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Archive for Thursday, December 1, 2005

Kissing ‘05 goodbye

Writers reflect on the major stories of the 2005 season

December 1, 2005

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Driver of the year:

Carl Edwards

With no disrespect toward Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart, Edwards won four Cups and five Busch races and finished third in the standings in both series. Edwards ran 70 races in the two series and finished in the top five 29 times and in the top 10 43 times.

Race of the year:

Allstate 400

There were more dramatic finishes, but nothing beats the story of Tony Stewart finally slaying his personal dragons by winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Even though you knew what it would mean for Stewart and for fans in Indiana for him to win there, it was still very special to see it actually happen and witness the elation it brought on.

Track of the year:

Darlington Raceway

In two years, Darlington has gone from having two dates, including one on its traditional Labor Day weekend; to having one date, in the Chase, to having one date on the night before Mother's Day. Instead of been taken away, though, the track's staff went to work on making new traditions. The first night race in May was sold out and successful on all fronts. Now, the track is getting money for improvements.

Special tip of the Hat to:

Jack Roush

In a remarkable team effort, his cars finished second, third, fourth, seventh and eighth in the final owner's points standings. The five Roush-owned Fords started a combined 180 races and among them they rang up 97 top-10 finishes. Each team won at least once and, in all, "The Cat in the Hat's" cars won 15 points races plus the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge.

Best trend

It hasn't started yet, but it should soon - copying the variable banking at Homestead-Miami Speedway to improve the racing at other intermediate tracks. Lowe's Motor Speedway will likely have some form of it after its repaving is done, and Las Vegas, Kansas and Chicagoland, for starters, ought to do the same.

Worst trend

The same one as it has been for the past 10 years - too much focus on points. Fans don't buy tickets to see people have good points days. They come to see people try to win. The Chase for the Nextel Cup format helps make the final 10 races relevant, but those races and all of the rest would be SO much better if winning made as much difference as it ought to.

Biggest 2005 surprise

Jeff Gordon's swoon that took him out of the Chase. He left Darlington second in the standings with three wins in the first 10 races. Three weeks later he was 11th and on his way down the tubes. In one 21-race stretch, he finished 30th or worse 10 times. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s failure to make the Chase was easier to foresee after the ill-advised team and car switch at Dale Earnhardt Inc. Gordon's came out of nowhere.

Driver of the Year:

Tony Stewart

The media knocked Stewart for his attitude. He fixed it. He was criticized because he couldn't win the "big" races. He won at Indianapolis and Daytona. He won his previous championship under the old system. He dominated the new one as well.

Race of the year:

Checker Auto Parts 500

Earlier in the day, 2004 Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch is suspended by Roush Racing for the final two races after Busch is charged with reckless driving. Then his younger brother, Kyle, proceeds to whoop the competition in the race, and in Victory Lane declares support for his older brother and puts in a dig on the sponsors of Kurt's team.

Track of the year:

Atlanta Motor Speedway

Just leave this track exactly as it is. No "levitating." No graduated banking. Don't improve on a product that is already as good as it gets. Atlanta has by far the best true actual racing - not contrived by artificial gimmicks - of any track on the circuit.

Best Quote

"We're officially retiring as Kurt Busch's apologists, effective today."

- Roush Racing president Geoff Smith, announcing the suspension of Busch.

Worst Quote

"Do you know who I am?"

- Kurt Busch to a Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff's Department deputy after being pulled over.

Most overblown story:

New NASCAR TV deal

Here's a question. Does this story really mean anything to a race fan other than at some point they have to push the channel control button up or down a few more times? The fervor over this deal is one thing: Media writing about media. And that can't be good.

Parting Thought

Isn't it interesting that all those who support the computer-generated system of determining the Nextel Cup champion still feel the need to defend it as legitimate even two years later? It's a wonderful system for motorsports writers. It's a terrible system for race fans.

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