This year’s edition of the Chase didn’t produce the kind of finish we all were looking for, but we can’t let that spoil all of the excitement we were able to enjoy from the time the green flag waved at Daytona back in February until the checkered flag waved in Miami last month.
The 2007 season will never be looked back on as one in which it was business as usual as it seemed every stop on the schedule produced its own minidrama.
To come up with my list of what I consider the best of 2007, I used a very simple method. I listened to you, the fans, and what you wanted to talk about the most either in person or in the numerous emails I have received this season. So you see, it’s not what you could call a scientific list but it is one that will hit home with the majority of the readers of this column. So here we go, starting with number five and working our way to the top story.
The Car of Tomorrow – The long-awaited debut of NASCAR’s latest attempt to not only make the racing safer but to make it more competitive started off with a bang at Bristol back in the spring. Kyle Busch driving for Hendrick Motorsports was the class of the field on his way to winning the first-ever COT event but slammed the car in his post-race comments. He didn’t like the way it handled and said the racing wasn’t any better. That was a tough pill for NASCAR to swallow, but you have to remember that was Kyle Busch talking and before the season was over the sanctioning body was pleased enough with the new car to announce it would be the only car used in the 2008 season.
The Chase – I still think the idea behind the Chase is a good one and should produce a close finish each year – the only problem is that there are going to be years when you have a driver like Jimmie Johnson who is just that good. What this year’s Chase may have accomplished is it showed the rest of the field it is important to race for wins during the first 26 races. Johnson’s bonus points for his six wins gave him a huge advantage when he started his run for his second title.
Daytona 500 – I know this is the only sport that starts its season with its biggest event, but the 2007 version sure got the sport off to a good start. It was the first-ever race for Toyota at the Cup level but that turned into a nightmare when its flagship operation, Michael Waltrip Racing, got caught cheating. The black cloud remained over Waltrip and Toyota the entire season as just making a race gave both of them something to cheer about. While this wasn’t the type of publicity NASCAR had in mind from its crown jewel on the schedule, the finish between Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin left everybody wanting more.
Jimmie Johnson – The Hendrick Motorsports driver left little doubt in the minds of both race fans and the competition that he is now the flag bearer for the sport. His final 77-point margin over Jeff Gordon actually made it seem closer than it was. When he needed to be at his best he was by winning four of the last five races in the Chase. He, along with crew chief Chad Knaus, act and sound like they have several more championships in them, which isn’t good news for the rest of the series.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Jr. makes this list not for the moves he made on the track but because of the moves he made off the track. His contract negations with Dale Earnhardt Inc. made a lot of news during the early part of the season, but once he announced he would be leaving DEI at the end of the year, picking where Jr. would end up in ’08 was more fun than trying to handicap the winner on Sunday. He goes to Hendrick Motorsports, where he will not have to carry the organization as that will be left up to Johnson and Gordon, but he will be expected to win a few races and make the Chase and if along the way he can sell some die casts and t-shirts, it will be a win-win for everyone.