Archive for Thursday, December 2, 2004

Rear view: Writers reflect on major stories of 2004 Cup season

December 2, 2004

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David Poole

David Poole covers NASCAR for the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer.

Driver of the year: Even though various points systems might have named various other champions, Jimmie Johnson's eight victories make him the clear choice as the winner in this category.

Best race: For sheer intensity, nothing topped the Chevy 400 on Sept. 11 at Richmond, where Jeremy Mayfield won to get a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. It was an electric evening.

Best thing about the Chase: It made races after Labor Day meaningful again.

Worst thing about the Chase: That it should've been in place since 1993.

Most popular bad decision by NASCAR: Going to the green-white-checkered finish.

Most unpopular good decision by NASCAR: Docking 25 points from Dale Earnhardt Jr. for using inappropriate language in Victory Lane at Talladega.

Jim Utter

Kurt Busch won the 2004 Nextel Cup championship by eight points,
the closest margin in NASCAR history.

Kurt Busch won the 2004 Nextel Cup championship by eight points, the closest margin in NASCAR history.

Jim Utter covers NASCARfor www.thatsracin.com.

Driver of the year: Boo him. Criticize him for his misuse of the English language. But Kurt Busch is laughing at each and every one of you all the way to the bank.

Story of the year: First choice was the new Chase for the Nextel Cup format, but the Oct. 24 Hendrick Motorsports plane crash that killed 10 Hendrick family members, employees and friends will have a far more lasting impact on the sport.

Biggest sign of trouble to come: NASCAR got the best possible championship scenario this season with five drivers capable of winning the title in the final race. NASCAR claims to have 75 million fans. With a little over 9 million fans watching, were the other 65 million watching the NFL?

Most embarrassing moment(s): Take your pick: Turning on the caution lights by mistake in the Charlotte Truck race; waving the wrong pit road flag at Pocono; or penalizing Jason Leffler for "unnecessary roughness" in the July Busch race at Daytona.

John Sturbin

John Sturbin covers NASCAR for the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram.

Driver of the year: Mark Martin, Roush Racing. The veteran said just making the 10-driver Chase cut was the toughest thing he had done during his stellar Cup career. And then, no one enjoyed the Chase more.

You da man of the year: Francis Ferko. The resident of Plano, Texas, and Speedway Motorsports Inc. shareholder's federal lawsuit against NASCAR helped Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth secure its "promised'' second Cup date in November 2005.

Best moment: Busch's blown engine and 42nd-place finish Oct. 31 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Busch's lead over race-winner Johnson shrunk to 59 points, and suddenly, six drivers were within 145 points after Round 7.

Best race: Season-ending Ford 400 on Nov. 21 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. At different moments, championship contenders Busch, Johnson and Jeff Gordon all spent time atop the points table.

Biggest sign NASCAR's still in control: The sanctioning body doles out the points deductions, fines and suspensions. And the appeals process to the National Stock Car Commission, basically, is a joke.

Bill Fleischman

Bill Fleischman covers NASCAR for the Philadelphia Daily News.

Driver of the year: Busch. Sometimes he talks in circles, but his consistency during the Chase for the Championship was impressive.

Best thing about the Chase: It created more interest in the last 10 races of the season. Television ratings were up.

Worst thing about the Chase: Gordon, the leader after the first 26 races, saw his lead trimmed to just 5 points to start the Chase. The leader after the first 26 races should be rewarded with a larger cushion.

Biggest sign of trouble to come: NASCAR allowing hard-liquor sponsorships into the sport. How will NASCAR handle this issue? Very carefully.

Mike Brudenell

Mike Brudenell covers NASCAR for the Detroit Free Press.

Driver of the year: Dodge rookie Kasey Kahne, who drove like a champ in doing everything but win a Nextel Cup race. Watch for him at Daytona, where he just might get his first victory.

Worst moment: Hearing of the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash at Martinsville and waiting for the passenger list to be released.

Best moment: Johnson's win at Atlanta, where he dedicated his victory to those killed in the Hendrick plane tragedy.

Best thing about the Chase: When it finally finished at Homestead and there was a winner.

Worst thing about the Chase: Having to explain the format in every story we wrote. Kind of like filling readers in on "General Hospital" from the soap's very first episode.

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