There was quite a spirited debate last week over who should take the honor of 2010 Driver of the Year.
About half the 20 panelists – all among the top motorsports writers and broadcasters in the U.S. – took part in a teleconference to debate the merits of the most deserving drivers before secretly casting their vote for their choice as Driver of the Year.
The results will be announced in the near future, but the discussion brought up some interesting points.
It’s no secret that the names brought up on that teleconference include five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force and three-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti.
Each of them had another remarkable season and would be a fitting winner of the DOTY vote.
But the surprise – to me – of the conversation was the strong support for a driver who didn’t win a driver’s championship in 2010 and has yet to finish in the top four in the Cup standings.
Yes, 25-year-old Kyle Busch.
It’s unlikely he will win the DOTY award this year, but there were a couple of impassioned arguments from panelists, saying that, overall, Busch may have had the best season of anybody.
I’m not buying it. I did not vote for Kyle Busch.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not impressed with what the young Joe Gibbs Racing driver accomplished this year. Taken as a whole, it is quite extraordinary..
Across all three of NASCAR’s national series, Busch made 81 total starts, including 36 in Cup, 29 in Nationwide and 16 in the truck series, where he ran his own team for the first time. He won 24 races – three in Cup, a record-smashing 13 in Nationwide and eight in the truck series. That’s nearly 30 percent of the races he entered.
Even more telling, the Las Vegas-native had 45 top-fives and 57 top-10s , as well as 11 poles.
Busch also became the first driver to win in all three of NASCAR’s premiere series at the same race track during the same weekend, pulling off that feat at Bristol Motor Speedway in August.
He helped Gibbs win the owners champion in Nationwide and his own first-year team won the owners title in trucks.
In his brief NASCAR career thus far, Busch has run up an amazing 87 wins, including one in 2009 in the Pro East Series – his only start in that division.
And you wrap up all this obvious talent in a package that includes a personality that is sometimes fiery, sometimes over the top and sometimes funny. He’s definitely no politically correct cardboard cutout, like so many other modern race drivers have become.
The youngster was particularly proud of that owners title in the truck series.
“For myself, it’s just the name on the door that said Kyle Busch Motorsports, and maybe that’s who the checks are signed by, but it takes a lot more than just that to go to the race track week in and week out,’’ Busch explained. “Their families and their families’ support and my support from (fiancé) Samantha (Sarcinella) and my mom and dad and my brother (Kurt), too – I mean, being 25 years old and being in this spot now, winning an owners championship, we never would have thought.”
My argument against voting for Busch as Driver of the Year was that, despite all of his success in 2010, he was not able to contend for the biggest prize – the Sprint Cup.
He did make the Chase for the championship for the fourth time in five years, but Busch wound up eighth in the final points and never really challenged eventual winner Johnson and his top competition, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick of Richard Childress Racing.
Still, Busch was pretty happy with his season.
“I feel like we’ve done a lot of things that we really didn’t expect to do on the Cup side this year,’’ he said. “We had a lot of good finishes. I felt like that was something to build upon and go into next year with a stronger feeling and a better relationship with (crew chief) Dave (Rogers). He he will have a better relationship with Mike (Ford, crew chief for teammate Denny Hamlin) and Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief for teammate Joey Logano), so we can all work together again to get all three Gibbs cars in the Chase, and hammer out another championship.’’
When he finally wins a Cup title – or at least contends to the end – I’ll be happy to support Busch for Driver of the Year. Until then, he’s a fine young talent who is fun to watch.
And my vote this year went to Jimmie Johnson, he of the remarkable and unprecedented five straight Cup championships.
(Editor’s note: The winner of the 2010 Driver of the Year Award will is scheduled to be announced next week. It will be reported at RacinToday.com first.)