NASCAR Sprint Cup: 20 Most Important People of 2010
They're behind each and every lap of each and every race.
They own multiple teams, drive successful race cars or lead a pit crew to great success.
In some occasions, they also contribute to the changing nature of a sport going through another transition phase at the start of a new decade.
From a Daytona 500 champion to a five-time Sprint Cup champion, here are the 20 most significant faces of a memorable 2010 Sprint Cup season.
At the start of the 2010 season, it seemed very unlikely that Jamie McMurray would win two of NASCAR's biggest races. He wasn't even the top driver in the two-car Earnhardt Ganassi Racing operation, after Juan Pablo Montoya's Chase-worthy 2009 campaign.
Fast-forward to December, and McMurray is the reigning Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 champion—two of his career-high three wins in 2010.
Even though the Joplin, Mo. native finished 14th in the Sprint Cup points standings, there's little doubt that he had a very successful season.
Chip Ganassi had arguably his most successful season as an owner in 2010 across all of his various teams.
In addition to McMurray's triumph, Ganassi driver Dario Franchitti won the 2010 Indianapolis 500 and the IZOD IndyCar Series title.
The only thing missing from his mantle was the Sprint Cup title. Considering how much progress EGR made in 2010, a championship may come sooner rather than later.
"We were racing with the 29, and he let me go in the middle of the straightaway and decided to dump me in the next turn. I don't know what his deal is with me, but it's probably not his fault. You know, his wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do, so it's probably not his fault."
-Joey Logano regarding his incident with Kevin Harvick in the closing stages of the June race at Pocono, providing one of the most memorable sound bites of 2010.
Bruton Smith, head of Speedway Motorsports Inc., ensured that another one of his tracks received a Sprint Cup date next season, with Kentucky Speedway earning the post-Daytona July date previously occupied by Chicagoland Speedway.
Regardless of his sometimes-bizarre comments—referring to Homestead, Fla. as "North Cuba" at one point—there's no denying his abilities to stay relevant as a power player in the sport.
There was no better evidence of the driver formerly known as the Shrub's talents than the Bristol race weekend in August.
Busch began the weekend (well, more like the week, as the Camping World Truck Series race occurred on a Wednesday) with a dominating victory from the pole position in the Truck race. The Las Vegas native then won the Nationwide Series race two days later and completed the sweep with a win in the 500-lap Sprint Cup event on Saturday night.
His three-peat may never be repeated again—unless Busch is able to do it, that is.
NASCAR's vice president of competition started a new era for the sport with four simple words spoken at a January press conference:
"Have at it, boys."
Pemberton's "Have at it, boys" edict received its first real test at the March race in Atlanta.
Angered by an earlier incident with Brad Keselowski, Edwards decided to get his revenge 153 laps later in a disturbing fashion.
As the video shows, Edwards sent Keselowski flying towards the Atlanta fence, ruining a top-10 run for the rookie.
The lack of severe punishment towards Edwards for the incident suggested that NASCAR wasn't just all talk regarding looser restrictions; in fact, they meant business.
Brian Vickers' season was cut short in May, after he announced blood clots in his legs and near his lungs would prevent him from competing for the duration of the 2010 campaign.
The Red Bull Racing driver will return to the No. 83 team in 2011 with the addition of Kasey Kahne as a teammate, replacing Scott Speed.
Kasey Kahne may be the most important of the 20 names on this list, due to the dominoes that began to fall around him throughout the season.
Kahne announced in April that he would join Hendrick Motorsports for the 2012 season, driving the No. 5 Chevrolet. After already announcing his intentions to leave Richard Petty Motorsports following the season, Rick Hendrick found Kahne a ride at Red Bull Racing for 2011. However, his arrival came a few months early after quitting RPM following the October race in Charlotte.
His fluid stream of announcements and movements throughout the season had a great effect on "Silly Season."
Juan Pablo Montoya
For the second consecutive season, the most dominant driver at the Brickyard 400 failed to win the race.
After a speeding penalty on pit road derailed Juan Pablo Montoya's hopes of winning the event in 2009 despite leading almost every green flag lap, the Colombian appeared to be a path to victory in 2010.
However, a decision to take four tires instead of two during yellow-flag pit stops on lap 138 put him in sixth place—in prime position to become involved with a wreck with Dale Earnhardt Jr. eight laps later.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Junior appears on this list because he was once again named the Sprint Cup Series' Most Popular Driver for the eighth consecutive season.
He's going to need to step up his on-track performance next season, however. The addition of Steve Letarte as his crew chief should help him improve.
2010 marked the best season of Denny Hamlin's career. He tallied a career-high eight victories in the No. 11 Toyota while recovering from a torn ACL throughout March and April.
The Chesterfield, Va. native proved consistent throughout the campaign and into the Chase, leading the 10-race playoff until the final race at Homestead.
If NASCAR handed out an award for Most Improved Driver, Kevin Harvick would have definitely wound up on the top of the list.
After a horrific 2009 season in which "Happy" finished 19th in the points standings, Harvick won three races and led the Sprint Cup standings through most of the 26 races prior to the Chase.
When it came time for the Chase, Harvick again proved consistent, finishing third in the final standings. It isn't a championship, but considering where Harvick was one year ago, he should be pleased with his Richard Childress Racing team's effort.
NASCAR's Vice President of Corporate Communications, Hunter died Oct. 30 after a year-long bout with cancer.
A former journalist and public relations representative, Hunter was one of the most well-respected figures in the NASCAR garage on a weekly basis.
Adding Travis Pastrana to this list may seem a bit ridiculous, seeing as how he will make his Nationwide Series debut next season.
However, the addition of Pastrana to the NASCAR fold could pay dividends for the Sprint Cup Series, as the potential certainly exists for the X Games champion to bring new fans into the sport.
"The 48 is testing my patience right now. It takes a lot to make me mad, and I am pissed right now."
- Jeff Gordon following the April race at Talladega, addressing what he believed to be hard racing with Jimmie Johnson.
Another candidate for quote of the season.
Another year, another Sprint Cup championship for owner Rick Hendrick...
...crew chief Chad Knaus...
...and driver Jimmie Johnson.
Thoughts? Comment below.
Ryan Papaserge is a junior journalism/mass communication student at St. Bonaventure University and a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report.