Racing has reached the halfway mark, and it's already been a year to remember

7/15/2008 - NASCAR

Danica finally has a victory, Formula One is enjoying one of its most competitive championship battles ever and last year's outcast in Sprint Cup is this year's star.

Those are just a few of the story lines this season in auto racing as we look at the highs and lows at the midpoint of 2008. The Cup schedule has reached the halfway mark heading to Chicagoland Speedway for the first night race on the 1.5-mile oval, so here's a look at some of the things that stood out for the major racing leagues in the first half of the year:

Sprint Cup Series
Best driver -- Is there any doubt? Kyle Busch is having a dream season with an incredible 12 victories -- six in Cup, four in the Nationwide Series and two in the Craftsman Truck Series. Not bad for a guy who was the odd man out last season at Hendrick Motorsports.

Best manufacturer -- Toyota. What a turnaround from a year ago. Toyota was winless in its inaugural Cup season last year. It has seven victories so far this year.

Best organization -- Joe Gibbs Racing. The Gibbs group is the reason for Toyota's move to the top. JGR has all seven Toyota wins. Many NASCAR followers thought JGR officials were nuts for switching from Chevy to Toyota. It was a brilliant business decision that put JGR at the top of the Cup food chain.

Funniest quote -- An angry Jack Roush calling Toyota's Lee White an "ankle-biting Chihuahua."

Best comeback -- Kasey Kahne. After a miserable 2007 season, Kahne has two victories, nine top-10s and ranks eighth in the standings.

Biggest post-Daytona disappointment -- Ryan Newman. Won the season-opening Daytona 500 but has one top-5 since and ranks 17th in the standings.

Biggest embarrassment No. 1 -- The NASCAR substance abuse policy. The flaws became clear when Aaron Fike admitted he raced while taking heroin. NASCAR officials test a driver only if they think he might have a problem.

Biggest embarrassment No. 2 -- A racial discrimination lawsuit against NASCAR by former Nationwide Series official Mauricia Grant. The allegations include some of the worst stereotypes about NASCAR.

Biggest flop -- Open-wheel drivers moving to Cup this season. Dario Franchitti and Jacques Villeneuve are out. Patrick Carpentier and Sam Hornish Jr. are struggling.

Most disappointing team -- Dale Earnhardt Inc. haven't won a race, are hurting to find sponsors and probably won't have a driver in the Chase this season.

Most improved team -- Red Bull Racing. Brian Vickers is 16th in the standings compared to 39th one year ago. A.J. Allmendingerhas qualified for every event since returning to the driver's seat after being tutored by Mike Skinner. And former F1 driver Scott Speed is running up front at lower levels, learning things the right way before moving up to Cup.

Best crew chief decision -- Tony Eury Jr. electing to gamble on fuel at Michigan, a decision that gave Dale Earnhardt Jr. his first victory at Hendrick Motorsports.

Executive of the Year -- Jay Frye. He was hired at the start of the season and is the man responsible for the dramatic improvement at Red Bull.

Most improved driver -- David Ragan. No sophomore jinx here. He was 23rd in the standings after 18 races last year. Now he's 16th with five top-10s and has an outside shot at making the Chase.

Biggest story -- Tony Stewart. A weekly soap opera of rumors over his future plans to become a team owner/driver. Meanwhile, his bad luck continues and he hasn't won a race.

Eight-to-one drop-off -- Number of wins Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson had at the halfway point last year (four each) and the number they have this year (one for Johnson).

Worst career move -- Dario Franchitti leaving the IRL at the top of his game to go to NASCAR. He's out of a ride now and has an uncertain future.

A little bump among friends -- Juan Pablo Montoya deliberately banging into Kyle Busch's car under caution, causing both drivers to wreck at New Hampshire.

Worst idea -- Unlimited testing. Something NASCAR is considering. More testing at Cup tracks is a good idea, but doing so with no rules and no team limitations is a cost overload that would further separate the haves from the have-nots.

Biggest flip-flopper -- Mark Martin, agreeing to drive full-time next season in the No. 5 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports after saying numerous times he didn't want to run a full schedule.

Worst crash -- Michael McDowell's terrifying accident during qualifying at Texas when he slammed into the wall head-on, flipping the car over and barrel-rolling down the track.

Best outcome -- McDowell walking away without a scratch, proving how far NASCAR has come in safety advancements.

Worst delay -- NASCAR waiting until 11 pm. PT to announce that the Cup race at Fontana, Calif., would be postponed until the next day.

Nationwide Series
Best driver -- Brad Keselowski. Cup regulars shouldn't count, so Keselowski is the man who has proven he has what it takes to become a Cup regular soon. Keselowski actually has an outside shot at winning the title, an almost impossible task these days against the Cup bullies.

Best newcomer -- Joey Logano. This kid is better at 18 than most drivers are at 28.

Biggest problem -- Cup drivers continuing domination of the series. Four of the top five drivers in the standings are full-time Cup racers. Go play in your own league.

Craftsman Truck Series
44 or older -- Age of four of the top five drivers in the standings, including 50-year-old Ron Hornaday Jr., who ranks at the top. Seven of the top 10 drivers are over the age of 40.

Best finish -- Rookie Donny Lia banging his way past David Starr on the last lap to win on the short track at Mansfield, Ohio.

IndyCar Series
Biggest moment -- Danica Patrick's victory in Japan to become the first woman to win a major open-wheel racing event.

Best decision -- The merger between the IRL and Champ Car, finally ending a bitter 12-year split that nearly destroyed American open-wheel racing.

Best crowd -- Nearly a full house at the Brickyard for the Indy 500, the biggest crowd to see the race in a decade.

Formula One
Weirdest moment -- FIA president Max Mosley shown in alleged Nazi-themed sex video with prostitutes. Mosley doesn't deny he was involved, but strongly denies any Nazi role playing.

Best championship chase -- A three-way tie at the top of the F1 standing between Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. And Robert Kubica is only two points behind.

Best performance No. 1 -- Hamilton winning at Monaco after hitting the wall early in the race.

Best performance No. 2 -- Hamilton winning his home event at Silverstone, England, in the rain without ever changing to rain tires. His team used intermediate tires, and Hamilton won by more than a minute over second-place Nick Heidfeld.

Winning women -- Ashley Force became the first woman to win at NHRA Funny Car event. Melanie Troxel won a month later. Hillary Will earned her first Top Fuel victory in May.

Worst moment -- NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta losing his life in a crash at Englishtown, N.J.

Bold move -- The NHRA opting to reduce the distance of races in Top Fuel and Funny car by 320 feet, changing the traditional quarter mile to 1,000 feet. NHRA officials deserve praise for making a tough decision to improve safety while continuing the investigation on Kalitta's death and the possible long-term changes it will bring about.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.