To me, the 2010 NASCAR season was more like the NASCAR I grew up with.
I think we had some great races in 2010, and I think we had some great rivalries. We saw guys finally show the emotion we've known they've had but were afraid to show for fear of penalties and fines. I heard a lot of positive feedback from fans, and that's always a great indicator of how things are going.
We also saw history being made again by Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team. Many sports haven't been able to point to a historical moment in recent years, but NASCAR has produced two consecutive benchmark seasons.
Some nay-sayers will have you believe we are nothing more than WWE championship wrestling and NASCAR dictated who won the championship. That's absolutely not the case. Johnson struggled this year, but when the chips were down, he rose to the occasion one more time. Honestly, to me, what he did was mind blowing.
People always have an opinion when they don't like the results. The woulda/coulda/shoulda's just don't mean a thing. What matters is which driver and team steps up.
NASCAR also deserves an "attaboy" for not getting involved in things unless absolutely necessary. Sure, someone will pop up and say NASCAR didn't have to hit Clint Bowyer with a 150 point/$150,000 fine after his car failed inspection at New Hampshire. But it's pretty simple: Based on the facts we know, his team broke the rules because the car did not meet specifications and he was penalized. So move on. The rule was clearly broken and NASCAR had to do their job. You have to admire them for that.
The bottom line when it comes to 2010 is that Jimmie Johnson wrote another page in the NASCAR history books: He became the first driver to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup after entering the season finale trailing in the standings -- turning a 15-point deficit to Denny Hamlin into a 39-point victory. It was great to see Jimmie pull it off this year. He added to his legacy. My question: Who is ever going to bring him down? Actually that should be the No. 1 story line in 2011: Who is going to man up and take Jimmie down?
A lot of people want to point and say that the No. 11 beat itself. There actually is a lot of truth to that. When Denny Hamlin and his crew chief, Mike Ford, needed each other the most, they weren't there. Don't get me wrong, they had a great year. But in the past two races they didn't close the deal like they needed to. Will they learn and be even stronger next year, or will they fall flat on their face like Carl Edwards did after his awesome 2008 season?
Despite all the great moments of 2010, NASCAR endured its share of disappointments. The top two on my list clearly were Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Both failed to make the Chase field, Martin finishing 13th in the standings and Junior 21st. For those teams to have the resources they possess and only get the results they did is sad. That's very much a disappointment.
You have to tip your hat to Chip Ganassi's two teams. Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya had a huge year and captured some of our biggest events -- McMurray won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and then the fall race in Charlotte; Montoya was victorious at Watkins Glen. This team would benefit from the suggestion that NASCAR put more emphasis on winning races leading up to the Chase. If that's among the Chase format tweaks we expect in 2011, Ganassi's teams could be players.
If 2011 plays out like I expect, it could easily wind up being one of the most competitive and exciting years we've had in a decade:
* We have the new surface at Daytona and the challenges it will bring.
* We have tracks where we now compete only once a year, like California and Atlanta.
* We have tracks like Kansas that we visit twice.
* We even have a new track on the circuit in Kentucky.
We have all that, plus anticipated changes to the Chase format.
I am going to call 2011 the Year of the Drivers. I think those guys have a better grip than ever on their responsibilities to our sport. It's time for them to step up and lead. It's time for them to help bring back the fans.
We have the best sport on four wheels. We have the best personalities. We have continuing story lines that, at times, actually resemble soap operas. We never have to go out to look for a fight or controversy because we always have one.
It should be exciting.