our pick 'em pool.

And then when the rains subsided on Monday...David Reutimann? A win? Really, is that even it?
The King returns: 2009 was truly a year of transition, turmoil, and mild success for Richard Petty Motorsports (more below). In the end, however, it was very cool to see The King back in victory lane. Sure, we all know he was there simply as a figure head for the team. But it brought a big smile to my face seeing him knocking back some Napa Valley red with winner Kasey Kahne.

Brickyawn: Is is still necessary to return to Indy year after year? NASCAR has proven its point. The stockers can run there though not with the routine side-by-side competition it has at other tracks or IRL cars have at Indy. The track can still sell a lot of tickets but not near enough to even fake promote it as a sell-out. The racing is terrible, the view for the fans is terrible, the TV coverage is terrible. Indy is an American, iconic, legendary speedway, but it should resume being an open-wheeled facility only. If NASCAR continues to run there, however, it really needs to move the date to a more meaningful date than its current random end-of-July or early-August date.

Where there is Smoke...: For the first 26 races, Stewart-Haas Racing realized success early and often. An all-star win, four wins for Tony, 2 poles and 15 top 10s for Ryan Newman, and Chase slots for both cars - pretty good marks for the team. TV announcers repeatedly tried to tell us this was the "first year" for the team. Clearly it wasn't as Gene Haas' team has been around a few years. But with Tony, Ryan, new crew chiefs, and a new attitude, the team's cars soared to levels it had not seen before. Certainly the pressure will be on Tony to improve his stock a bit next year and get Newman to victory lane and more consistent week to week.

Surprise #1 - The Aussie mate: Marcos Ambrose showed the Cup regular his skills extend beyond road courses. He finished 18th in points in his first full Cup season essentially driving a Michael Waltrip Racing Yota. Crikey, how does that happen? Props to him for doing so though.

Surprise #2 - the other furinner: Unlike other open wheel posers who ventured to Cup only to get spanked back from whence they came, Juan Pablo Montoya has honed his skills, listened to his crew chief, learned from other drivers, and solidly made the Chase. Bonus points paid to him for (1) creating a dust-up with Smoke in the final race (2) joining the ranks of Twitter and (3) completely ignoring the head-scratching "eating tacos" comment by Bob Griese. The guy has talent and drove smartly throughout the year. Why racing fans still refuse to give him his due is beyond me.

Turn off the lights, the party's over: In January, Petty Enterprises merged with Gillett Evernham Motorsports to become RPM. The 43 was on the track, and the King was still at the track. But for the first time since the formation of NASCAR, Petty Enterprises was no more.

Kasey Kahne returned the team to victory lane twice during the year. It was surreal, however, seeing Richard Petty exuberant over winning while celebrating with a Budweiser-sponsored #9 car.

I was a harsh critic of Reed Sorenson in the #43. A little over half-way through the year, we we learned he had been racing for FREE when team management gave him the ultimatum of racing for free or taking a walk. Suddenly, he went from underachieving to overachieving in my mind.

A last minute, planned part-time 4th RPM program for A.J. Allmendinger turned into a full season ride, zero DNFs (though zero laps led to be fair), and contract with RPM through 2010. I wished A.J. could be hired when Red Bull sidelined him in 2008. Little did I know how well it would work out for him. I'm really looking forward to his running the #43 next year.

Late in the season, news emerges that RPM plans to acquire Yates Racing and change to Ford. So they offload volunteer driver Reed Sorenson but then PAY money to hire a salaried Paul Menard. With this kind of decision making, its no wonder Kahne has hinted he may bolt after 2010.

Speed round:
  • Introduction of double-file restarts was long overdue but well worth the wait.
  • Shout out to Monte Dutton, Matt McLaughlin, Rick Houston, and John Daly.
  • Goodbye David Poole, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, and Yates Racing.
  • So long Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and DeWalt Tools.
  • Top TV coverage: #1 TNT, #2 FOX, #5 ESPN (so bad they don’t deserve spots 3 or 4)
  • California Speedway has two races too many.
  • I thought Mark Martin would be competitive, but daaannggg....
I'm glad the season is over. My interest level is probably lower than its ever been - especially with demise of Petty Enterprises, the forced retirement of Kyle Petty, rare appearances by Sterling Marlin, prima donna drivers with entitlement 'tudes, etc.

But when the calendar turns to January and Speedweeks is back on horizon, I reckon my interest will return like a bad rash needing an itch.


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