The 2010 Sprint Cup season not only gave us the best Chase since its inception, but also provided plenty of stories that fueled our interest from February to November. While the sport still has some problems with empty seats and sagging TV ratings, the action on the track provided enough excitement to make the three-month off -season seem like an eternity.
NASCAR gets the honor of making the most newsworthy announcement before the season even got underway when the sanctioning body announced that it would be taking a “boys, have at it” approach to policing what was happening on the track. The drivers once again had the freedom to make a hole when it wasn’t there and the opportunity to let other drivers know how they felt about their driving. It kept the fans coming back as several drivers such as Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards had feuds going that followed them from track to track.
Jimmy Johnson even took NASCAR up on its “have at it” announcement by the way he raced his teammate Jeff Gordon early in the season, but that ended up being just a blip on his radar screen as he raced his way to his fifth consecutive title. The only diff erence was this time he had to race from behind, and along the way the mental toughness that both he and crew chief Chad Knaus showed during the last couple of Chase races made the competition melt (sorry about that, Denny, but it is the truth). This team finished the season as the class of the field and, unfortunately for the rest of the series, it looks like it will also begin the 2011 season as the class of the field.
Even though Denny Hamlin finished second to Johnson for the title after being somewhat in control during the later stages of the Chase, he still was one of the newsmakers on the season. He entered the season with an injured knee that eventually led to surgery after the first Martinsville race, but it was the way he crawled back into the car at Phoenix following the surgery that showed his team would compete for the title as his Joe Gibbs Racing team won a series-high eight races.
Seldom is a non-Chase driver ever mentioned when recapping the biggest stories of the year, but the season that Jamie McMurray put together puts him on this elite list of newsmakers. Jamie opened the season by winning the biggest race of the year in the Daytona 500, only to follow that up with signature wins in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis and the Bank of America 500 night race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Those are three of the sports marquee races and to win them in your first year with a new team (Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing) makes the accomplishment even more amazing.
You know that you can’t have a list of newsmakers in the sport without the name of Kyle Busch. While Kyle was never really a factor in the Sprint Cup title, he dominated the sport in a way that only Kyle Busch can do. He won a combined 24 races in NASCAR’s Sprint, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series including all three national series races in August at Bristol. And, yes, along the way he ruffled a few feathers as he was involved in more than one of NASCAR’s “have at it” moments.
NASCAR also came up with the idea of having up to three restarts at the end of a race prior to the waving of the white flag. It all but ensured that fans would be treated to a thrilling finish while at the same time giving the drivers and crew chiefs one more thing to worry about as the figuring of fuel mileage now had to take in account the possibility of a race being extended a few laps because of the new rule.
Of course, it is hard to try to condense the entire season down into a few of the top stories because you are always going to leave out somebody. Richard Childress Racing sure deserves a mention as all three of its teams made the Chase one year after being shut out completely in 2009.
That was just the kind of season it was, one that every stop on the schedule produced a story that would carry over the excitement until the following week. It was definitely the kind of year that NASCAR needed to once again attract new fans and keep its old guard fan base in place.