Monday, December 7, 2009

What are the top 5 NASCAR stories of the 2000s?

Over the last decade, there have been so many big stories in NASCAR, so today I’m going to be talking about the top 5 biggest stories so far this decade. Where do we begin, well how about with one of the biggest shocking stories of that even I still think about today.

1. Death of Dale Earnhardt: On February 18, 2001, at the end of the Daytona 500 as his company DEI was about to win with Michael Waltrip and his son was finishing runner up, in a turn 4 crash, the sport lost one of the best drivers in NASCAR history, Dale Earnhardt. I’m thought about that day from time to time and it has always left me speechless, it’s like losing a member of your family. But I will say that following Dale’s death, NASCAR reacted by putting into place all of the safety that we have today including the Car of Tomorrow, the head and neck restraint and the safer walls. It was great to see that this October, NASCAR announced that Dale Earnhardt will be part of the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Dale Earnhardt would always be known as one of the best drivers in NASCAR, top 2 for sure next to Richard Petty.

2. Jimmie Johnson four-peat: Jimmie Johnson, a Hendrick Motorsports driver that has yet to get the credit and respect that he has earned, made history this year in Homestead when he and the #48 team captured his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. No one in NASCAR has ever won four consecutive Cup Series championship before, only Cale Yarborough came close when he won three consecutive NASCAR Championships back in 1976, 1977 and 1978.

But where does Jimmie Johnson rank among the best drivers? Just outside the top 5 or fifth. The top 5 greatest drivers has to include Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough and now Jimmie Johnson.

3. The Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship: Back in 2004 when Nextel signed on as title sponsor of the Cup Series after Winston left, the chase for the Nextel cup was introduced. This type of playoff format had never been done in NASCAR before and while it still needs some tweaks from time to time, the chase format in my eyes has made the racing better as well as racing for the championship. But there is no such thing as Jimmie Johnson proofing the chase.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. leaves DEI and join Hendrick Motorsports: NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for 7 years running first came into the Cup Series in 1999 driving for his father’s company DEI. Dale Jr. would win his first of 17 wins at Texas in 2000, but after months of speculation, on May 10, 2007, Dale Jr. announced that he would be leaving DEI to join a new team in 2008. The next month, on June 13, 2007, e would announce that he has signed a five-year deal to drive at Hendrick Motorsports. Whatever Dale Jr. does is big when it comes to NASCAR, so this announcement to leave DEI and join Hendrick Motorsports was history in the making, no one could really believe that he would leave DEI.

5. The Car of Tomorrow: The Car of Tomorrow that was introduced into the Cup Series in 2007 in a few select races, the first one being at Bristol Motor Speedway. The new COT has made the racing better at several tracks including Phoenix, Martinsville, New Hampshire and more, but has made the racing worse at other tracks. The car is described as ugly, but its best feature is the safety that has been proven time and time again from Las Vegas by Jeff Gordon, Texas by Michael McDowell, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman at Talladega and more. The COT is a huge step in the right direction for safety, but a giant step back for looking like a car off the showroom floor. NASCAR still has issues with the car including getting it to race at some tracks including California and with the fans in terms of looks.

If you look back so far over the past decade, you will find a lot of big stories, but you will be hard press to find anything bigger than these five stories above. However if I were doing the top 10, I would have to include not only the arrival of Toyota not only into NASCAR, but into the Sprint Cup Series, that was big, but not as big as JGR leaving Chevrolet to join Toyota, that’s where they Toyota shined. And Tony Stewart becoming 50% owner of Haas Racing and forming Stewart-Haas Racing. Do you agree?

By the way, I got the idea for this article from Jay at "From the Marbles - NASCAR Blog", check that article out.