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NASCAR 2011 season best in sport's history

Posted on: November 23, 2011 2:05 pm
Edited on: November 23, 2011 4:55 pm
 
By Pete Pistone


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(Stewart's amazing run to win the championship capped off NASCAR's greatest season in history)


When the 2011 NASCAR season began I had my doubts about what was ahead.

An off season of transition that led the sanctioning body to make more tweaks to the Chase format and overhaul the entire points distribution system that had been in place for decades had me skeptical at best that NASCAR was in for a steller season.

The change to a more simplified scoring system and format that distributed points on a 43-1 basis per position struck me as gimmicky rather than a move to benefit competition.

Adding in two wild cards to the Chase field based on the number of victories compiled in the regular season seemed more like a gimmick to try and breath life yet again into the controversial championship format than a bona fide idea to generate more interest.

Boy did I turn out to be wrong.

From the minute Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 in historic fashion, NASCAR charted a course for a year that would include more drama, excitement and competition than any before.

The 2011 campaign wasn't just one of NASCAR's finest - it was the best of all time.

In terms of story lines there was no shortage of amazing tales to come out of the just completed season, starting rich tout of the gate with Bayne's stirring triumph in the biggest race of the year. Not only did the unheralded driver become the youngest in history to take the checkered flag in "The Great American Race," he did so with a team in the Wood Brothers that has been a part of the sport's literally since its beginning. The perfect melding of old school NASCAR with today kicked off a year that only went into overdrive from there.

Bayne led off a string of first time winners that before was all said and done grew to five - the most since 2002 - and included Regan Smith in the Southern 500 at Darlington, David Ragan taking the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, Paul Menard's Brickyard 400 triumph at Indianapolis and Marcos Ambrose prevailing at Watkins Glen.

That was just a tip of the iceberg.

The overall Sprint Cup Series competition level was off the charts with 18 different drivers rolling into victory lane, also the most since 2002 and only one short of an all-time record.

Organizations across the garage area celebrated wins in 2011 including Stewart-Haas Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Wood Brothers Racing, Team Red Bull and Richard Childress Racing.

The spread of success impressed many long-time participants and owners in the sport who marveled at how intense the competition had become.

"We're working on such a razor's edge today," said Richard Childress, who saw one of his drivers in Kevin Harvick finish third in the final championship race. "I've never seen things as close today as it is with really something like twenty to twenty drivers capable of winning on any given week. There are so many strong teams and organizations out there that when you do beat them and succeed, you know you've really accomplished something."

More numbers back up the Childress assessment. There was a series record average of 27.1 lead changes per race in 2011 and an average of 12.8 leaders per race also the most in NASCAR history.

But it wasn't until NASCAR's edition of the playoffs rolled around, when the Chase for the Sprint Cup began in September, that the real specialness of the season become apparent.

The ten race Chase created drama that was at times off the charts and a compelling on track product from start to finish.

The motorized heavyweight title fight between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards that was finally decided in the electric season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway was what all premier sports events should be like.

Some doubted whether the build-up and at times over the top hype leading up to the finale would live up to the lofty expectations, but in fact the race in many ways exceeded all of it.

Stewart and Edwards tying for the points lead at the checkered flag only to have the championship decided by the number of wins in a tiebreaker is a script that could not have been written any better.

Which is why the 2011 Sprint Cup season will go down as the best in NASCAR history.

One of the beauties of sports is comparing history and events to one another and NASCAR is no different. So where does the 2011 pinnacle season stack up against others over NASCAR's sixty-plus year history? 

Here's my view of the Top 10 years in NASCAR racing including competition, championship implications and historic significance since the first green flag was thrown in 1949:

No. 10

1949 - The year it all started and Red Byron won the very first championship. Byron won two of the season's eight races and beat Lee Petty for the title to send NASCAR hurdling forward on its path toward becoming stock car racing's premiere series.

No. 9 

2001 - A season that was marred by the tragic loss of Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500 was ironically also a watershed year for the sport and one many believe was the launching pad for NASCAR to join the level of other major league sports. The landmark network television deal with FOX and NBC brought NASCAR to millions of new fans with Jeff Gordon winning his fourth Sprint Cup Series championship.

No. 8 

1967 - Richard Petty won a remarkable 27 races including ten straight to dominate the year and establish his place among the sport's world elite. "The King" and his amazing performance brought attention to NASCAR from outside its somewhat insulated fan base and helped cement the Petty legend.

No. 7 

1972 - The start of the "Modern Era" also welcomed in R.J. Reynolds as series sponsor and the birth of the WInston Cup put NASCAR squarely on the map of big time sports. Suddenly NASCAR was known beyond its Southeastern roots and Bobby Allison won the championship on the strength of his ten victories, beating Petty in the championship race by 123 points.

