- Terry Blount, ESPN Staff Writer
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The 2007 season will go down as the year of change in NASCAR. Toyota entered the Nextel Cup Series, the Car of Tomorrow made its debut and Dale Earnhardt Jr. said goodbye to Dale Earnhardt Inc.
It also might have signaled the start of the Jimmie Johnson era and the fear in the Cup garage of a Hendrick Motorsports dynasty.
An eventful year made for a slew of interesting things to consider in the second annual Blount Blitz Awards and Razzies.
Here's a look at best/worst, good/bad, highs/lows and funniest moments of the 2007 season:
Jimmie Johnson: No one wins back-to-back Nextel Cup titles by accident. No one wins consecutive titles just because he has a great crew chief, a great crew and a great organization.
Johnson has all those things, but he's also one heck of a race car driver. He is well on his way to ranking among the best ever.
Juan Pablo Montoya: He had some rough moments and a few on-track altercations, but overall, Montoya made an impressive showing in his first Cup season to earn Rookie of the Year honors. Montoya won at the Sonoma road course, along with the Busch Series event at Mexico City.
Toyota's first Cup season: Toyota officials knew they were in for a rocky road as Cup newbies, but 2007 was a minefield. Toyota's first season was as bad as it gets.
The drivers of Toyota's seven full-time cars didn't win a race and posted only two top-5s. The Camry boys constantly struggled to qualify for races, often falling short.
But here's the key point many people fail to see. The three teams Toyota had in 2007 -- Michael Waltrip Racing, Bill Davis Racing and Red Bull Racing -- would have struggled with any of the other three manufacturers, too.
Things will change in 2008 with Joe Gibbs Racing in the Toyota stable.
Kevin Harvick: Started the season with a dramatic victory in the Daytona 500, but didn't have another top-3 finish on an oval track the rest of the year.
Michael Waltrip: It started with scandal at Daytona and never got better. NASCAR found a mysterious illegal additive in Waltrip's engine during qualifying for the Daytona 500.
Not how Toyota hoped to start things with its new team owner/driver. Waltrip competed in only 14 races. No one on this three-man team made the top 35 in the season standings.
The Real Busch Series Champion
Jason Leffler: He finished third in the standings, but first among the Busch-only competitors. Leffler had one victory, two poles, seven top-5s and 11 top-10s while competing against Nextel Cup drivers with more funding and better equipment.
But Leffler won't receive any official recognition for his accomplishment. So here's to you, Jason, the man who deserves the top honor in your series.
Clint Bowyer: The Kansas flash took a major leap forward this year by making the Chase and winning his first Cup race in the No. 07 Chevrolet.
Richard Childress Racing has a couple of successful veteran drivers in Jeff Burton and Harvick, but look for Bowyer to become the lead horse in the RCR stable soon.
The Daytona 500: NASCAR didn't follow the letter of the law in the rulebook, but it made for the wildest and most dramatic finish in Daytona 500 history.
Harvick edged Mark Martin by inches at the line while a dozen cars were wrecking behind them. That included Bowyer, who was upside-down and on fire sliding through the infield grass.
Greg Biffle's victory at Kansas: If you can call it that. Biffle didn't cross the finish line first. Ooops. Oh well. What's a spot or two among friends.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: It began before the season started when Junior and stepmother Teresa Earnhardt traded barbs. Junior wanted 51 percent of DEI, then dropped the big news that he was leaving before later saying he was headed to Hendrick Motorsports. After more failed negotiations, the No. 8 wasn't going with him.
The Junior saga was headline news all year. In the meantime, his season was going down the toilet. He didn't make the Chase and spiraled downward the rest of way. It couldn't end fast enough.
Bruton Smith: Nice to have $340 million lying around when you need it. The Speedway Motorsports Inc. mogul admitted he overpaid in his purchase of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but it was well worth it to Smith.
Now he has options. He can add a second Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2009 by playing a little musical chairs and taking a date away from New Hampshire.
Executive Of The Year
Max Siegel at DEI: Siegel couldn't possibly have known what he was getting into when he took over as president of global operations for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
He had to referee a multimillion-dollar family feud and try to keep things moving in a positive direction once Junior announced he was leaving.
Siegel handled all the turmoil like a consummate pro, doing so with class and polish while brokering a deal to buy Ginn Racing and merge that operation with DEI.
Best Debut Race
The Busch event at Montreal: Canadians proved they love NASCAR, packing the grandstands at the Circuit Gilles Villenueve road course for the inaugural race.
And they saw one wild finish when Robby Gordon failed to acknowledge a black flag, pretending he won while Harvick took the checkered flag.
Hendrick Motorsports: Rick Hendrick's four drivers combined to win 18 of 36 Cup races. Three Hendrick drivers finished in the top five in the standings, including a two-man show for the championship between Johnson and Jeff Gordon. And Junior joins the mix next year.
Gibbs to Toyota: Joe Gibbs Racing shocked many fans and most of its rivals by opting to leave Chevrolet and join the Toyota stable next season.
Some Tony Stewart fans are having a hard time accepting their hero behind the wheel of a Camry next year, along with wondering whether Stewart and his JGR teammates will be competitive early in the season.
Moving starts to late afternoon: NASCAR officials felt a few years ago that the series could increase interest nationally by moving the start times later in the day.
The move has backfired completely. By 3 or 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, people have found other things to do.
Millions of NASCAR fans were accustomed to seeing races start about noon, as was the case for four decades. The problem is exacerbated during the Chase when people at home already have tuned in to an early NFL game.
Having more Saturday night races is fine, but move the Sunday Cup starts to earlier in the day, when fans can start their afternoon with a race rather than wait around and lose interest before the event begins.
The length of races: The Iditarod and the Tour de France seem faster than racing 500 miles and 200 laps twice at the 2.5-mile Pocono triangle.
Way too many Cup races take too long to complete. This also applies to short tracks. The fall race on the half-mile oval at Martinsville had 20 cautions for 126 laps and took four hours to complete.
Other than the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, no race needs to be 500 miles or 500 laps.
Track promoters will disagree vehemently. Less time at the track for the spectators means less concessions income.
Get Out Of My Way
Juan Pablo Montoya at Mexico City: He made an amazing drive to the front in the late stages of the race, but got impatient at the end and punted teammate Scott Pruett off the track while Pruett was leading.
Edwards had a heated exchange with Kenseth, then pulled back as though he was going to punch him and walked away. That's an example of controlling your emotions when you're really mad.
Best Helmet Slap
Kyle Petty on Denny Hamlin: Petty walked into Hamlin's garage stall and angrily pointed his finger at Hamlin while Hamlin was sitting in the car. But the clincher came when Petty slapped the visor down on Hamlin's helmet as Petty walked away.
The France family's losses and two beloved drivers: It was a difficult year for the France family, first losing icon Bill France Jr. after a long illness, then suffering through the tragedy of a plane crash that took the life of Dr. Bruce Kennedy, husband of Lesa France Kennedy.
NASCAR also lost Benny Parsons and Bobby Hamilton to cancer. Parsons, one of the most respected and well-liked men in the sport, was a Cup champion who went on to a successful broadcasting career.
Hamilton was a man who overcame an impoverished youth to race successfully at the Cup level, later winning a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title.
Joey Logano: A star in the making, Logano won't turn 18 until May. Then watch him go.
Joe Gibbs Racing will put the Connecticut teen in a Nationwide Series car, and people will be amazed at what he can do behind the wheel.
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
It was another exciting year in NASCAR, and it's another opportunity for Terry Blount to hand out his Blount's Blitz Awards.