The 2008 NASCAR season is finally over. “Finally” for me has a few different meanings. Mainly, it has been a hectic and exhausting year, balancing working and writing while trying to maintain some semblance of a semi-normal social life. Secondly, because this has been, after 26 years of watching this sport, the most painfully long season I can remember. I feel that there were more lows than highs unfortunately, but then again, such is the sad state of affairs we find our self in at this point in history. I am also taken aback by some of the irony – or coincidence – whatever label you wish to apply to it, that I have seen this year in NASCAR.
First of all, let’s take our champion Jimmie Johnson. No, he isn’t exactly the most charismatic fellow out there, but then again, what are you looking for: a guy who wins races and championships who represents the sport well, or someone to ignite a revolution in some third-world crap hole? He does not demand absolute submission and respect, though after winning three consecutive titles and tying one of the all-time legends of the sport, he would have every right to. It also makes me shake my gigantic 7-7/8” hat-sized head that people would actually question whether or not he is one of the all-time greats in the sport. To date he has won 40 races, three consecutive titles (and for all intents and purposes could have won five by now), all by the age of 33 years old.
How old was Cale Yarborough when he got that third championship? 39 years old. By that time he had 59 wins as well. What do you think Johnson will be able to accomplish over the next six years? Sorry folks, but he’s just that good.
Junior Nation was pumped when 2008 began – this was what everybody was waiting for. Finally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the best equipment, his cousin Tony Eury Jr. calling the shots, and no longer had to succumb to the browbeating of the wicked stepmother. No more excuses, time to follow in the footsteps of Daddy. He comes out of the box strong at Daytona, winning the Bud Shootout and his 150-mile qualifying race. He wins a race and qualifies for the Chase. A few exploding tires later, he sits 12th in the final standings (seventh under the traditional format), and people are calling him a failure.
Not sure if you noticed or not, but his teammate, four-time champion Jeff Gordon, didn’t even win a race this year and for the most part ran worse than the No. 88 car all season long. Scratch off that No. 88 decal, and you’ll find a No. 25 under it from last season. Come to think of it, Casey Mears didn’t do a whole lot in the No. 5 car this year did he? Had it not been for a few botched pit calls and Kyle Busch’s bumper, Junior very well could have won four or five races this season. Would people be satisfied then? Unlikely. They’d probably say, “well why didn’t he win eight?” or, “well he better, look whose car he’s driving.” Meanwhile, Jeff Burton, the driver who wears the distinction of being the ideal Chase competitor because he will top six or top seven you to death, finished sixth in points. I find that appropriate.
While the major stories this year were the Goodyear fiasco at the Brickyard – the biggest debacle since… well, the Formula 1 fiasco involving Michelin – declining attendance, and the economic downturn – just a couple of days ago, nearly 200 people were laid off – the one bright shining spot and the one redeeming value that is often overlooked was the Craftsman Truck Series. Now it is the Camping World Series, but if there was ever a year that epitomized what the junior series is all about, it was 2008. The title came down to an end of race green/white/checkered finish – the format that had become the hallmark of this series – between Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr. The racing seen throughout the night was some of the best all season, and a testament to why diehard fans always point to the trucks as, “the way things used to be.” I am sad to see it finish, but I was overjoyed to see Benson win the title. Heck even Hornaday seemed happy to see him win it.
If there was any disappointment in all of this, it was that one of the two principles in this fight had to come up short.
While I am glad to finally get a break here to recharge the batteries for a few months, I am also a bit sad as well. My Sundays have a big hole in them now, one that the Detroit Lions could never be able to fill even if they do fulfill my 0-16 perfect season. As much as I am ready for long winter’s racing nap, I can’t wait to check out the speeds reported in pre-season testing for 2009 and… oh, that’s right.
No more testing.
Well, I’ll be glad when we get started at Daytona again in February for Speedweeks and The Great American Race. In the meantime, thanks to all of you for reading and for your comments and emails. Have a safe and fun holiday season, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.