No. 6 

1981 - Darrell Waltrip burst onto the NASCAR scene in a flash of controversy and brilliance behind the wheel. Waltrip was the first of the new breed of driver to come into the NASCAR world, a combination of talent behind the wheel and personality in front of a camera or microphone. Waltrip edged Allison bu 72 points to take the title.

No. 5 

1998 - Jeff Gordon rewrote the record books in an astonishing season that saw the "Golden Boy" take 13 victories and simply obliterate the competition. Gordon has a four-race winning streak in the summer stretch as well as a pair of back to back victory runs that helped pave the way for what will most certainly be an induction into the Hall of Fame.

No. 4 

2009 - Jimmie Johnson won his fourth straight Sprint Cup title but it didn't come easy by any means. Johnson had to out battle his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin for the crown by 41 points. But the year was the first with double file restarts which completely changed the complexion of many races and also was the first season of NASCAR's testing ban that helped level the playing field on track.

No. 3 

2004 - The first year of the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup format saw Kurt Busch win the title in dramatic fashion, hanging on to a slim lead in the season finale at Homestead and dodging a variety of challenges including losing a wheel coming to pit road for a late stop. Busch edged Johnson by a mere eight points for the championship and NASCAR's radical new playoff system got off to a thrilling start.

No. 2 

1992 - Until last week's finale at Homestead, the season ending race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1992 was at the top of the list. Alan Kulwicki prevailed as the unlikeliest of NASCAR champions, somehow willing his underfunded and independent race team to the top of the heap. Kulwicki led the lost laps and finished second to Bill Elliott in the Atlanta Hooters 500 to cap the title run and prevail in the three man race that also included Davey Allison. The thrilling championship scenario was the finishing touch on a competitive campaign that saw twelve different winners.

No. 1 

2011 - It's hard to imagine how a year can be better than the one that just finished. The number of different winners, first time winners and dramatic race for the championship is for now the gold standard of NASCAR seasons.

The 2012 campaign is only a little more than two months away. It will be interesting indeed to see what NASCAR can do for an encore after this year's effort.

 
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Comments

Since: Sep 24, 2006
Posted on: November 24, 2011 1:08 pm
 

NASCAR 2011 season best in sport's history

I'll concede it was a great ending, but the season was far from the best ever. The racing is lacking excitement. Very little side by side racing all season long. With the exception of Martinsville there were few exciting races. Even Bristol has gotten almost boring with the reconfiguration of the track and COT.



Since: Nov 30, 2008
Posted on: November 24, 2011 10:47 am
 

NASCAR 2011 season best in sport's history

Following racing long Pete? not long enough, #1 is 1979, Heck Darrell Waltrip still says he won that title battle with the King RP.
Nascar scored DW a lap down giving RP the title by 11 points in a great battle all year, not just 10 races, and you didnt even list this year in your rankings, you messed up my friend, and 1992 beat this year and I will tell you why.


You didnt have the chase, every race counted, lets be honest, the first 26 races Smoke was nowhere to be seen, sure he had a great 10 races, but barely even getting in the chase, his fans even had post here on CBS calling him done.

You praise Bayne winning the Daytona 500, I think that race was a joke, Bayne isnt a very good driver yet and for a young not very talented driver to win the super bowl of Nascar was and is a joke. The very next race he entered where you actually had to drive and set up a car I believe he crashed and caused the very first yellow, that was predictable and even today Jack Roush knows he isnt ready even today.

Also 2011 was a disaster on the plate tracks, we had push racing where good cars that didnt have partners had no chance, we had half the field in these races that had no chance of winning because you had to be pushed to win, Nascar knows this was a joke and is trying to fix it, they made a big step forward with the last test from what I saw from the test, they even tried what I said long ago, smaller spoiler, more gear and a bigger plate.  

They will have a better product in Feb. I do believe, if they qualify cars alone near 200 MPH we will see a better show and someone like Bayne won't win I bet you that.


Wrecking, Boys have at at! You yourself Pete have wrote several times this year about how sad paybacks are, so in turn how can you say this was the best year ever, doesnt make sense. Yes no secret I am a Kyle Busch Fan, But he was targeted unfairly by the media and fans that just piled on just for hatered, that's ok, I have seen it before, Richard Petty, Dale Sr., DW. Jeff Gordon all very hated drivers, booed unmercifully and all of them treated like criminals. But the very next race the #83 wrecks a chaser and causes a yellow by wrecking the #17 was the same exact same thing, I dont care if it was under yellow or not, Nascar got a another Black Eye for there inconsistency by the same media that overlooked Stewart's felony charge for throwing a helmet down under, overlooked Richard Childress's premeditated assault that could have had jail time if Kyle pressed charges and then we have Kevin Harvick saying KB would never win the truck owners title or the cup title this year, he would see to it, and that lead to Kyle being so aggresive toward Hornaday, KHI ( now out of business ) and KBM feuded all year, in and out of the garages but the media all but ignored it.

