For my Bleacher Report readers, we have a little contest going on to hand out awards based on the 2008 season, seeing how we are down to one race to go.
Whoever came up with that idea thinks like I do, because while sitting there watching college football last night, it came to my mind that I should do an entry where I give out several impromptu and serious awards.
So there will be some of awards that cross over, but this entry will not contain any picks for Bleacher Report's best NASCAR writers. In my opinion, they are all great.
Anyways, with his win at Phoenix this afternoon, Jimmie Johnson just needs a 36th place finish at Homestead next week to (unfortunately) wrap up his record-tying third straight Sprint Cup. And that's if Carl Edwards wins and leads the most laps (certainly a possibility).
Keeping that fact in mind, I am going to go ahead and hand out the awards with a week of racing left, because most of these picks are already set in stone. Let's get rolling with the First Annual Golden Lugnuts:
Driver of the Year: Kyle Busch
The 23-year old Las Vegas native had shown signs of brilliance in his first few years on the national scene, but 2008 was a coming-out party. Not only did he win eight Cup races on the way to running away with the points lead prior to the Chase, but he has tied Sam Ard's Nationwide win record of 10, and won three Truck races.
Obviously, this guy will race anything, anytime, anywhere, regardless of his popularity. Carl Edwards would be my second pick for driver of the year over Jimmie Johnson. Here's a guy with a shot, albeit an outside one, to win both the Cup and Nationwide titles in the same year next weekend in Homestead, which would be a NASCAR first.
Team of the Year: No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet
I hate to admit it, but this is the best individual team in the Sprint Cup garage. You can never count this team out, because Chad Knaus and Co. always find a way to get a poor handling car with poor track position back into place for a good points day.
Johnson is calm, smooth, and calculating behind the wheel. This team is a well-oiled machine, and is truly championship caliber year in and year out.
Organization of the Year: Roush-Fenway Racing
While Hendrick Motorsports appears in line to win another title and Joe Gibbs Racing has seen the emergence of Kyle Busch, top to bottom, Roush-Fenway has been the series' best organization in 2008.
Biffle and Edwards have been contenders throughout the Chase, and while Matt Kenseth has not been a real threat, he has had another solid season. Who can forget David Ragan bursting on the scene? And even Jamie McMurray has shown marked improvement as of late.
Crew Chief of the Year: Chad Knaus
I think it is fairly obvious that Knaus is the best crew chief in the garage when it comes to pit strategy, car setup, and getting the most out of his driver and team. No wonder he is about to win his third straight title.
The Junior Johnson Award for Excellence in Cheating: Team Red Bull (specifically the No. 83 bunch)
Back in the good ol' days, Junior Johnson was one of the best at bending rules. That eventually got passed down to his driver/crew chief duo of Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond in the early 80s, and if you read Waltrip's memoirs, he gives insight into the Mountain Dew team's various efforts to shed weight after the green flag (since NASCAR did not weigh cars in post-race at the time).
This award goes to the best attempt at "innovation" during the 2008 season. As a chemist, I had to appreciate Team Red Bull's acid soaking of their sheet metal in order to shed weight. That's basic chemistry at its finest! NASCAR either was tipped off by a stoolie or noticed something awry and caught the team, but hey, at least they caught them before the problem got out of hand in the garage (it's a monkey see, monkey do business after all).
Race of the Year: Daytona 500
I'm not going to go into too many specifics about this race because it was nearly nine months ago, but it was a good one. Kyle Busch led most of what turned out to be a clean race in terms of multicar wrecks, but it was one of the better restrictor plate events in a long time.
There was lots of passing, with cars running side-by-side in the draft, even on old tires. In the end, we were treated to another great finish, as Kurt Busch pushed Penske teammate Ryan Newman to the biggest victory of his career.
Most Improved Driver: David Ragan
I was going out on a limb back in January saying Ragan would be the most improved driver in 2008, and for once, I was actually right. This kid impressed me from the moment he stepped into a Truck a couple years back.
He's level-headed, talented, and smart. Plus, it doesn't hurt to have Jack Roush's resources behind you. With new high-profile sponsor UPS jumping on board in 2009, Ragan should continue to move up the Sprint Cup points ladder in his third year.
