Blitz Awards and Razzies, Part IV
It's that time again. Time to give credit and criticism where it's due. The good, bad and ugly all are here in the fourth annual Blount's Blitz Awards and Razzies.
Let's start with three boringly obvious winners from the best category:
• Best Driver -- Jimmie Johnson. An unprecedented fourth consecutive Sprint Cup title places Johnson among the all-time greats ever to sit in a race car. And he's only 34.
• Best Organization -- Hendrick Motorsports tied Petty Enterprises with nine Cup championships and became the first team in NASCAR history to earn the top three spots in the season standings. Can we get Rick Hendrick to run the banking industry?
Now for the fun stuff, the amazing accomplishments, the crazy moments, the shocking disappointments and the downright weird happenings in the 2009 season:
• Worst Season -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. You had to see it to believe it. Junior's woes in 2009 may go down as the worst one-season free fall for a contender in NASCAR history.
While his Hendrick Motorsports teammates finished the year 1-2-3, Earnhardt finished a career-worst 25th in the No. 88 Chevy. Nothing went right -- wrecks, mechanical failures, pit mistakes, flat tires, no gas and no hope. A crew chief change didn't help a bit. But 2010 will be better. How could it be worse?
• Best New Team Owner -- Tony Stewart took over an organization that was a useless also-ran and turned it into a championship contender. And he did it while continuing to drive successfully, something many people thought wasn't possible in this era of specialization.
Stewart brought new sponsors to the sport, revived Ryan Newman's career and made Stewart-Haas Racing a respected operation. Having an alliance with Hendrick certainly helped, but Stewart made the most of it and hired quality people to spark the turnaround.
• Worst Continuing Trend -- Cup drivers winning the Nationwide title. While Johnson was doing a 4-for-4 in Cup, another 4-for-4 was taking place in the Nationwide Series with four consecutive Cup stars winning the title in the feeder league.
Kyle Busch did it this year. Ho-hum. Up next, Joe Mauer will win the MVP award in the Pacific Coast League.
Sadly, the ridiculous situation will continue in 2010. Busch isn't running the full Nationwide schedule, but Carl Edwards is. So let's congratulate him now on his meaningless achievement.
• Worst New Trend -- Start-and-parkers. Teams with no intention of racing legitimately show up, qualify, and run a few laps before going to the garage and collecting a big check. If you don't have the funding to compete, race in a lower league until you do.
• Best Teamwork -- The No. 48 team at Texas. Johnson's crew proved why it's the best in the business after he wrecked on Lap 3 at Texas and left the Chevrolet ready for the scrap heap.
But the team, along with help from a few guys who work for Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., rebuilt the car and got Johnson back on the track. He finished 38th instead of 43rd and earned 15 additional points.
In the end, Johnson didn't need those points, but it showed a never-give-up attitude that helps explain why this team is so successful.
• Best Comeback -- Mark Martin. You're as old as you feel, so Martin must feel 25 again. Fifty is the new 30 for Martin. He made the most of his chance to drive for Hendrick and almost won the championship.
• Geriatric Award -- Ron Hornaday Jr.. Martin isn't the only guy on the north side of 50 who can do this stuff. Hornaday won his fourth Camping World Truck Series title at age 51.
• Biggest Distraction -- Jeremy Mayfield's drug suspension. The zaniest reality TV shows don't get this bizarre. NASCAR said Mayfield tested positive for meth. Mayfield says he's innocent. The court battle is ongoing and the accusations on each side are ugly.
• Wildest Quote -- "She's basically a whore. She shot and killed my dad." -- Mayfield's comment about his stepmother after she claimed he was guilty.
• Best Decision -- Double-file restarts. NASCAR officials spiced things up at midseason by having the lead-lap cars line up side by side up front on every restart. It made for some exciting moments at tracks like Pocono that can put you to sleep.
