NASCAR 2010: Handing Out Awards for the Season
It may not be Oscar season yet, and unfortunately it is no longer NASCAR season. While the 2010 season has officially come to a close, this would be the perfect time to open the envelopes and find out which people and moments were worthy of bringing home an award.
The NFL, NBA and MLB all hand out yearly awards. Whether it be the MVP, offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year or gold glove, there are plenty of awards to go around.
While NASCAR doesn't actually have any of these awards, it would be a fun voting process if they did. So, today, through the magic of make believe, it is time to hand out some awards to deserving drivers, crew chiefs and moments that made the 2010 season special.
And the winners are...
Best Victory Celebration
Winner: Carl Edwards Back flip/Run through the stands.
While it took almost all season to get to see this celebration, Carl Edwards is the runaway winner in this category.
For all of the nay-sayers, who claim that NASCAR drivers aren't real athletes, they apparently have never seen Edwards. Not only is the man in prime physical condition, but after driving for 400 miles, he still finds a way to extricate himself from his car and perform a near flawless back flip, and then stick a 10 point landing.
After the first celebration, Edwards then grabs the checkered flag and heads into the grandstands to celebrate with the crowd.
This is the clear cut winner, beating out the likes of Kurt Busch and his victory lap in reverse, as well as Kyle Busch and his victory bow.
Surprise Moment Of The Year
Winner: Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton Fight On The Race Track
It's no secret that during the heat of competition sometimes your emotions can run high, and tempers can really flare up.
In the third to last race of the season, at Texas Motor Speedway, that certainly came to fruition. After an on track disagreement, Jeff Burton got into Gordon's quarter panel under caution and turned him driver side into the outside wall. The subsequent contact also sent Burton's car slamming into the wall, resulting in heavy damage and undrivable cars for both men.
After getting out of their cars and before climbing into the ambulance, Gordon approached Burton, and instead of voicing his displeasure, he retaliated with a hard, two-handed shove to Burton's chest. The two men briefly grappled before being separated by NASCAR officials.
The reason that this moment wins the award for surprise of the year is because of the two drivers that were involved.
It was beyond shocking to see an incident like this between Burton and Gordon, two drivers who have been running full time in NASCAR for a combined 35 seasons, and two drivers who previously had the utmost respect for each other, as well as the respect of the rest of the garage.
Best Standard Paint Job
Winner: Jamie McMurray's Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet
Something about this car just really pops. I'm sure it has something to do with the incredibly bright neon orange color used, but whatever it is, it works.
Everything about this paint scheme really works. Everything from the color to the big fish on the hood makes this car the clear cut favorite in this category. The car even looks good in victory lane, as McMurray put the car there on three different occasions.
McMurray's paint scheme beats out the likes of Mark Martin's GoDaddy.com Chevy, Jeff Gordon and his DuPont paint scheme and Kyle Busch and the M&M's machine.
Best Special Paint Scheme
Winner: Mark Martin ebay Motors Chevrolet
For as much as I like McMurray's standard paint scheme, I like this one 10 times more. This paint scheme is fairly basic and not overly flashy, but with the colors being used it works really well.
While this paint scheme was only used one time this season, at Martinsville, it made a lasting impression. Had that race gone another 10 laps or so, Martin was well on his way to driving it to victory lane, as he made a furious charge through the field in a car that had been battered in an accident halfway through the race.
This category was a close one, but in the end Martin is able to overcome the special paint schemes of Ryan Newman and the Tornadoes car, Jeff Gordon and his various National Guard paint schemes and Kyle Busch with his two race Halloween-themed machine.
Breakout Performer Of The Year
Winner: Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer is coming off his fifth full time season in the Sprint Cup season. And while Bowyer has experienced success in NASCAR's top series, including a couple of wins, 2010 was statistically his best year.
While he only finished 10th in the standings, due in large part to a penalty after the first race in the Chase that essentially knocked him out of contention, Bowyer set or tied career highs in just about every other category.
Bowyer earned the first multiple win season of his career. He set a new career best with 18 Top 10 finishes and tied his previous career high of seven finishes in the Top Five.
On top of that, Bowyer led more laps this season than any other in his career, and his qualifying performance also improved, as his average starting position was the best it has ever been.
