Commentary

2010 a year to remember in NASCAR

Updated: December 26, 2010, 3:15 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The 2010 NASCAR season began with a "boys, have at it" edict from the governing body and ended with Jimmie Johnson having his way for a fifth straight Sprint Cup championship.

In between there were more memorable moments than Dale Earnhardt Jr. has victories.

[+] EnlargeDaytona Pothole
AP Photo/Russell WilliamsSome would argue the pothole between Turns 1 and 2 stole the spotlight from Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray.

That's 18 in case anybody has forgotten.

It added up to arguably one of the greatest seasons in the history of the sport, most definitely one of the most memorable. From the closest Chase in the short history of the format to drivers flipping each other off and flipping each other upside down to fights between the most unlikely of characters, the year in our rearview mirror had it all.

And it began with this from Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition: "As it relates to the Sprint Cup Series, there's been a lot of debate and talk over the wintertime, as everyone knows. The bump-drafting as we've known it at Daytona and Talladega over the past few years will be totally eliminated. We're gonna put it back in the hands of the drivers and 'Boys, have at it and have a good time.' That's all I can say."

I would have gone with a traditional top 10 list to wrap up the year, but there were so many standout moments I couldn't get it down to fewer than 13 -- and even that doesn't seem like enough.

So have at it:

The Hole

Many will remember the Daytona 500 for Jamie McMurray's amazing win and Earnhardt's equally amazing rally to finish second, but the pothole that developed between Turns 1 and 2 during the race overshadowed them both.

Don't believe me? ESPN.com conducted a poll after the race asking for the most memorable moment of Speedweeks. Fifty-five percent voted for the lengthy red-flag stops to repair the hole, 19 percent voted for Danica Patrick crashing out in her Nationwide Series debut, followed by 15 percent for McMurray winning the race.

The pothole was the hit of McMurray's appearance on David Letterman as well.

"Will there be potholes in future races?" Letterman asked McMurray after a long series of jokes about the hole.

Golden horseshoe

In a season of memorable quotes, this one got it all started after Johnson beat Kevin Harvick for the win at Cali's Auto Club Speedway.

"Jimmie is a good friend mine, but there's no denying how lucky they are," Harvick said. "They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass."

In case you forgot, Johnson pitted on Lap 26 just before caution came out. He got out about a half car ahead of leader Jeff Burton as Burton got to the scoring line on the track to avoid going a lap down and was able to restart in the lead after everyone else pitted.

The rest is history.

"You don't get lucky in winning four championships and 48 races," said Johnson, speaking of his championship and win total at the time. "I've had plenty of races go the other way. This stuff happens because we have a good race team."

Boys have at it, indeed

If you didn't think NASCAR was serious about letting drivers police the sport before Atlanta, you did afterward.

Carl Edwards intentionally wrecked Brad Keselowski, sending the No. 12 car airborne late in the March race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Afterward, Edwards made no secret it was retribution for contact between the two earlier in the race and payback for an incident that sent him airborne at Talladega the previous season.

"Brad knows the deal between him and I," Edwards said at the time.

NASCAR parked Edwards, who was more than 100 laps down, then put him on a three-race probation. But there wasn't a heavy penalty of points or money, as likely would have been the case before "boys, have at it," even though officials said Edwards' actions went beyond the purpose of the edict.

"[We] made it clear to him that these actions were not acceptable," NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "We believe the driver of the 99 understands our position."

What he and everyone understood was you could pay somebody back without paying in the standings.

[+] EnlargeDale Earnhardt Jr
Jerry Markland/Getty ImagesDale Earnhardt Jr.'s stirring Nationwide victory at Daytona in his daddy's No. 3 was a sight to behold.

Win for 3

This didn't happen in Cup, but we would be remiss to talk about the season's memorable moments without mentioning Earnhardt winning the July Nationwide Series race at Daytona in his father's No. 3 with the Wrangler blue and yellow paint scheme.

Few moments sparked more pure emotion.

"You know we lost everything here," said Earnhardt's crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., referring to the 2001 crash at Daytona that claimed Dale Earnhardt Sr. "To come back with that number and do this, it means everything."

Afterward, Earnhardt said he'd never run the No. 3 again, ending speculation he may one day take over that number at Richard Childress Racing where his father won six of his seven championships.

"I don't ever want to do it again, and I won't ever change my mind," Earnhardt said.

Who needs the Chase?

McMurray didn't make the Chase, but he won the two biggest races of the year -- the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. Toss in Dario Franchitti's win at the Indianapolis 500 and team owner Chip Ganassi became the first owner to win the three biggest races in motorsports in the same year.

"It's incredible," Ganassi said. "I need oxygen."

McMurray also finished second in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, the two biggest races in NASCAR outside of Daytona and Indianapolis.

"Getting to win the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 means more to me this year than making the Chase," McMurray said. "This year or in 10 years, the guy that won [those races are the one] everybody will talk about. The guy that finished third in the points, nobody cares."

Who wears the firesuit?

That 20-year-old Joey Logano chose to stand up to Harvick after the veteran took him out at Pocono was memorable enough. That he followed that with arguably the best line of the year made it priceless.

"I don't know what his problem is with me," Logano told reporters after the race. "His wife [DeLana] wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do. It's probably not his fault."

Ouch.

This became even more priceless when DeLana made T-shirts the following week with the words "I wear the firesuit in this family" and sold them for $15 each.

Hard knocks

As funny as Logano's comments were at the first Pocono race, Elliott Sadler's crash was as scary at the second.

Sadler went nearly head on into an earth berm that jutted out into a runoff area with no SAFER barrier, creating what NASCAR officials told him was the hardest recorded hit in the history of the sport.