• Most Disappointing Team -- Roush Fenway Racing. Yes, I know. RFR won three races and put two drivers in the Chase. Richard Childress Racing didn't win a race all year and didn't have a driver in the Chase.
But which team do you think feels better about where it is heading into 2010? RCR made dramatic gains during the Chase. Jeff Burton finished second in the last two races. Kevin Harvick had two top-5s in the last three events.
RFR continues to tread water. The organization's only victory in the last 34 Cup races was Jamie McMurray's surprising win in the wild Chase race at Talladega, and McMurray's leaving.
RFR didn't have a driver place in the top 5 at Homestead, a track where a Roush driver had won the last five races.
• Executive of the Year -- Bobby Hutchens probably won't like being called an executive, but Hutchens did a remarkable job pulling everything together this season as the director of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing.
• Overachiever Award -- AJ Allmendinger did the most with the least as the driver of the No. 44 Dodge/Ford, posting six top-10s and one top-5. Allmendinger finished 24th in the standings, one spot ahead of Earnhardt.
• Biggest Hall of Fame Surprise -- David Pearson's being left off the list. He had 105 victories and won championships in three of the four seasons he raced full time. He was in Charlotte for the first Hall announcement only to learn he'd have to wait. He wasn't pleased. Who can blame him?
• Most Terrifying Finish -- Talladega in April. The final seconds of the spring race at Dega were as scary as it gets when the Ford of Carl Edwards went airborne and slammed into the catch fence on the frontstretch, injuring several people in the stands.
• Worst Miss -- Kyle Busch won the consolation prize, the Nationwide Series, but missed on the big show by failing to make the Chase for the first time since his rookie season in 2005.
It cost Steve Addington his job as crew chief. Dave Rogers inherits those headaches. Rogers has one main goal: raise Busch's maturity level to his talent level.
• Best Feud No. 1 -- Denny Hamlin versus Brad Keselowski. After Brad K wrecked Hamlin during the Nationwide race in Phoenix, Hamlin was asked whether NASCAR needed to get involved. "No, I'll take care of it," Hamlin said.
• Man Of His Word Award -- Hamlin took care of it one week later in the Nationwide race at Homestead, wrecking Keselowski and saying, "I think the sun was in my eyes."
• Best Feud No. 2 -- Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart bashing into each other in the season finale at Homestead. Now why couldn't all this happen in the middle of the season to stir things up?
• You Can Go Home Again Award -- Jamie McMurray left Chip Ganassi's team on less-than-friendly terms to go to Jack Roush's team in 2006, but McMurray is headed back to Chip's operation next year. What did McMurray learn? "The grass isn't always greener," he said.
• Mr. Irrelevant Award -- Dave Blaney. It's the term denoting the last player picked in the NFL draft. In this case, Blaney qualifies for the most last-place finishes. He was 43rd eight times in the S&P ride and failed to finish in 29 of 30 starts.
• Ms. Irrelevant Award -- Teresa Earnhardt, co-owner of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Does she actually still work there? Maybe it should be the Ms. Invisible Award.
• Worst Step Backward -- David Ragan. After almost making the 2008 Chase, Ragan fell off the radar screen this season and finished 27th in the standings. For sponsor UPS, he didn't deliver.
• Most Surprising Debut -- Marcos Ambrose. In his first full season as a Cup driver, the Tasmanian racer finished 18th in the standings and posted seven top-10s. Everyone knew Ambrose could road-race, but he shocked many observers at how well he raced on the ovals.
• New Contender Award -- Juan Pablo Montoya finished eighth in the standings after making the Chase for the first time. Montoya posted 18 top-10s. He's still looking for that first oval win, but it's coming. Just stay away from Stewart.
• Class Act Award -- Jeff Gordon. Sure, it bothers him that his teammate and protégé has beaten him four consecutive years for the title, but Gordon handles it with the utmost dignity and respect.
Through good days or bad days, contentment or controversy, he's always there to give honest, open and forthright responses. Win or lose, Gordon makes the sport better.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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