2010 season’s highs and lows

by Monte Dutton

HIGH: Jimmie Johnson won a record fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship, which is even more impressive in that no one else in the sport’s history has won more than three.

LOW: The exhortation of NASCAR vice president Robin Pemberton — “Have at it, boys” — proved to be emblematic of the season that followed. An on-track feud between drivers Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski boiled over in both the Cup and Nationwide Series. No one was hurt, but the crashes were scary and obviously intentional.

HIGH: Denny Hamlin’s run for the championship was inspirational and heartbreaking. Hamlin persevered in spite of a knee injury that required surgery… while he continued to race. He led Johnson by 33 points with two races remaining but wound up losing the championship by 39.

LOW: Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued to struggle. Ninety-three races have passed since his last victory. He will begin his fourth season at Hendrick Motorsports with his third crew chief, Steve Letarte. (A fourth, Brian Whitesell, took the reins just for one race.) He finished 21st in the standings and collected only three top-five finishes.

HIGH: Another driver who didn’t qualify for the Chase won the season’s two most prestigious races. Jamie McMurray captured both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

LOW: Upset at being criticized, NASCAR officials tried to fine two drivers, Hamlin and Ryan Newman, in secrecy. Naturally, word leaked out, leading some to wonder what else

the ruling body was hiding.

HIGH: The season’s two races at Talladega Superspeedway produced a total of 175 lead changes. The individual numbers were 88 and 87, the two highest such totals in the sport’s history.

LOW: Two of the sport’s more dignified drivers, Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton, exchanged blows after Burton inexplicably wrecked Gordon’s Chevy under a caution flag at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 7. It’s difficult to buy Burton’s explanation that he didn’t do it on purpose.

HIGH: The Raybestos Rookie of the Year in the Camping World Truck Series, Austin Dillon, actually won two races.

LOW: The rookie of the year in Cup, Kevin Conway, never finished higher than 14 th and was 35 th in the point standings.

HIGH: The most improved performance came from Kevin Harvick, who bettered his average finish from 19.9 in 2009 to 8.7 in 2010. Under the point system in place prior to 2004, Harvick would have finished the season with 295 points more than any other driver.

LOW: Even though three of its drivers made the Chase, and Edwards won the season’s final two races, Ford’s NASCAR program still had a disappointing year. Chevys won 18 Cup races, and Toyotas won 12. Fords won four, and Dodge’s one-team, three-car effort claimed two.

Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at ‘© 2010 King Features Syndicate

Denny Hamlin’s (left) inspirational run was one of the season’s highlights; Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s (right) disappointing finish in the points standings was a low, both personally and for the sport. (John Clark/NASCAR This Week photo)