SPEED.com is reviewing the biggest stories of the NASCAR year. Today: No. 1 – Jimmie Johnson rallies to win a fifth straight Sprint Cup title, and No. 2 – “Boys, have at it” decree from NASCAR ignites the season.
History happens practically every week in NASCAR, but it is rare that earth-shattering sort of stuff occurs – things like Dale Earnhardt tying Richard Petty’s record of seven national championships, Kyle Busch sweeping all three series in a weekend, Earnhardt finally winning the Daytona 500, David Pearson and Richard Petty crashing while racing for the win in the 500. The big, big stuff.
Jimmie Johnson added more to the big stuff pile in 2010, coming from behind – quite unlike him – to win a fifth straight Sprint Cup championship. No one else has done that – in fact, no one else has won more than three straight, so Johnson rightfully can claim a big ol’ chunk of stock car racing history in that category alone.
Johnson’s 2010 was a year in which he managed to claim his series championship again despite what he called an off year. Although he won six races, there were times of struggle for the 48 team during the season, and he entered the year’s last race trailing Denny Hamlin in the race for the title.
Two races earlier, relatively minor but recurring problems with the 48 pit crew spilled over into trouble, and crew chief Chad Knaus replaced the over-the-wall team with Jeff Gordon’s pit crew. That change lasted the rest of the year and was instrumental in Johnson rallying to win the title.
Johnson had 17 top fives – more than anyone else – during the season and recorded 23 top 10s, second only to Kevin Harvick’s 26. Johnson failed to finish four races, however, and that contributed to the tense moments over the closing weeks as he raced Hamlin and Harvick for the championship.
Now Johnson goes for six straight – the Six Pack, as the team is calling it, and he has a shot at tying Petty and Earnhardt for most titles all-time with seven.
His year – culminating in another championship – was the season’s biggest story.
Number 2 on the top 10 story list was a trend that NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton kicked off in January with this quote:
“As it relates to the Sprint Cup Series, there’s been a lot of debate and talk over the winter time, as everyone knows. The bump drafting [control] as we’ve known it at Daytona and Talladega over the past few years will be totally eliminated. We’re gonna put it back in the hands of the drivers and, ‘Boys, have at it and have a good time,’ that's all I can say.”
That was enough. Although Pemberton’s remarks about wide-open racing generally were directed at competition at Talladega and Daytona, the “Boys, have at it” attitude spread to other tracks. Coupled with the possibility of multiple green-white-checkered finishes at every track, the new attitude fueled good racing and led to more than a few disagreements – on track and off.
It even sparked some unusual interplay between Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, normally the best of friends. After two straight weeks of contact from Johnson’s car, Gordon got a little perturbed at Talladega.
“The ‘48’ [Johnson] is testing my patience,” Gordon said. “I’m hard to get mad, and I’m pissed off."
Joey Logano was barking after an on-track meeting with Kevin Harvick at Pocono. His remark became the quote of the year.
“Racing the 29 [Harvick], and he let me go in the middle of the straightaway and decided to dump me in the next turn,” Logano said. “I don't know what his deal is with me. It’s probably not his fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do, so it’s probably not his fault.”
The boys, they were having at it.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.