Blog Entry

2011 Winners and Losers

Posted on: December 28, 2011 10:37 am
Edited on: December 30, 2011 9:52 am
By Pete Pistone

Image Detail
(NASCAR enjoyed an overall solid season in 2011 with competitive racing, better attendance and higher TV ratings)

We're days away from turning the calendar to 2012 and putting the old year in the rear view mirror.

Some will be celebrating accomplishments this New Year's weekend while others try to forget what took place in the previous twelve months.

  Here are the 2011 winners and losers:


After a series of down seasons the sport as a whole came back with a vengeance in 2011. The epic Sprint Cup Series championship battle between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards was just the icing on the cake. The year saw eighteen different winners and five first time victors as the competition level soared. Off the track NASCAR enjoyed a resurgence at the box office. Although still not generating weekly sellouts, attendance was better than the previous campaign thanks in no small part to several tracks offering attractive ticket packages. Television ratings were also up particularly during the Chase as the NASCAR playoff schedule generated a much larger audience than the 2010 disappointment. Overall big league stock car racing enjoyed a stellar season.

  He wrote himself off as a championship contender once before the Chase began and a second time even after winning the first two races of the playoffs. But Stewart roared back in impressive fashion to win five races on the Chase schedule including a performance for the ages in the Homestead season finale to win the race and in turn take the title from Edwards by virtue of a tiebreaker. He became the first owner-driver since Alan Kulwicki in 1992 to win the crown and although his circumstances are different from how the independent driver operated his business, Stewart's accomplishments in 2011 were still remarkable.


  NASCAR decided to do something about Sprint Cup drivers dominating the Nationwide and truck series by employing a new rule mandating drivers pick which championship to compete for in 2011. While Cup drivers still won their share of races in the second and third tier divisions, they were left out of the title picture allowing the spotlight to shine on younger talent in each series. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. edged veteran Elliott Sadler for the Nationwide crown while Austin Dillon brought a championship to grandfather Richard Childress. Victory lane saw its share of Cup visitors but it was refreshing to tell the championship stories with some new names and talent.


  The sport's most popular driver is still winless since 2008 but there was a definite on track improvement for Earnhardt in 2011. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity for Junior Nation, their favorite son was competitive again. Earnhardt was in the hunt for victories on a much more regular basis than his previous three years at Hendrick Motorsports and the addition of new crew chief Steve Letarte to the No. 88 camp produced impressive results. Earnhardt made the Chase and no doubt helped the sport gain additional attention and exposure as his impact on NASCAR is still powerful.  Many believe when Junior gets the spotlight so does NASCAR and 2011 proved that adage again.


  It wasn't too long ago that Keselowski was considered an overly-aggressive driver and someone who wouldn't make it at NASCAR's top level. But in 2011, the Michigan native came into his own and blossomed into a major force by winning three races and earning his way into the Chase as a wild car entry. Keselowski broke his ankle in an August testing crash at Road Atlanta, only to roar back the following Sunday with a win at Pocono to ignite his charge into the playoffs. Along the way Keselowski also became one of the sport's most colorful, articulate and at times outspoken personalities.



  The trio of drivers found themselves without Sprint Cup rides for 2012, all casualties of the sport's volatile nature these days. Ragan was forced out of Roush Fenway Racing when sponsor UPS pulled its full-time status and although was rumored to be in line for the Penske Racing No. 22 and the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 has yet to find employment. Reutimann was knocked out of Michael Waltrip Racing in favor of veteran Mark Martin's availability, no doubt driven by sponsor Aaron's wanting more bang for the buck. Vickers saw Red Bull Racing go out of business and after a series of late season incidents saw his stock drop on the open market. More than anything the economy and financial pressures of finding sponsorship dictated the fates of this trio of drivers.


  His You Tube video depicting Busch's tirade against ESPN pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch in the Homestead garage area was the final straw in a season full of behavioral issues and emotional outbursts by the tempestuous driver. He and team owner Roger Penske agreed to "mutually part ways" at season's end and Busch vowed to get a handle on his emotions while finding a way to "put the fun" back in his racing career. Less than a month after his Penske departure, Busch landed at the upstart Phoenix Racing team for 2012, but most believe it will be a holding pen until a better offer comes along. The question remains whether a major organization and more importantly a sponsor will give Busch another chance.


  The younger Busch brother had a controversial season of his own that included being only the third driver in more than a decade parked for a Sprint Cup race by NASCAR. In the aftermath of his payback crash of Ron Hornaday under caution during a November truck race at Texas, the sanctioning body sat Busch out of the remaining weekend's races including the Nationwide and Cup events. The ramifications of his actions reportedly have cost Busch the opportunity to run any truck races for his own team in 2012 at the request of team owner Joe Gibbs as well as JGR's sponsors. Despite leading the regular season with four wins and entering the Chase as the number one seed, last season will be remembered for Busch bringing his career to a crossroads because of his behavior.

