NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Have At It, Boys… They Certainly Did

As someone who follows the Sprint Cup Series with a pretty serious level of devotion – it’s nigh on impossible to write a coherent weekly column if you don’t keep up, after all – the final checkered flag of the season always comes as something of a rude shock. You see, after 10 months of racing, the off-season, however short, feels just a smidgeon empty. Of course, those nearest and dearest to me won’t mind so much, as I’ll actually be able to plan my weekends around something else other than 43 like-minded maniacs driving three and a half ton cars to the limit of their capacities. But before we put to bed the 2010 season, it’s time for one final iteration of Five Points to Ponder: Championship style.

All Hail King Jimmie

There’s nowhere else to start, really; you could even argue that every single one of these five points should be about the newly minted “Five Time.” Whatever you think of Double J, you can’t do anything but hold your hands up and say he’s remarkable. This year in particular, not least because for much of the season the No. 48 team seemed just a tick off the pace. The really scary part for everyone else is you can take it to the bank that Chad Knaus will work his gnarly little fingers to the bone this offseason. The prohibitive favorites for 2011 will be back even stronger, which can only be a massively terrifying thought for the chasing pack. Say what you will about the Chase, but all the drivers play to the same system, the same rules, and Jimmie and Chad have absolutely mastered the Chase format. He is a worthy champion, no question.

Chin Up Denny Hamlin

During the course of the season, Denny Hamlin talked a number of times about the fact that he’s repeatedly found ways to screw up the Chase. His argument being that to win one you have to lose one first. To me, in the previous four years, other than his rookie season, he’s never really been in contention all the way to Miami-Homestead. So if Denny wants to talk about truly losing one, then this was the year. Simply put, though, it’s absolutely no disgrace to lose to Jimmie, and despite what his constant critics would tell you, a fair and rational analysis of the entire No. 11 team this year is that they’ve stepped up to be counted and overcome adversity time and again. Yes, in the final denouement he didn’t win a maiden championship, but an eight-win season is nothing to be ashamed of, not in the slightest.

As Hamlin said post-race, “I knew before today that we have a lot to be proud of as a race team. And I know every year I’ve been in the Cup Series, I’ve been better than I was the previous year.”

He’ll be back raring to go next year, you can count on it.

A Happy Season for Harvick

In the end, Kevin Harvick was never truly in serious contention at Homestead, but the very fact he was there or thereabouts headed into the last race speaks volumes for the “night and day” improvement in Richard Childress Racing this year. All told, Harvick ended up with three wins, 16 top-fives and 26 top-10s (both the latter marks are career bests), an average finish of 8.7 and just 41 points out from hoisting the biggest prize of them all. Now there are those (frankly moronic) fans who will continue to bleat long and hard as to why Harvick was the real “regular-season champion,” but this would be a specious and spurious claim. Yes, in 2003 under the old points system, Harvick would have been the champ but we’re not using that system and the idiots that keep propagating this nonsense about the real points champion should learn the difference and shut the (insert your own expletive) up. That aside, Harvick had a tremendous year and it augurs well for him in 2011 and beyond, even if his wife does wear the firesuit in their family. (Sorry, couldn’t resist one last mention of that.)

Two Backflips in Two Weeks for the No. 99

Lost, somewhat, in the hyperbole of the closeness of the Chase was a second straight victory for Carl Edwards after going 70 straight without taking the checkered flag ahead of the pack. The real question, however, is whether or not this was just some end of season “flash in the pan, we’re all tired” sort of form or a sign of what’s to come from Ford and the fledgling FR9 engine. For Jack Roush and Co., the hope is for the latter because despite placing three cars (Greg Biffle, Edwards and Matt Kenseth) in the Chase, the reality was the RFR cars were never really serious contenders. Still, it’s good to see Edwards have some joy at the end of a tough season as, for me at least, he’s one of the good guys.

Have At It Boys… They Certainly Did

In January of this year, NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton, uttered what would become one of the most quoted phrases of the year, “We will put it back in the hands of the hands of the drivers and we will say, ‘Boys, have at it and have a good time.”

Turns out that’s exactly what happened. As a NASCAR columnist, I naturally read a lot of the other writers (the competition, I guess) and it’s saddened me some how negative so many of my fellow scribes have been all year long. Yes, there have been some turgid races but for the most part, this season has been pretty damn exciting, from Jamie Mac’s emotional and unexpected Daytona 500 victory right down to the very last lap this Sunday. Yes, there are problems in the sport – big problems – I’m not immune to that, but for me the fans have had their money’s worth this year. Here’s to more of the same in 2011.

And Finally, One Last Thing: This is my last column of my third year as a fully fledged NASCAR writer so I just want to take a moment to very sincerely thank all of you who’ve read my ramblings and those that have commented (yes, even the haters). As someone who six years ago had not one iota of knowledge of NASCAR, I’m proud to be able to have this forum, week in, week out and I look forward to writing more in 2011. Enjoy the offseason folks. Happy Turkey day… See you in Daytona.

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