Earlier today, 50-year-old Mark Martin was announced as the winner of the 2009 NASCAR Illustrated Person of the Year Presented by Old Spice.
Martin was given the honor for what was said to be his “exceptional talent and extraordinary class.” Martin will officially receive the award during a pre-race ceremony at next weekend’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Martin currently sits second in points behind teammate and points leader Jimmie Johnson with just two races remaining in the season.
He’s won five times this year, has seven poles, 13 Top-Five finishes, and 20 Top-10s. Certainly a great season and great numbers to accompany his off-track personality that won him the award.
Martin has always been a fan and driver favorite; it’s hard to find anyone that wouldn’t like him. After announcing in 2005 that he would hang up his helmet and retire as a Jack Roush driver, he returned for another year in 2006, when Roush couldn’t find his replacement.
Then, he came back for a partial season in each of 2007 and 2008 with Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, before saying that he would return full-time in 2009 with Hendrick Motorsports.
It was like watching the Brett Favre saga all over again, just in NASCAR.
The race in Phoenix this weekend and the finale in Homestead-Miami on November 22 will be Martin’s last opportunities in 2009 to capture his first career Sprint Cup Series championship.
He could place the championship trophy next to the NASCAR Illustrated award, which is the third he's won.
So, NASCAR Illustrated has chosen its man, but does everyone agree?
Besides Martin, arguments could be made for the man that he’s chasing in the points: Jimmie Johnson.
It’s well documented that Johnson has the chance to make NASCAR history by becoming the first driver to win four consecutive championships. Johnson’s won six times this year, including for the second time at the Brickyard.
Besides his incredible numbers on the track, he’s put up incredible dollar numbers off it.
Every year Johnson hosts a celebrity golf tournament in his home state of California when the series heads west for the race at the Auto Club Speedway. The money is donated to a charity.
He’s also been involved with building homes for those in need thanks to his sponsor, Lowe’s, and the Jimmie Johnson Foundation.
He’s a champion on and off the track.
So are his team owners, Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick.
Both are involved with various charities and donate whenever and wherever they can. Gordon created the "Jeff Gordon Children's Hospital," and is a four-time Sprint Cup Champion, trying to win his fifth this year.
Numerous stories can be found on all the wonderful things that Rick Hendrick does to go along with the many championships and checkered flags he's collected as a team owner.
Another candidate could be Tony Stewart.
Stewart not only took the risk of leaving a championship team and organization in Joe Gibbs Racing to start his own company, but he’s more than succeeded in doing so.
Stewart and Newman took Stewart-Haas Racing to the Top 10 in points this year, and Stewart took the team to victory lane four times, including at the Sprint All-Star race.
He also led the points for the majority of the year.
Off the speedway, Stewart does his share of representing NASCAR well by doing, well, more racing.
He’s made a tradition of hosting the “Prelude to the Dream” event at his dirt track, Eldora, in Ohio. He and fellow NASCAR stars race each other, and all proceeds from the TV event are donated; this year they went to support members of the military who had been injured or families of those who had lost their lives.
Stewart also has his own foundation, and this year, with the help of sponsor Old Spice, he donated 5,000 backpacks to children in the Charlotte area.
Rough and tumble Tony Stewart has a big heart.
Another rough and tumble driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, could have easily won the award with his team owners, Teresa Earnhardt, Chip Ganassi, and Felix Sabates.
The fearsome foursome became a championship-contending team in 2009 after merging companies and pairing with powerhouse Chevrolet. Montoya dominated the Brickyard and nearly picked up his second career win, first of the season and on an oval track, before he made a pit road mistake late in the race.
After qualifying for his first career Chase, he sat third in points for much of the early races, contending for wins along the way.
Off the track, Montoya isn't just a great ambassador for NASCAR from open wheel racing, but he too gives back.
He and wife Connie created the “Formula Smiles Foundation,” which “aims to improve life, through sports, the quality of life of Colombian children in vulnerable situations.”
Team co-owner Teresa Earnhardt is heavily involved in the “Dale Earnhardt Foundation,” which focuses on education, commitment to children, as well as wildlife and environmental preservation.
Chip Ganassi promotes and supports St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and it’s been reported that his teams have donated nearly half a million dollars to the hospital over the years. And Felix Sabates is heavily involved in contributing to philanthropy and has been rewarded for it.
What Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing has accomplished on and off the track this year could easily make that team NASCAR Illustrated Persons of the Year.
By rule, the winner could come from anywhere in NASCAR: team owners, drivers, crew chiefs, officials, and so forth.
Another great example would be DeLana Harvick, wife of Sprint Cup driver Kevin Harvick.
DeLana co-owns teams in both the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series. Besides supporting her husband and running their teams, she supports many different charities, including the “Victory Junction Gang,” and hosts different events for Kevin Harvick Incorporated.
Everyone in NASCAR deserves to be the NASCAR Illustrated Person of the Year for 2009, but since that award went to Mark Martin, it’s not too early to start thinking about next year.
So, who should it be?