NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Good morning, race fans, and happy Tuesday to all of you! It’s hard to believe that the 2010 NASCAR season has finally concluded. I don’t know about you, but this time of year always brings mixed feelings for me. I now have three months to actually be productive on Sunday afternoons; but at the same time, I am already looking forward to and eagerly anticipating the excitement this sport is set to produce next season. While we wait, though, it’s a perfect time to take a look back at the best and the worst of what we just saw: the high points, low points, and everything in between that defined the sport of stock car racing these past nine months. So, as a tribute to one of my favorite movies, let’s delve into the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the NASCAR season that was:

The Good

Wing Be Gone! – Ever since the CoT debuted in 2007, the one thing that stood out more than anything was that damned wing. Replacing the spoiler, it was supposed to reduce the dirty air in traffic, thus making it easier to pass. But it failed to help aerodynamically, and most importantly, it was ugly as sin. That aesthetic change always made it difficult to relate to the new stock cars, becoming the scapegoat of a design that never caught on with fans. It took two-plus years, several tweaks and a whole lot of complaining to force a change; but NASCAR finally listened, ditching the wing for a bigger, bulkier spoiler after the spring Bristol race.

Exciting Races, Exciting Chase – If you didn’t like the racing action this year, I guess cars going around in circles isn’t your thing. We saw one of the most exciting Daytona 500s in history (if you can get past the pothole issues), a record number of lead changes in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, two fantastic Martinsville races – heck, even Fontana put on two good events. We had an exciting Chase as well. While it was a different story, same result, this 10-race playoff was the best one we have had since the inaugural edition in 2004, with three drivers all having a legitimate shot to win it all going into Homestead.

The Bad

TV Ratings/Attendance Down – Declining television ratings and attendance haven’t been anything new; it has been going downhill for the past couple of seasons now. However, there were several races in 2010 that were well below a 3.0, losing over a million-plus viewers while posting a decline of well over 20% year-to-year – a disturbing trend that can’t only be blamed on the economy. Financial concerns might have a bigger impact on the decline in attendance, but when Bristol Motor Speedway, once the toughest ticket to get in all of motorsports, is filled with empty seats, it is a clear sign that all is not well with the state of our sport.

Johnson Wins, Again – Not to knock on our new five-time champ, but his dominance is the last thing NASCAR needed. Even though Brian France doesn’t believe it, we already have plenty of fans who hate the Chase and have discontinued watching races because of it. The fact that one driver has won the title for the past five years is not helping the cause. If you know how the movie ends, you will be less likely to watch, especially five times over. Some will argue that history is being made, Johnson’s talent making this historic run an accomplishment that will never happen again. That, I’ll admit, is very true; but history was made two years ago when Johnson tied Cale Yarborough‘s record and again last year when he broke it. At this point, his reign at the top has become redundant. But let me make something clear here: I don’t blame Johnson or even the Chase for this lackluster dynasty. You race under the system you have in place, and the other Chasers need to step it up; instead, for years now we have seen all of them choke. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick kept the No. 48 honest for the first nine races, but it was their screwups on Sunday, more than Johnson’s success, that made the difference, a trend among challengers that needs to stop if the new Mr. Five-Time is ever going to give up the throne.

The Ugly

“Boys Have At It” Out of Hand – Overall, NASCAR’s decision to let boys be boys was a success. We saw the two Jeffs scuffle on the backstretch at Texas, Joey Logano and Harvick provided some post-race drama, and it improved racing in general. However, two incidents, both involving Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski, made the case for the opposition. Edwards twice took Keselowski out, both moves that saw safety compromised and nearly resulted in last April’s Talladega disaster that injured seven innocent fans in the stands. The first came in March, a tap which saw Keselowski go airborne into the catchfence in Atlanta while the second, last-lap skirmish near the finish line saw Kes T-boned at Gateway in a wreck that collected many innocent drivers. Edwards admitted to both incidents being intentional, and the seriousness of both wrecks led many to question the “Boys, Have At It” policy.

Start and Parks Gone Wild – Continuing a trend from 2009, we saw an increase of the start-and-park gang over in Sprint Cup. Underfunded teams have discovered a loophole in NASCAR’s system that allows them to run a handful of laps before retiring and earning a nice paycheck for their efforts (or lack thereof). The Nationwide Series remained the worst offenders, where several cars would park just several laps into the race, including 2000 Nationwide champ Jeff Green. But the start-and-park dilemma reached a low point in NASCAR’s top series, peaking when another former champ, Bobby Labonte, was resigned to such an effort once his team, TRG Motorsports, simply did not have the funds to run the entire distance.

“No” Rookie ClassKevin Conway is your 2010 Rookie of the Year in Sprint Cup. Sadly, that’s not a misprint; for the season, he had just one top-20 finish, a 14th at the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona, and one lap led. His only competitor, Terry Cook, attempted 10 races and only made three of them, two of which were an aforementioned start-and-park. Between the lack of driver development in the Nationwide Series and sponsorship harder than ever to come by, the result became one of the worst rookie classes in NASCAR history. Things don’t look much better for next year, either; as of now, there aren’t any drivers who have declared to run for ROTY in 2011.

Overall, it was a great year and I, for one, am ready for the 2011 Daytona 500. But whether you enjoyed Sprint Cup competition or not, it is the perfect time to take a step back, look at the big picture, and remember: there are more important things going on in the world. Be thankful for what you have, and don’t take the racing too seriously (I know I do, way too often). Happy Holidays to all, and I hope everyone enjoys the offseason. Until then, see you in February!

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