Just like any of the other 60 seasons that NASCAR has been sanctioning what is now Sprint Cup racing, each season produced some outstanding drivers and races. This season was no different as there were plenty of high marks over the long season to make it one of the best in recent years. Of course, not every race or individual produced the kind of lasting memory that NASCAR is always looking for anytime the green flag waves to begin a race.
The sport has plenty of problems and questions to answer as it prepares for the 2009 season, but before we try and tackle those, let’s look back on some of the stories that deserve another look.
1. Three years ago nobody in the sport thought a driver would be able to win three Cup titles in a row — now everyone is wondering if anyone can keep Jimmie Johnson from winning his fourth straight championship in 2009. Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus know how to race their way into the Chase and when it’s time to run those final 10 races, no team can match their intensity level that seems to grow with each race.
2. This was the first full year for the Car of Tomorrow and while the jury is still out on just how good a race car it will become, it did show that it is as safe as advertised. Michael McDowell’s crash while practicing at Texas may have been the most watched film clip of the season as the car was completely demolished in a crash that saw McDowell walk away.
3. Indianapolis is one of the most anticipated stops on the Cup schedule and this year’s stop made plenty of headlines, but not the kind that NASCAR wanted to read. Tire wear during the race was so bad that pit stops were occurring routinely after about a dozen laps, forcing the majority of racing to take place trying to get in and out of the pits. It was safe to say that both Goodyear and NASCAR were as glad to see the checkered flag as Jimmie Johnson, who won the race.
4. Kyle Busch became “Rowdy” Busch with one of the hottest starts of a season in recent memories. His stats for the year sounds more like those of a driver’s career as he totaled eight wins at the Cup level, 10 in the Nationwide Series along with three Craftsman Truck Series wins to give him an amazing 21 wins on the season. He was never able to get any momentum during the Chase and finished 10th on the season, but it may have been the best season of work that any driver has ever put together.
5. There has never been a doubt that Tony Stewart is his own man. This season he went one step further with it by announcing he was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to become part owner of his own two-car operation. He will be calling the shots for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009 after finishing 10 years with Gibbs that saw him win two Cup titles and 33 races. It could be a bad time for Tony to make such a move as he has yet to obtain sponsorship for his second team that will be driven by Ryan Newman, and with the problems GM is going through, dollars at Stewart-Haas may be as tough to find as victory lane will be next season.
6. Carl Edwards did everything but win the Cup title this season. He finished second to Johnson in the final standings but posted the most wins (9), top 5s (19) and top 10s (27) of any driver in the series. He appears to be the main threat to Johnson in his bid to string four straight titles together.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. made the move to Hendrick Motorsports before this season but found out that as bright as his star was, he was now the “other” driver in this organization. He did post one win this season at Michigan but faded in the Chase and finished last out of the 12 Chase drivers. It wasn’t a total wash of a year for Junior as he did win another Driver of the Year award. It was the sixth consecutive year that Earnhardt has won the award.