Every year in NASCAR is different from past years in different ways. This season was no exception, as Jimmie Johnson made headlines and smashed records previously thought unbreakable in this day and age.
The year started with a wimper, as the Daytona 500 ended up being the Daytona 380, as the rains came to halt the race prematurely. Matt Kenseth left as the winner, his first Daytona victory, and as the teams headed west to California, Kenseth continued to impress, winning the first two races of the season. His success was short-lived, though, as he blew a motor early in Las Vegas and finished last. The remainder of the season saw Matt slowly drop in the points and just missed the Chase for the first time in his career.
The Busch brothers were on a roll early as well, winning the next three races (Kyle at Vegas and Bristol, and Kurt at Atlanta). Kurt Busch experienced a comeback season of sorts, winning two races and playing the role of contender in the Chase. His brother Kyle, on the other hand, saw a four-win season go to naught, as he, like Kenseth, narrowly missed the Chase.
Jeff Gordon led the points standing for a while early on, buoyed by a popular and long-overdue win in Texas, but a surging Tony Stewart grabbed the lead after Dover in the spring. Stewart, in charge of his own team at Stewart-Haas Racing, wasn?t expected to have any success with a team that has been known as a back-of-the-pack team. But, he has silenced the critics in a big way, winning four races (starting at Pocono in June) and qualifying for the Chase, along with his SHR teammate Ryan Newman. To give some perspective, Newman hasn?t made the Chase since 2005.
All the while, Jimmie Johnson played it cool, hanging around the top-five in points with three regular-season wins to his credit, including a second-straight Brickyard trophy. But by the time the Chase came along in September, Jimmie put on his Superman cape, and that 48 team came to life, winning four of the ten Chase races and easily grabbing a record fourth-consecutive championship. His average finish in the 10-race span was 6.8, but if you take out his surprising 38th-place finish at Texas (accident), his average finish is 3.3! Now that is domination.
Mark Martin ended being Jimmies closest competition in the Chase, ending up second in points for a fifth time in his career, adding to those in 1990, ?94, ?98, and 2002. Even though he ended up one spot short, the season has been a success for Mark, who, at 50 years of age, ended up with five wins, second behind Johnsons seven. Who says old geezers can?t keep up?
Juan Pablo Montoya made a surprising run at Jimmie Johnson in the Chase. Although he failed to win this year (coming very close at Indianapolis), he posted top-fives in the first four Chase races to close within 100 points of Jimmie before faltering at Charlotte.
Don?t forget the finishes?and first-time winners. Joey Logano, who would ultimately win Rookie of the Year honors, started slow with a 43rd in the Daytona 500, but riding the wave of a few ninth-place finishes, won at Loudon in late June, using strategy against the rain to become the youngest winner in the history of NASCAR, at 19 years and 35 days.
Some fans may say the victory wasn?t earned because he won it when he stayed out while the leaders pitted for fuel, which is very much the same way David Reutimann won at Charlotte, but I say it?s legit because they outsmarted the competition, even though they weren?t the fastest. Strategy is just as important to succeed as having a fast racecar.
My pick for most exciting/craziest/unexpected finish goes to Brad Keselowski?s win at Talladega in April. Brad, running in only his fifth career Cup race, led only the final lap as he pushed and shoved his way past Carl Edwards, who ended up careening into the fence in a spectacular wreck.
David Reutimann, or Rooty-Tooty as I like to call him, won his first race in a rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 in May, and with that win, almost made the Chase, ultimately coming up short. Outgoing Roush driver Jamie McMurray had one more win left in him before leaving for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, taking the fall race at Talladega in another wild finish that saw both Ryan Newman and Mark Martin tumbling and flying upside down in the final laps. The victory was McMurrays first since July 2007 at Daytona.
Brian Vickers had a great run up to the Chase, racking up the top-tens and even winning at Michigan in August, which put him in the Chase for the first time in his career, but once the 10-race playoffs started, he fizzled, with no laps led, and no top-tens.
Drivers that experienced disappointing seasons include Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, David Ragan, and Clint Bowyer, who all went winless in 2009. Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards (who won a series-high nine races in 2008) both failed to visit victory lane in 2009, but both made the Chase nevertheless.
With the drivers celebrating in Las Vegas for the first time (instead of the usual ceremony in New York City), 2009 is over with, and we now wait anxiously for the next seasons engines to roar to life once again. Only 77 more days until the 2010 Daytona 500!
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