Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rating the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: 4 Stars ****

The 36-race trek that began and ended in Florida in 2010 ended the same as the past four years with Jimmie Johnson on stage in Las Vegas delivering his acceptance speech for winning the Sprint Cup. However, the way he got there was vastly different than in the past. The 2010 Sprint Cup Series season gets a 4 Star Rating.

This season had its ups and downs. But, there were plenty of ups and the downs weren’t nearly as low as past seasons. The restrictor-plate package this season produced the best big-track racing since the early 2000’s, and the change to a rear spoiler instead of a wing made the racing better at many of the other tracks the series visited.

Finally, the championship finally came down to an all-or-nothing shootout among Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick in the final race at Homestead. Last year at this time complaints surfaced everywhere in the NASCAR community. One year later, that same community is relatively content. Whether the head NASCAR administrators agree or not is yet to be seen. I’m just saying, this is one year where change is nothing but a bad thing.

So, let’s take a look at the breakdown of ratings throughout the season, which excludes the two non-points events and the reader’s choice edition for the fall race at New Hampshire:

5 Stars: 5 races

4 Stars: 10 races

3 Stars: 14 races

2 Stars: 6 races

1 Star: no races

2010 was the first season Monday Morning Crew Chief has not handed down a 1 Star Rating and, once again, we had five races of ultimate excitement.

Other than the Daytona 500, which was unfortunately delayed by a pothole, the beginning of the season got off to a rather slow start. The three races following Daytona at California, Las Vegas and Atlanta did not get above a 3 Star Rating. The short tracks, however, ignited the fire to really get the season started.

As we have seen in the past, the 5 Star races tend to be at short tracks or restrictor-plate tracks. However, this year one intermediate track made the cut.

The first 5 Star race of the season came at Martinsville in the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500, as Denny Hamlin brought home another grandfather clock as he sliced through the field in the final laps and came out on top after a crazy green-white-checkered finish where Matt Kenseth had the lead in Turn 1, but Jeff Gordon punted him out of the way in Turn 3 to allow Hamlin to squeeze by for the win. This race would prove to be Gordon’s best chance at a win, as he was merely feet from the white flag before the final caution flew.

The next race worthy of a 5 Star Rating was the historic Aaron’s 499 at Talladega that had everything. This race smashed records, as twenty-nine drivers swapped the lead 88 times. However, that wasn’t enough for this race. The first race with three attempts at a green-white-checkered came down to a drag race between Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick. As the pair came through the tri-oval, Harvick timed his move perfectly and pulled underneath McMurray to take the win by inches. This race had to end in a photo finish; it was just that kind of a day.

The third 5 Star race of the season came at the other restrictor-plate track, Daytona, in the Coke Zero 400 and the final race on the old pavement. This race had only 47 lead changes, but drivers ran in tight packs while they held onto their cars through the bumps to make for a great race. Only 17 cars finished on the lead lap in this one, and 19 cars got caught up in the “Big One.” Kevin Harvick continued his restrictor-plate racing domination as he brought home the “other” trophy from Daytona this season.

Nearly three months went by before the next 5 Star race rolled around and, once again, it came at Talladega in the Amp Energy Juice 500. With just four races left in the season and Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick locked in the tightest Chase battle in its history. Although Hamlin fell a lap down and Harvick suffered front-end damage in a wreck, all three came out of the race with a shot at the title. In addition to the championship drama, there were the second-most lead changes in series history, 87, and Harvick nearly pulled off the win, but the caution flew on the final lap when A.J. Allmendinger flipped upside down and Clint Bowyer happened to be in the lead. Another photo finish, but it happened in Turn 1, not the finish line.

The final great race of the season came at Texas in the AAA Texas 500. All kinds of stuff went down in this one, including a fight on the backstretch, a bird through a windshield and a mid-race pit crew swap. All of this happened while Denny Hamlin took the points lead with two races to go. The season all kind of came together in this one race. The drivers showed emotion, the racing on the track was close and the points battle was as close as possible.

So, with a great year under its belt, hopefully NASCAR can build on that momentum and carry the excitement on through next season and beyond. The championship battle was close this year, and there is little reason to think it won’t be that way again in 2011.

Throughout the offseason Monday Morning Crew Chief will have a variety of articles about news, rumors and opinions. With testing at Daytona this year, there will only be a few weeks where cars won’t be on the track. Hopefully the offseason blues will be a little less dark this time around. Thank you for reading this season and have a terrific holiday season.


  1. Your 5 star races were what you called them. Great finishes, some by skill, and others by retribution (Jeff Gordon punting Kenseth @ Martinsville, allowing Hamlin's win)... Sometimes old feuds help those not envolved.

    The pot hole at Daytona, was a bad start. But at least it wasn't followed by a weeping track in Fontana. At least the season as a whole, finished on a smooth surface, with only a few questionable debris cautions!

  2. jmayer,

    The season had more lead changes by far than any other. Were there more instances of green flag racing this year making so many leaders possible while pitting? Has NASCAR backed off on the mysterious debris cautions? Has the "Boys have at it" attitude carried over to official rulings too? Is this part of NASCAR trying to rekindle the fire of years gone by?

    Thanks jmayer!

  3. Great recap of the five star events, JM.

    I think the Martinsville race was the best of the year.

    I can't recall, but why wasn't Sonoma 5-stars?

  4. Great post! I think part of the reason for the slow start may be the changes in off season testing. I hope it changes as NASCAR Tweeks the rules or the teams find other ways to prepare. Bumpdrafter.blogspot.com

  5. CR_Racing - Even better than no weeping track at Fontana this year, there will only be one race at Fontana in 2011 lol. Questionable debris cautions are never OK, but it did seem as though there were fewer of them this year.

    Dwindy1 - Probably a combination of all the above, plus the 175 lead changes combined at the two Talladega races this year. NASCAR would be foolish to change the restrictor-plate package anytime soon.

    Gene - Sonoma was certainly a good race and received a 4 Star Rating. But, after Marcos Ambrose made his mistake, it was over. Jimmie Johnson had the field covered with his only competition back in seventh.

    JD - Testing starts next week! Hooray! Sounds like several people are lobbying to keep at least Daytona testing a part of future offseasons, as well.

  6. Great review Mayer - I think my brain must just be full b/c I cannot remember races for the life of me, even ones I've been too! Its just a blur - generally good and exciting or generally boring and bad. LOL

    There were definitely some 5 star moments and races this year and I hope Brian doesn't mettle too much...although he really doesn't have time with the cars testing so early.

  7. klvalus - Overall, it seemed like there were less races this year where absolutely nothing happened, but that stretch during the summer is usually rather slow on excitement.

    I don't understand what Brian France thinks he can improve on after this season, which was the best in years. Changing the points system again is playing with pretty hot fire at this point. Testing starts tomorrow!