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Crown Jimmie Johnson and move on

The historic, but somehow strangely boring fourth consecutive Sprint Cup Championship of Jimmie Johnson seems like the be-all, end-all story on the NASCAR scene.
Strange, but for whatever reason Johnson just does not connect with most race fans. You can’t blame the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut. If Johnson’s Hendrick teammate Mark Martin had won the title, the excitement would have been palatable. Fans would have cheered enthuastically if teammate Jeff Gordon had won a fifth championship. Had teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. gotten his act together and won a few races, the excitement meter would have been off the charts. Win a championship. You could stop the presses all over the country with that.

No, it’s not that Rick Hendrick as goliath is beating up on the masses. It’s Jimmie.  Jimmie is boring.
Mark Martin, who will turn 51 on Jan. 9, has had a career year. Well past the age when drivers normally reach the peak of their racing ability, Martin has won five race and battled Johnson for the championship right down to last Sunday’s season final at Homestead-Miami. No way can you say “second place is the first loser” when you review the incredible season Martin has had. The great part is, he did it without alienating his competition. If they took a vote of most respected driver on the circuit, Martin would win, hands down.
In the Camping World Truck series, another graybeard got it done in 2009: 51-year-old Ron Hornaday won six races behind the wheel of the Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet and drove to his fourth truck series championship. The series’ first four-time champion. What’s that they say about old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill?
Not the oldest driver on the circuit, but certainly an old-school racer if there ever was one, Tony Stewart astounded the fans and the racing community alike with the performance of Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. After 10 years, 33 wins, two Cup Championships and reportedly the highest driver’s salary on the circuit, Stewart, at age 38, left Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2008 season to become half owner and driver for the former Haas CNC Racing — a team that in five years on the circuit had never won a race. Additionally, owner Gene Haas was doing time in a federal penitentiary for tax evasion at the time. Talk about going from the penthouse to the outhouse. Little wonder most thought Stewart had taken leave of his senses.
Tony Stewart is pretty much consumed by racing and has always marched to the beat of his own drummer. Perhaps the greatest all-around driver to come along since his boyhood idol A.J. Foyt Jr., Stewart is also a very astute businessman. He purchased Eldora Speedway, a classy little dirt track in Ohio several years ago and has turned it into arguably the most successful local track in the nation. His annual “Prelude to the Dream,” a race featuring the stars of NASCAR and other racing circuits, annually raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, and the past couple of years has become a hit on pay-per-view TV.
Stewart also owns Sprint Car teams on both the USAC and World of Outlaws circuits - this year’s champions on both circuits drive for Tony Stewart Racing. With all this going on, Stewart still managed to win four Cup races this season, and both he and teammate Ryan Newman made this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
On the youth side, it’s no surprise that allworld rookie Joey Logano was this year’s Sprint Cup “Rookie of the Year.” Logano scored his first Cup win at New Hampshire in June and had five wins on the Nationwide Circuit.
Then there is my personal favorite story of the year, the incredible season of 24-year-old Kyle Busch. If ever there is a flaw in NASCAR’s “Chase” format for deciding the season’s champion, Kyle Busch is exhibit A. All he did was win four Cup races, seven Camping World Truck races and nine Nationwide series races for an incredible 20 wins in the three top NASCAR Series. Oh yes, Busch also won the Nationwide Series championship.
So give Jimmie the Cup, and let’s get on to Daytona.

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