NASCAR Needs a Hero, a Villain, and an Underdog in 2010

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IFebruary 6, 2010

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 05:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 AMP Energy Chevrolet, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 5, 2010 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

For the upcoming Sprint Cup season, there are three things the sport needs to be wildly successful in 2010. Perhaps more than anything, stock-car racing needs a hero, a villain, and an underdog.

First, NASCAR needs a hero. Of course, there are many fans in the sport who have already identified that hero as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Unfortunately, this hero has not yet lived up to the hype, even with the power of Hendrick Motor Sports behind him.

If not Junior as the hero, are there any other possibilities to fulfill that role in the Cup Garage area? Most fans would be hard-pressed to come up with another hero, other than their own favorite driver.

One possible hero might just be Mark Martin. With his age and his continuing quest for that No. 1 spot in the sport, if Martin has a stellar year, he might just emerge as one of the heroes of the season.

Of course, the obvious hero would be Jimmie Johnson if he were to achieve a fifth consecutive championship in a row. Unfortunately, in spite of showing his edgier side in the HBO 24/7 special, Johnson still comes across to many fans as too plain and simply vanilla, characteristics that are antithetical to the hero label.

In addition to a hero, NASCAR needs a villain for the upcoming season. The sport needs someone to proudly wear that big, black 10-gallon hat and swagger through the Cup garage.

There actually are several contenders already for the villain role, even before the season officially starts. One major contender for NASCAR's villain role is Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin had a few run-ins last season, particularly with Brad Keselowski, as well as some other drivers that he has trash-talked. In fact, Hamlin has visited the NASCAR hauler a few times in response to his antics and words on and off the track.

Even in the preseason, Hamlin has also already managed to tick off Martin, with a mix-up in signals during practice at Daytona this week. Both drivers ended up with wrecked racecars, and Martin indeed had some terse words after the wreck for Hamlin.

Another possible villain is Hamlin's nemesis, Brad Keselowski, who is moving up to Cup in a Penske ride this season. Keselowski has managed to annoy not only Hamlin but several other drivers with his aggressive driving and "devil may care" attitude.

The final possible villain is Kyle Busch, who faded out of the spotlight when he failed to make the Chase in 2009. In spite of his just-announced engagement, if Busch is back, both with his performance on he track and with his edgy attitude, he too may be in contention for the black-hat villain role.

The third part of the trio that NASCAR needs to make 2010 a year to remember is an underdog. This season, there seems to be underdogs aplenty, including drivers like Marcos Ambrose, A.J. Allmendinger, and Jamie McMurray, all of whom may have the chance to have breakout years in 2010.

Another potential underdog is Travis Kvapil, who spent most of last season sitting on the sidelines without a ride. Kvapil is thrilled to have the opportunity to race with Front Row Motorsports, running full-time in the No. 34 Long John Silver's car.

Martin Truex Jr. may just be another NASCAR underdog for the upcoming season. After a less-than-stellar 2009, Truex is now with Michael Waltrip Racing, excited to be back with many of his former colleagues and friends from his former team, Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

Truex is coming into the 2010 season with full confidence, as well as the total support of Michael Waltrip and his team. He also will have little brother Ryan, East Series champion, at his side in the shop and supporting him at the track.

So, who will NASCAR's hero be? Will a villain emerge? And who will surprise everyone with a breakout year as the underdog?

Only time will tell. But the fact remains; NASCAR needs one of each to emerge in order to have a truly successful 2010 race season.