The impact was so huge that the engine few out of Sadler's car.

Sadler amazingly walked away with only a sore right shoulder and collarbone and minor scrapes from the seat belts. He credited the HANS device, the carbon fiber seat designed by Hendrick Motorsports and new safety designs NASCAR implemented in the new car for protecting him.

"I'm very thankful for that," Sadler said. "I think 10 years ago in the aluminum seat and no HANS and having that same wreck we'd be maybe talking about something different now."

It was that scary.

[+] EnlargeKyle Busch
Rusty Jarrett/Getty ImagesKyle Busch cleaned up at Bristol in August, sweeping the Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup races in one weekend.

Bristol sweep

As Kyle Busch crossed the finish line in the Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway for the weekend sweep, a crew member radioed, "We are in the presence of greatness."

Before that moment nobody in NASCAR history had won the Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Cup Series in the same week. It's a feat that could not be overlooked.

"I've been trying to do this since I got to NASCAR," Busch said. "I love Bristol and I love winning. And to do it for the first time ever in NASCAR, to sweep the weekend, man, that's pretty awesome."

Kyle Busch is an @*&#%

This wasn't exactly what Bristol Motor Speedway had in mind when it decided drivers would introduce themselves prior to the August race.

Or maybe it was.

Whatever, Keselowski shouting "Kyle Busch is an ass" brought down the house before Busch won the race to complete the weekend sweep.

To refresh, Busch intentionally dumped Keselowski to win the Nationwide race. Keselowski, on probation from an incident with Edwards at Gateway, knew he couldn't respond with his car.

So he did with his mouth, calling out Busch over the public address system.

"Juan Montoya and I were talking about it [before driver introductions], and he said I wouldn't do it," Keselowski said of his comment. "I said, 'Hell yeah I'll do it!' The preacher was standing there and I said, 'Hey man, would you be offended if I said ass?'

"He said, 'No, man!' Ass is in the Bible.' I said, 'Thank you very much!' "

No, thank you.

[+] EnlargeJeff Gordon and Jeff Burton
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCARWhat we didn't expect to see in 2010: Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton going toe-to-toe at Texas.

Kung fu Gordon

Perhaps it was the frustration of not winning all season, but when Jeff Burton got into Jeff Gordon's car under caution at Texas Motor Speedway, the four-time champion went Ultimate Fighter on the track apron.

"He felt I came up on him and he didn't mean to wreck me," Gordon said after taking wild swings at Burton. "I'm sorry, I will never believe that. I've been inside the race car long enough to know what your intentions were and I know what they were then."

Burton said the sun got into his eyes and "it was my fault we got together."

"I knew he was going to be mad," Burton said. "I don't blame [him] for being mad. He was upset, and he should have been upset. I didn't mean to wreck him, but I wrecked him under caution. I don't have a bit of a problem with what he did."

What made this moment more memorable was Gordon and Burton had to ride in the same ambulance to the infield care center.

"I didn't want to ride in the ambulance with him, I tell you that," Gordon said. "I wanted to confront him. It wasn't fun."

The run-in also allowed Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, to swap pit crews with Gordon's team during the race. That started a mental and verbal warfare with Denny Hamlin's crew chief that provided extra motivation for Johnson to rally for the title.

Sorry, Clint

Clint Bowyer made light at the season-ending banquet of the 150-point fine he received three days after winning the Chase opener at New Hampshire to move to second in points. He said the governing body could have saved him a huge hangover had they ruled his car illegal immediately after the race.

But for two weeks after the penalty, Bowyer and team owner Richard Childress were fuming.

That the car passed inspection at the track and then failed to meet tolerances a couple of days later at NASCAR's Research and Development Center by the infamous sixty-thousandths of an inch in the rear turned into a two-week circus of hearings and appeals.

In the end the penalty stood, basically ending any chance Bowyer had of making a run at the title before it began.

"I've had two miserable weeks," team owner Richard Childress said. "I missed an elk hunt and I missed the opportunity to be in Montana, so I'm real unhappy about that."

Legend lost

Not all memories are ones you want to relive. Such is the case with this one on Jim Hunter, who passed away in October after a year-long battle with cancer.

NASCAR's vice president for corporate communications was one of the most respected and well-liked people in the garage. As chairman Brian France said, Hunter was "one of NASCAR's giants."

"For more than 40 years Jim was part of NASCAR and its history," France said. "He loved the sport, but loved the people even more. It seems as if everyone in the sport called him a friend.

"Jim will forever be missed by the NASCAR community."

Enough said. Godspeed.

Five in a row

Johnson had just crossed the finish line at Homestead-Miami Speedway in second place to wrap up his fifth straight championship when Knaus radioed: "Jimmie, you are a rock star, my friend. You have proven it time and time again. And you damn did it, my friend."

Whether you like Johnson or not, whether you think he's ruining the sport with his domination or think he's too vanilla, there's no denying the greatness of his accomplishment.

Nobody before Johnson won more than three consecutive titles, and only Cale Yarborough did that. Five straight is a feat that Gordon said at the banquet never will be repeated.

This one wasn't as easy as the others. Johnson went into the finale with a 15-point deficit to Denny Hamlin and needed an early slipup by Hamlin to keep his streak alive.

But it had nothing to do with a golden horseshoe where the sun doesn't shine. It happened because Johnson is a rock star.

"I'm just beside myself," Johnson said in Victory Lane. "Four was amazing. Now I have to figure out what the hell to say about winning five of these things, because everybody is going to want to know what it means. I don't know. It is pretty damn awesome, I can tell you that."

So were all the memories of 2010.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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