  The Bluegrass State track finally landed a coveted Sprint Cup race after parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc. harvested a date from Atlanta Motor Speedway. But it turned out to be a debacle. The race itself was underwhelming but the traffic and parking problems that took place during the day and night were a nightmare. Thousands of fans were stuck in traffic backups for hours while others who arrived on the property, simply had nowhere to park their cars. To add insult to injury, bombastic track owner Bruton Smith defiantly refused to take any blame for the situation or to issue refunds for fans who simply weren't able to use their tickets because of the issues getting to the track. It was a major black eye for the sport and the speedway on a weekend that should have been a crowning moment.


  Speaking of black eyes, NASCAR suffered a big one during a Nationwide stand alone race at Nashville Superspeedway in July. The pre-race invocation by local Pastor Joe Nelms went from colorful to embarrassing with cringe inducing references to the movie "Talladega Nights" and the pastor's "smoking hot wife." In one fell swoop NASCAR got tossed back into the pit of redneck jokes and hillbilly comparisons and the sport was a laughing stock to most of the general media. In fact ESPN's "Sports Nation" program included the incident as one of its 101 "Jeers of the Year."

For more NASCAR news, rumors and analysis, follow @PPistone on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed 

More NASCAR coverage
Category: Auto Racing

Since: Jan 2, 2010
Posted on: December 28, 2011 10:22 pm

2011 Winners and Losers

I meant 6 wins, still 1>0  the Busch's, the Regan/Ragan's, even the Tasmanian won a race this year. Junior still the most popular...

I can feel the venom brewing in Junior land. 

Since: Jan 2, 2010
Posted on: December 28, 2011 10:19 pm

2011 Winners and Losers

It is more about Pete pandering to the Junior crowd. Junior still cannot find a checkered, even on the crapshoot restrictor races, and yet he is a winner. The Busch brothers, warts and all, win 4 combined races in the big show and they are losers? NASCAR and Pete deserve each other, mediocrity at it's best. 

I hate the Busch brother's antics, but at least they are a threat to win every week, Junior is a threat to be shown on the TV the most every week, i guess that is all that counts in modern NASCAR racing. 

Since: Oct 6, 2008
Posted on: December 28, 2011 9:54 pm

2011 Winners and Losers

Could Pete not find a recent picture ? Thats atleast 5 years old. Its the old cars

Since: Nov 5, 2011
Posted on: December 28, 2011 9:45 pm

Nascar = the #1 loser

After 60 years "in the business" these clowns still don't know how to put on a race. Some rule changes such as for the restrictor tracks occurred on an almost hourly basis. Numerous drivers were subjected secretly to fines and other devices that reek of an instable management. Fans physically attending races such as Kentucky paid a huge price for something that they could not see. Those of us who watch on tv see nothing but a continuous commercial with intermittent shots of DW's face. Helton is absolte disgrace who shouldn't even be on the premises cleaning the bathrooms. France is even worse as an aloof rich man playing with the toy train Daddy left him.

All in all, NASCAR is little but a for profits corpaoration that will seal its coffin nail by nail.   

Now I have to go hurl when I think about the "sport" and where it is going.

Since: Aug 17, 2008
Posted on: December 28, 2011 7:42 pm

2011 Winners and Losers

2011 was an improvement over 2010, but far from the stellar year you seem to have witnessed. Where do you watch the race from? Luxury box or press box? Obviously you don't sit in the grandstands or atop a motorhome in the infield with all those embarassing hillbillies and rednecks! It's rednecks and hillbillies that made and keep this sport going!! Pastor Joe was awesome! Every driver and crew member was cracking up. No one cringed thinking how embarassing it was. IT WAS FUN! I sit as close to the fence as possible at Daytona to watch food fly out of peoples hands and drunk rednecks get blown over when the pack goes by. IT'S FUN! At every track I enjoy helping drunks find their seats. IT'S FUN! I'll bet you like the Chase format. Mr. Pistone, you're probably a nice guy and a true NASCAR fan, but us rednecks don't where rose colored glasses. We see it as it really is. Take off the rosie glasses, loosen up your sphincter and try a race hillbilly style.

Since: Aug 31, 2011
Posted on: December 28, 2011 6:58 pm

2011 Winners and Losers

I agree. I also don't think Kentucky is Bruton's fault. He can't wave a magic wand to order state gov't to build freeway x or divided highway y. Talks are in the plans to help alleviate the problems that occurred this year. I think it will be an improving situation.  I would also add RFR and RPM to the losers column due to their issues with sponsorship.

Since: Dec 28, 2011
Posted on: December 28, 2011 1:13 pm

2011 Winners and Losers

What happened to Reuty really sucks. After 4 years, that team had 2 wins...both by David. You may want to add the Hometead fans to losers for booing Michelle Obama. Personally, I thought what Pastor Joe did was hilarous.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or