Commentary

It's time to get creative with the awards banquet

NASCAR's annual Sprint Cup awards banquet needs a little less teleprompter and a lot more drama. Terry Blount has five award categories that should be part of the show.

Updated: December 9, 2008, 3:04 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

The NASCAR Sprint Cup awards banquet is a little like a race that has no passes for the lead and ends under caution.

It's still worth watching, but it's not exactly edge-of-your-seat excitement.

NASCAR's annual postseason celebration in New York City is a week of lavish parties, expensive meals and several nights on the town at the hot spots in Manhattan.

It all leads up to the awards ceremony this Friday night at the Waldorf-Astoria (9 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic). The top 10 drivers dress in their best duds, go on stage and proceed to bore us to tears with prepared speeches to thank myriad sponsors.

It's like a high school graduation ceremony, but instead of one robotic speaker, we get 10 of them.

Let's cure that problem and spice things up. What this show needs is a little drama. Make it NASCAR's version of the Academy Awards, with nominees for various categories sitting in the audience hoping to win. It's a great way to get NASCAR drivers and team officials included in the event if they didn't make the top 10.

But we need a couple of exceptions to the Hollywood version.

First, keep it under three hours. We already know who the top 10 drivers are. Let them come on stage, get their check, say a sentence of two and list their sponsors on a video screen behind them.

Second, no boring awards no one cares about like Best Sound Editing or Best Foreign Language Documentary -- or, in this case, Best Race Setup or Best Inspection Team. Just a few fun awards to keep viewers intrigued.

And skip the obvious ones. We know Jimmie Johnson is the best driver and Chad Knaus is the best crew chief. They get their moment at the end of the show.

By the way, NASCAR does have one award that's announced at the banquet. One is not enough, but we greatly appreciate the effort. It's the Sprint Monster Moment. Here are the nominees:

  • Carl Edwards bumps Kyle Busch at the Bristol night race to take the lead and the win.

  • Greg Biffle makes a late-race pass at Dover to hold off teammates Matt Kenseth and Edwards to capture his second consecutive win, making him two-for-two in the Chase.

  • Edwards' valiant wall-brushing, final-lap pass for the lead at Kansas before finishing second to Jimmie Johnson.

  • Johnson's rapid climb from 12th to second place at Atlanta with just six laps to go in the November event.

  • Edwards dominates the season-ending Ford 400 by leading the most laps and winning the race, but falls short of catching Johnson for the championship.

And the winner is: We don't know the official answer, but if it isn't Edwards' banzai move at Kansas, there should be an investigation.

Now, here are our five categories, with the nominees and the lucky winners:

Best 2008 Race

[+] EnlargeAmp Energy FInish
AP Photo/Glenn SmithIf you picked the No. 01 driven by Regan Smith as the winner at Talladega in October, you wouldn't be alone, but you wouldn't be correct, either.

  • The Daytona 500

  • The Dan Lowry 400 at Richmond International Raceway

  • The Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway

  • The AMP Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

And the winner is: The AMP Energy 500.

Race winner Tony Stewart accepts the award. Or maybe he should share it with Regan Smith, whom many fans still believe was the real winner when he was forced below the yellow line and crossed the finish line first. The race had 64 lead changes among 28 drivers.

Best 2008 Comeback

And the winner is: Greg Biffle.

After finishing outside the Chase the previous two seasons, Biffle makes the Chase and finishes third in the standings. He stirs things up by winning the first two Chase races.

Best 2008 Paint Scheme

Dale Earnhardt Jr
AP Photo/Jim R.BoundsThe paint scheme on the No. 88 driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- and partially designed by him -- gets the nod for 2008's best.

And the winner is: The No. 88 Chevy.

Stylish two-tone design with a blue-and-white combo for the National Guard and green-and-white for the AMP Energy theme. And Junior was heavily involved in the design process.

In case you didn't notice, the last two awards got Earnhardt to the party, something that isn't happening under the current format that has only the top 10 take the stage. Earnhardt finished 12th in the Chase.

Most Improved Driver

And the winner is: David Ragan.

A huge difference from his rookie year in 2007 when he finished 23rd with only three top-10 finishes.

Ragan almost made the Chase in 2008, finished 13th in the standings and had 14 top-10s, including five in the past 10 races. Tony Stewart said of Ragan: "He was a dart without feathers. He was a guy that I thought wouldn't ever make it, but now he gets it."

Best Speedway in 2008

  • Daytona International Speedway

  • Richmond International Raceway

  • Bristol Motor Speedway

And the winner is: Bristol.

Have track president Jeff Byrd accept the award with the two Cup winners from 2008 -- Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards. The Rose Bowl of racing produced an exciting finish in the March event when Burton won in overtime. And the August night race had a bump-and-run move by Edwards to defeat Kyle Busch. Edwards said he was doing what Busch did to him in a Nationwide race, adding: "That's the decision I made, and I'd do it again."

There you have it. Maybe you have a category or two you'd like to add. But the current sleep-mode banquet could be a night of nominees for awards to add a little suspense.

Now, wouldn't that be a lot more fun?

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

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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