Victory Lane Moment Of The Year
Winner: Jamie McMurray After Winning The Daytona 500
Jamie McMurray gets his second award in runaway fashion. This seems like an obvious choice, and no doubt, the right choice.
If there was ever a doubt that the Daytona 500 is the most important race on the NASCAR schedule, go ahead and watch McMurray's emotional outpouring in victory lane. It has been a long time since a driver was that happy to be in victory lane.
After the confetti had flown and the driver and his team had been doused in Coca Cola, McMurray tried his hardest to give a victory speech. He hardly got any words out before tears of joy started to fill his eyes, and he wept with happiness.
Just as he was about to regain his composure and begin speaking again, his wife showed up to join in the excitement, at which McMurray's enjoyment of the moment grew ten fold.
While this was no doubt the most important moment of McMurray's career, that three minutes in victory lane was just the culmination of a lifetime of hard work for Jamie. By a wide margin he had the best victory lane moment of 2010.
Comeback Driver Of The Year
Winner: Kevin Harvick
Harvick wins this one in a landslide. After coming off what could have been the worst season of his career, Harvick bounced back in 2010 with his career best season.
In 2009, Harvick managed to finish in the Top 10 a mere nine times, which was his lowest total since 2002. He also went win-less for the second consecutive season and finished an extremely disappointing 19th in the point standings.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Harvick emerged in 2010 as one of the elite drivers. He found himself in victory lane for the first time in over three years and went on to win a total of three times this past season. He also set a personal best with 16 Top Five finishes and shattered his old career high of 20 Top 10 finishes with 26 this past season.
Harvick led the regular season point standings for the bulk of the first 26 races and finished a career best third in the points. He would have been the champion under the traditional points system.
Most Improved Driver
Winner: Joey Logano
In just his second full time season in the Sprint Cup Series, the 20-year-old Logano showed drastic signs of improvement. Although he failed to find victory lane in the top season, all the rest of his statistics were better in his second season, than they were when he was a rookie.
He saw both his total number of Top 10 and Top Five finishes improve by more than double and earned his first career pole in the process. His Top 10 production went from seven to 16, while his Top Fives went from three to seven, including a string of three in a row late in the season.
While Logano will win this award, it was a close battle with Jamie McMurray. Logano gets the nod, because while McMurray won a career best three races, including the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, he has enjoyed some successful seasons at the top level, while Logano has yet to really have that breakout performance.
Race Of The Year
Winner: Aaron's 499 at Talladega
It is hard not to vote for a race that set a NASCAR record for lead changes with 88, and a race that ends with a pass for the win within 500 yards of the start/finish line.
Talladega Superspeedway is known for its drama, close finishes and last lap passes for the win. The Spring race of 2010 provided all of the above.
Trailing Jamie McMurray, the man who had won each of the last two races on restrictor plate tracks, for many of the closing laps of the race, Kevin Harvick made a terrific move coming down the front straightaway to the checkered flag to get the win.
With McMurray protecting the bottom of the track, Harvick had no choice but to remain hooked to his bumper and push him as far as he could. Then, with no more than 500 yards left to go in the race, Harvick poked his nose just inside McMurray's bumper, got side by side with him and won the drag race to the checkered flag by a mere .011 seconds.
Harvick led a total of just two laps that day, and to add to the drama, both Harvick and McMurray were running on fumes at the end of the race.
Clutch Performer Of The Year
Winner: Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson finished second at the season finale race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Coupled with a disappointing 14th place finish by Denny Hamlin, Johnson clinched his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup Series Championship.
This season, however, was the first time in those five years that Johnson had to come from behind in the point standings, in the final race of the year to be crowned champion. Johnson turned in a clutch performance to start the weekend in qualifying, as he out-qualified Hamlin by 31 positions.
It wasn't just the season finale that made Johnson clutch. After starting the season with a 35th place finish in the Daytona 500 due to an on track incident, followed by a mechanical failure late in the race, Johnson rebounded by winning each of the next two races.
His other big clutch performance came at Sonoma over the summer months. Johnson had never won a road course race in his career. He promptly put his car on the outside pole and went on to lead the most laps en route to a dominating victory.
Owner Of The Year
Winner: Richard Childress
This was a two man battle between Richard Childress and Joe Gibbs. In the Sprint Cup Series in 2010, Gibbs' drivers accumulated a total of 11 wins, while the Childress stable only won five times.