We have a team like RFR and an owner that is a Jack arse like Roush, that calls his drivers trash that in turn will hurt his resume, and in turn the #17 a race Championship winning team that as of this writing doesnt have a sponsor, and the same out of control owner almost lost his prize driver Edwards because of his arrogance and it took Ford, the first time in history a manufacturer got involved signing a driver to keep him in a Ford. 


Best year ever! not even close my friend, I did enjoy the last 40 laps at Homestead, I hate yellows and the racing was great those 40 laps, now maybe Nascar won't have so many late race yellows on purpose and let the fastest cars win.


I wrote letters about all of this to M&Ms Mars, Interstate Batteries, Toyota and Mike Helton personally.


You would be surprised, but I have responses from all four saved, and Kyle Busch fans responed overwhelmingly to these people and for that I am proud to be a part of the "Rowdy" Nation, he is, a never was in that much trouble with these folks, they see the numbers and the TV ratings this guy gets, good or bad. I havent been on here for awhile, but I spent a lot of time defending Rowdy with these companies and people and I am proud of the responses I got, they know the unfairness that has happened and Mike Helton even got a scare by what Mars Corp. told him, Mars didn't just teach Kyle a lesson the last two races, they taught Nascar one that is a fact when you talk about sponsors, see RFR. 


Best ever, I just showed you why it wasnt even close, Top 10 sure.     
   
 
Yeah it was great year, but it stunk of high heaven my friend....   Stunk to high heaven   Spikes.
      
;   



Since: Aug 31, 2006
Posted on: November 23, 2011 8:40 pm
 

NASCAR 2011 season best in sport's history

@justareader3.....I must be one of those Newbies you mentioned because i thought this year was as exciting as hell.  I started following NASCAR in 2004 when I moved to Michigan and so many guys I met there were into it we did a NASCAR racing league, I drafted J. Gordon Kurt Busch and B. Labonte and was glued to the set every week seeing how my team did against the competition, and have been a fan ever since.  2004 to me was either the best or second best along with this year.  This year so many guys were so close until the last race where there were only two left, and what a final race!  Stewart coming back from 40th after grill damage to win when nothing short of a win would do was amazing.  2004 was also amazing, it all came down to a restart very late in the race with Gordon, Johnson and Busch all having good shots to win on that final restart.

If NASCAR racing was better than this in prior years, all I can say is I'm sorry I wasn't a fan then, I must have really missed something great.  I now go to Darlington every year with my brother, sitting at the end of turn 4, what a weekend it always is.



Since: Aug 19, 2006
Posted on: November 23, 2011 6:54 pm
 

NASCAR 2011 season best in sport's history

Um...NO, NOT the best.... only if you're a recent newbie fan like Petey here....  The racing has gotten so BORING I missed the race, and didn't even 'miss' it, had to check the scores later to make sure a Chevy driver had won.... really, the only really good thing about this season, was CHEVY winning it's what, 9th consequtive Manufacturers Cup now?  I guess it's a big relief to me that Mr Vanilla Carl Edwards DIDN'T win it.....ha.....


IMHO, the '92 season finale was far and away the best season finish NASCAR has EVER had... even tho' it was 3 Ford drivers competing for the title, it had us holding our collective breath all through the race as we watched the ebb and flo of the title points standings... and the best finish possible as independent Owner/Driver Alan Kulwicki, in his No. 7 HOOTERS Tbird on HOOSIER tires, won his first and only NASCAR championship WINSTON CUP!!!!!    Rest in Peace Alan, we miss you here bro!!!!


Petey here can't even SAY Winston Cup.... seems to PAIN him some how.... He wants to think that ALL the Cups up till now were S****T Cups..... poor feller.... trying to rewrite history like all the other petty power brokers new to their positions...  


Yawn.  Nice to see Chevy power will be back at Indianapolis this spring....:) 




Since: Nov 23, 2011
Posted on: November 23, 2011 6:30 pm
 

NASCAR 2011 season best in sport's history

It is not the best of all time, it is second in my opinion. The 1992 ending is still better, with Davey getting out of the car so defeated, Alan winning because Terry stayed out for two extra laps.  But saying the sport is dying is totally wrong; it is on the up swing, TV ratings are higher, attendance is up, and I went to my first race in 8 years, and it was fantastic, NASCAR and the track did a great job of getting the cars in and out, the consession prices were way below MLB and NFL, I remeber in the early 90's when 3 or 4 cars would finish on the lead lap, you knew who was going to win by the 3/4 mark of the race, now you don't know who will win until the last pit stop.  You didn't elaborate on what was great, but right now you have to watch every race.  Just a short 10 years ago the Championship was decided 2 or 3 races from the end and that totally sucked.



Since: Apr 23, 2008
Posted on: November 23, 2011 5:12 pm
 

NASCAR 2011 season best in sport's history

Best of all time - Bull SH**. NASCAR has totally ruined what once was great. Sorry but I haven't attended a race in two years and don't believe that will change. Dying sport.



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