Biggest Disappointment: Penske Racing
The team won the Daytona 500 with Ryan Newman, and later in the year with Kurt Busch thanks to strategy at New Hampshire, but the fact that neither Newman or Busch were even close to making the Chase with Penske's resources is disturbing. Since Rusty Wallace retired, this team has slowly declined into mediocrity, and you have to wonder if their affiliation with Dodge has anything to do with it.
Busch and the 2 bunch show flashes of being an elite team at points, but other weeks he is just not a contender. Still, I wouldn't write him off in 2009. But with Newman being replaced by David Stremme, the driver lineup is even weaker than it was this season.
Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Shining Star” Award: Joey Logano
This award goes to the best "star of tomorrow," or a driver who burst onto the scene in 2008. Brad Keselowski was also a contender for this award, but the fact that Logano won in just his third Nationwide start gives him the slight edge. The rest of his results were mixed, and he struggled in his limited Cup starts, but apparently Joe Gibbs thinks enough of him to promote Joey to the 20 car in 2009. We'll see how it works out, although he will probably take his lumps at first.
The Alan Kulwicki Memorial Most Inspirational Story of the Year: Patrick Carpentier's quest to make it in NASCAR
While it appears as if Carpentier's mission will actually (at least for the time being) not be accomplished, the way he carried himself through a difficult season was remarkable. This guy had to qualify on time every week, and gosh darnit, he pretty much did each time.
Throughout the entire process, he kept a smile on his face and positive attitude. Of course, he could have been sitting at home in Las Vegas living off the money he made in ChampCar and the IRL, but instead, he chose this new endeavor where the odds of succeeding were stacked against him, never giving up on his dream.
The Kruger Industrial Smoothing "We don't care, and it shows" Award: Goodyear
Where to start with Goodyear's incompetence? Obviously, the debacle at the Brickyard comes to mind (although let's give an assist to NASCAR on that one). So does the spring Atlanta race where Tony Stewart blasted them in post-race interviews.
I've said it before and say it again: Goodyear needs to get their crap together or get out of NASCAR. Some of the tire failures we have seen at their expense have been scary, and before long, someone is going to be gravely injured as a result of one.
The New Coke Award: The Car of Tomorrow
The racing with the COT has gotten somewhat better as the season has moved forward, but it hasn't been the fix-all that the big wigs claimed it was going to be. I think they were in the game of smoke and mirrors to fool the fans, owners, teams, and drivers.
But thankfully, it appears as if many of the car's faults are fixable, it's just a matter if NASCAR is willing to budge on their insistence on no changes to the car for the foreseeable future. Obviously, first on the to-do list should be eliminating the bump stops on the shocks.
The Red Sox vs. Yankees Award: Dale Earnhardt Jr. vs. Kyle Busch
While neither will admit it, this has the makings to be the holy war of rivalries in NASCAR for the foreseeable future, thanks mostly to the incident at Richmond in May. Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver in the stands and generally liked by most folks, while Kyle Busch is probably the most polarizing figure in the garage area since the former's late father.
To add fuel to the fire, Junior took Busch's seat at Hendrick, although I am sure he is not complaining after having a breakout year at JGR. We'll see if this rivalry ends up having more style or substance, although I am more interested to see if Busch develops anything more with Edwards in 2009.
The Scott Riggs "Most Disrespectful Driver on the Race Track" Award
"I jerked him by the helmet and just rattled his cage a little. He's just a little girl about it."-Steve Wallace
This is the award for quote of the year, and yes I know it is a quote from a Nationwide driver after an incident in the spring Richmond Nationwide event, but it directly references Sprint Cup regular Kyle Busch as a "little girl," which regardless of your view of Rowdy Busch, is absolutely hilarious.
Especially coming from Steve Wallace, who cracks me up in his mannerisms just like his father did for so many years. Coming in a close second was Jack Roush's rant about former employee/current Toyota exec Lee White at Atlanta in March. I remember sitting there that night during qualifying and watching the interview with Roush on SPEED and literally rolling on the floor laughing.