Gibbs saw two of his three drivers qualify for the Chase, while Childress put all three of his drivers into the 10 race playoff. And each owner had one of his drivers competing for the title on the final weekend.
But in the end, Childress gets the nod in this close battle, due to how much improved the whole team was from one year ago. In 2009, Richard Childress Racing won a total of zero races and saw its three drivers lead a combined total of 296 laps.
2010 was a completely different story. Kevin Harvick won three times, while Clint Bowyer scored two victories of his own. The two of them, along with teammate Jeff Burton, all qualified for the Chase, marking the third time that they have pulled off that feat.
So, while Gibbs had more trips to victory lane than Childress, the deciding factor was the team-wide improvement with Richard Childress Racing.
Crew Chief Of The Year
Winner: Chad Knaus
It's hard not to vote for a five-time defending crew chief who seemingly always makes the right decisions. Knaus led Jimmie Johnson to six victories on the season, and more importantly from a championship perspective, he led Johnson to nine consecutive Top 10 finishes to end the season.
The moment that clinched this award for Knaus was at Phoenix in the season's second to last race of the year. With Denny Hamlin leading late in the race and looking to extend his point lead to nearly 70 points over Johnson with one race to go, Knaus gambled on fuel and left his driver out on the track, while Hamlin and a handful of others made green flag pit stops as they weren't confident they could make it to the end.
Johnson made it to the end on fuel and finished fifth. Hamlin finished the race in twelfth place, and instead of going to Homestead trailing in the standings by 70, Johnson and Knaus went into the finale trailing by just 15 points.
Defensive Driver Of The Year
Winner: Matt Kenseth
I would define the defensive driver of the year as the person who was able to avoid on track incidents the best, and a driver who very rarely is the cause of accidents.
Matt Kenseth is the winner of this award. While 2010 would have to be considered a sub-par season for Kenseth, some of his statistics are absolutely incredible. Though he went win-less, Kenseth was able to finish fifth in the final standings due in large part to his ability to avoid trouble.
During the course of the 2010 season there were a total of 10,778 laps run. Kenseth failed to complete just eight of those laps. He was also one of just two drivers who were running at the end of all 36 races.
So, while the season produced no wins for Kenseth, for the second time in three seasons, and it also produced his fewest Top Five finishes since 2001, he was able to steer clear of trouble, and he brought the car back in one piece after every event. That is enough to earn him the defensive driver of the year award.
Offensive Driver Of The Year
Winner: Denny Hamlin
This was another close battle, as it came down to Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. While Johnson ultimately won the championship and had more Top 10 and Top Five finishes than Hamlin, Hamlin had more wins. When he was on his game, he was untouchable.
Of Johnson's six victories, five of them came from starting positions inside the top 10. Hamlin, on the other hand, had eight victories and only half of them came from top 10 starts, meaning that Hamlin had to be more aggressive and pass far more cars to find his way to the front.
Hamlin was well on his way to a ninth win of the year at Phoenix until crew chief Mike Ford called him in to the pits for fuel late in the race. After dominating the whole race, Hamlin was relegated to a disappointing twelfth place finish, which some say ultimately cost him the championship.
So, while not all of Hamlin's statistics were as good as Johnson's, he wins the award for leading the series in wins, and the fact that when he was at the front of the field, he was nearly untouchable.
Winner: Kevin Harvick
The biggest award of them all goes to Kevin Harvick, and honestly, it isn't even that close. While Harvick only finished third in the point standings, he was the runaway point leader for much of the regular season and stayed in the championship hunt all through the ensuing Chase. Had the points been calculated under the old format, Harvick would have been the champion by 285 points over Johnson.
Harvick finished the year with three wins to snap an over-three-year win-less streak in the process. He also set personal bests with 26 Top 10 finishes and 16 Top Five finishes. And most impressively, Harvick's average finish of 8.7 was over three positions higher than any other driver's.
While this award could have potentially gone to Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin or even an outside possibility would have been Jamie McMurray, it is Harvick whose season was most impressive. While everyone knew that Johnson would be in contention for the championship, and many more had Hamlin pegged as the man to overthrow the reigning champion, very few people could have predicted the success that Harvick would have.
So, while Harvick fell just short in his quest to become Sprint Cup Champion, he is certainly very worthy or taking home the MVP award.