With that in mind, and the clock winding down on 2010, here are the top 10 good, bad and ugly moments that were:
1. SUNDAY MONEY — No one rose to the big races like Jamie McMurray and the crew of the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet. Jamie Mac won the two biggest races of the season – The Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, and claimed victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway, too. He also had runner-up finishes at Darlington, Talladega and Charlotte. That’s cash money, peeps. Who needs the Chase?
2. MAD SKILLZ — What can you say about Jimmie Johnson that hasn’t been said 100 or 1,000 times already? Chew on this little nugget: Johnson — a/k/a Superman or Vanilla Ice — has won more consecutive championships than any other NASCAR drivers except for Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt have won in total. He will be remembered as the best ever.
3. HOLY COW! — NASCAR’s most embarrassing moment happened on its biggest stage, as a pothole at Daytona International Raceway wound up with the Daytona 500 being red-flagged for 2 hours, 25 minutes and 20 seconds. Worse yet, NASCAR officials had to go from team to team and get Bondo — yes, Bondo! — to patch the hole. The goober-ish moment of the year cost track President Robin Braig his job. And you know what? It should have.
4. MAN UP AWARD — Denny Hamlin stayed in his damaged race car at Phoenix International Raceway even though he was two laps down and had no prayer of a good finish in the Subway Fresh Fit 600 in April. Hamlin went the distance at Phoenix, finishing 30th in a race extended for the first time to 600 kilometers. And he did so just 10 days after having surgery on a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. His courage inspired the entire team.
5. DUDE, WTF? — When Jeff Burton drilled Jeff Gordon hard into the wall — under caution, no less — in the AAA Texas 500, it was most inexplicable example of “boys, have at it” in a year filled with them. Gordon’s completely justified rage made the two look a couple of bantam-weight mixed martial arts combatants.
6. BEST RACING — Hands, down, the most exciting racing of the year this season was at Talladega Superspeedway, with Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer (both Sprint Cup Series), Brad Keselowski (Nationwide Series) and Kyle Busch (Camping World Truck Series) all winning thrilling races with last-lap passes. The late-night action in the legendary Talladega infield was pretty compelling, too.
7. MOST IMPROVED — Hands down, driver Kevin Harvick and the entire Richard Childress Racing organization made the biggest gains in 2010, with Harvick leading the Sprint Cup regular season in points, having the best average finish in the Chase and nearly winning the title. Harvick also solidified his position as one of the most influential drivers in the sport.
8. SILLIEST SEASON — Kasey Kahne signed his 2012 contract with Hendrick Motorsports before he signed his 2011 deal with Red Bull Racing. And when Red Bull fired Scott Speed to make room for Kahne, Speed sued them for the $6.5 million he claimed he was due in his contract. A bold 2011 prediction: Some lawyers will make out like bandits settling this one.
9. TOO TOUGH TO TAME — Jack Roush has always been one of the most interesting guys in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage — intelligent, opinionated and often contrarian, something the sport desperately needs much more of. And when he survived a second airplane crash, one which cost him his left eye and broke his back, the 68-year-old Roush was back at the track less than three weeks later. That, friends, is Built Ford Tough.
10. HE WHO LAUGHS LAST — After Jimmie Johnson’s team made a series of disastrous pit stops in the AAA Texas 500 and Denny Hamlin went on to win and take over the points lead, race-winning crew chief Mike Ford pretty much threw the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization under the bus. Ford harshly criticizing both the Hendrick crew’s competence and the leadership of the company for swapping pit crews in mid-race. The Texas victory looked like it would launch Hamlin to his first title. But after two bad races at Phoenix and Homestead, Hamlin became the first driver in the Chase era to lose the title in the final race. And as Johnson took his victory lap for his record fifth consecutive championship, winning crew chief Chad Knaus held up a simple sign: “Our TEAM Won!! Yes, indeed, they did.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.