What can you say about the 2011 NASCAR season? It had it all. From a stunning upset in the Daytona 500, to one of the greatest finishes in the history of the sport. Normally when I sit down to do my Best and Worst list of NASCAR, I need some time to really think about each of the categories. This year was different. I had no doubt what was going to put in each of the categories. The season ended on the highest of highs, a race that will more than likely go down as one of the most memorable nights in NASCAR history. This was definitely our sports Game 7.
Now without further adieu, my Best and Worst of 2011:
Best Moment: Tony Stewart winning the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship the only way he could, by winning the last race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Carl Edwards, the driver who was leading the points, would finish second in both the race and point standings.
Worst Moment: Gridlock and traffic for the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway in July. Many fans never made it to the race. Fans who did make it to the track were turned away. Kentucky Speedway officials were definitely not prepared for the crowd, and even at first skirted around the issues of traffic. Hopefully they’ll be able to fix the problems before next season.
Best Decision: NASCAR officials telling drivers that they must pick a series to run for the title. With this decision, we would be able to see the first real Nationwide driver win the title in six years.
Worst Decision: Kyle Busch’s move at Texas to deliberately wreck Ron Hornaday, Jr. under caution. Thank God, Hornaday wasn’t seriously injured. Busch’s bonehead move would cost Hornaday a chance at winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.
Best Family Moment: Paul Menard’s surprising win in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, a place where his father tried to many times to win as an IndyCar team owner. Oh to be able to ask John Menard how them bricks tasted.
Worst Family Moment: Being a member of the Busch family. Both Kurt and Kyle have had quite a few issues with NASCAR this season. Kurt Busch has sparred with his team, the media, and his meltdowns on his in-car radio have become legendary. After Kyle Busch was parked by NASCAR following the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, he had to fight hard to keep his primary sponsor M&Ms from firing him and his future participation in Nationwide and Truck races seems to be in jeopardy. Hopefully these boys will get a much needed attitude adjustment in the offseason.
Best start to the season: Trevor Bayne shocked the racing community with his victory in the Daytona 500. Bayne’s win would make him the youngest winner of the Great American Race at 20 years and 1 day. This would also Wood Brothers Racing’s 98th win in NASCAR.
Worst start to the season: Hands down, this goes to the driver of the No. 29. Kevin Harvick would start the 2011 season with a blown engine at the Daytona 500, the 2007 Daytona 500 winner, would end up finishing 42nd. Harvick would bounce back though and finish the season 3rd in the point standings.
Excitement for the fans: NASCAR Cup Series had 18 different winners, which includes six first-time winners. Among them was Regan Smith, driving for an underfunded, single-car team, and Marcos Ambrose, who proved Richard Petty Motorsports could still compete after their 2010 collapse.
Ironman of the Year: After breaking his ankle in a vicious crash during a testing session at Road Atlanta in August, many were wondering if Brad Keselowski would race at Pocono that weekend. He definitely had the will to win and a big obstacle to overcome. After the race, Keselowski went on a tear that saw him finish 2nd at Watkins Glen, 3rd at Michigan International Speedway, and then back to Victory Lane at Bristol Motor Speedway–that is four top 3 finishes in a three week span. Holy Moley! Definitely a true example of excellence under pressure and shows the talent NASCAR drivers possess.
Disappointment for the fans: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. having another winless season. Don’t get mad at me Junior Nation. He did make the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup and finished seventh, the highest Hendrick Motorsports driver.
Best future: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has my vote in this category. After an up and down season in 2010, he could have walked away but Jack Roush took him under his wing and changed his attitude. Now Stenhouse Jr is a champion. He was more focused and had a lot more patiences this season. If Roush-Fenway Racing can get the sponsorship taken care of, I see him as threat to repeat as champion.
Worst trend – Pairs racing at the restrictor-plate tracks. It’s made for some exciting finishes but has caused too many political games on who pairs up with whom. NASCAR is trying to end it, but drivers know this is the best way to go faster, so it won’t be an easy fix.
Gracious 2nd Place Finisher: In my 27 years of watching NASCAR, I’ve never seen someone get out of the car and handle losing with so much class as Carl Edwards did at Homestead-Miami Speedway last Sunday evening. We can all learn something from Edwards in how to react when something just doesn’t go our way that we want so badly.
Worst Race of the Season: Dan Wheldon’s tragic death 11 laps into the IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October. While it is IndyCar related, it affected the entire motorsports community and reminded us that despite safety innovations, racing is still dangerous.
After a rough 2010, it was nice to have a season with so many memorable moments. Tony Stewart climbed out of the car after winning the championship at Homestead and said it best “If you didn’t think this was one of the most exciting Chases to watch from a fan standpoint, you’ve got to go to a doctor immediately and get checked out.”
Here is your change to speak out. Let me know what you thought were some of the best and worst from the last 10 months.