Saturday, December 12, 2009

John's Top 10 Motorsports Stories of 2009

The first of two stereotypical blogger posts--my own personal best Motorsports Moments of 2009.

10. Talladega Continues to Produce the Worst Racing on Planet Earth

I've said my piece here and here about this crock of shit masquerading as "racing," so I won't delve into it any further. It's wrong, it's maddening, and NASCAR refuses to do anything about--until, as Carl Edwards said, someone else dies.

Honourable Mention: Brad Keselowski doing exactly what he was forced to do by NASCAR's system to win. The fact he was a winner on a part-time schedule, in a car that's barely in the owner's points and may never have had even a top 10, speaks volumes of what's wrong with Talladega. As much as we like to see underdogs win, we don't want to see it this way.

9. Johnson Wins Fourth in a Row to Cap an Awful Racing Season

With a few exceptions, like both races at Martinsville, the race at Watkins Glen and Darlington, 2009 was the most boring season in recent memory. Virtually no on-track passing (at least compared to what stockcar racing is SUPPOSED to be), fuel mileage race after fuel mileage race, horrific wrecks at Talladega, very few on-track rivalries, and yet another contrived Chase playoff that had no one biting their nails, while under the old points system Stewart and Johnson would've dueled for the title to the very last lap at Homestead.

Not to take away anything from Johnson and his team, who have learned to play the system better than anyone else in the garage--don't blame the players, blame the system.

(Then again, this system has forced him to race like a pussy--including sitting at the very back, out of the lead draft at Talladega while 30 cars wrecked in front of him, allowing him to finish 6th. Not sure if NASCAR or Johnson pisses me off more in that case.)

Of all the problems, only the ridiculous and inconsistent race start times were fixed by NASCAR for next season. Expect more of this awful boredom next season, due to bullshit rules, an awful car design, and lots of boring, boring tracks.

Honourable Mention: Carl Edwards goes winless after winning 9 races last year. Despite being the annointed one who would finally take Johnson's crown, Edwards struggled all season, but still managed to get into the Chase.

8. Jenson Button and Brawn Win Formula 1 World Championship

Despite what the haters think, Button did a bang up job this season, winning six of the first seven rounds of the championship, including Monaco. Many complained that he did so only because of a gray-area in the rules allowing a double diffuser on the car, but truth be told his championship form was not displayed in the first half of the season, but the second half.

Technology as always is the #1 thing going in F1, and once everyone else's tech had caught up with Brawn's, Button struggled to have a winning car. But lost in talk of Button's poor qualifying performances, people ignore the fact that he probably executed more daring, skillful passes in the remaining ten races than most F1 drivers pull off in their entire career. This was particularly true in Brazil, where he clinched the championship coming from 9th to finish 5th, with daring passes on Grosjean, Nakajima, and the fiery rookie Kamui Kobayashi.

Then, having performed like a racer's racer in Brazil, he went to Abu Dhabi as champion, again qualified poorly, then had an awesome battle with Mark Webber at the end for 2nd place, eventually settling for 3rd by only a couple of car lengths at the end of the race. Listen to most racing enthusiasts and they'll tell you it was the best on-track battle all season--listen to the haters, and they'll hate on Button for not being able to "easily dispatch" Mark Webber like a world champion should. I call these people idiots.

Honourable Mention: Rubens Barrichello wins two Grands Prix for Brawn GP, despite being the oldest driver in the field and in what many felt were the waning years of his career.

7. Dario Franchitti Wins a Closely Constested IRL Championship, Dozens of Fans Rejoice, And the Series Reaches New Levels of Boredom

You would think that three guys having a mathematical shot at the championship heading into the final race would be exciting, but the IRL went out with a wimper--in fact, the entire season was a joke, so really the whole thing was a wimper.

Target Chip-Ganassi and Penske Racing combined to win sixteen of seventeen races--the lone underdog to win was Justin Wilson at Watkins Glen, who only won after a pit road snafu from Penske's Ryan Briscoe took him out of the lead. And as we all know, passing in the IRL is virtually impossible except at a couple of tracks, so once Wilson was out front, that was that.

The vast, vast majority of passes took place in the pits, with the exception of a really exciting battle at Kentucky between underdog Ed Carpenter and Ryan Briscoe (you can guess who won that.)

To the IRL's credit, unlike NASCAR, they saw how awful the racing was (at Richmond--RICHMOND of all places) and quickly enacted some changes to the aerodynamics--although it didn't help parity at all, as the two Superteams continued to dominate. That, combined with most of the races being broadcast on the Versus Network, which has 13 subscribers, made for a really, really dismal season of racing. The one bright spot, as is often the case, was the 500, with Castroneves winning after clearing his name in court for tax evasion charges. Also, Danica finished 3rd in the same race, the highest ever position for a woman.

Honourable Mention: Danica finishing 3rd at Indy and, despite not winning a race (and no one else did besides Penske and Ganassi), finishes a personal high of 5th in the standings, beating out all the "best of the rest," including former champions Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon.

6. Kimi Räikkönen wins at Spa, Continues to Not Be a Typical F1 Douchebag

A lot of people have sort of glossed over this, but the Umlaut'd one picked up his fourth career victory at Spa-Francorchamps this season, tying him with the legendary Jim Clark--though unlike Clark, Kimi loves Spa. The win was particularly impressive given how poorly the Ferrari performed all season compared to Red Bull, Brawn and McLaren. He knew what equipment he had to work with though, driving from 6th on the grid to 2nd using his KERS boost, and leaving him on the back wing of the Force India car when the safety car came out. From there he passed Fisichella into Les Combes and was able to hold onto the win, his final for Ferrari.

And now he takes a break from F1, after being booted in favour of Alonso, and will go after the WRC Championship, rather than be relegated to an F1 B-Team. He continues to say what he thinks, and just gest in the car and does his job.

Honourable Mention: Mark Webber winning his first two career races, playing the perfect "experienced teammate" to Vettel and, in the early going, fighting for the championship.

5. Kyle Busch wins 20 Races, NWS Championship, Fails to Make Chase

Love him or hate him, you cannot deny the talent, even if he's basically shitting on the Nationwide Series, coming with a Cup-level team to match his Cup-level skills. He dominated the series with 9 wins, and more importantly 11 second-place finishes, breaking another single-season NWS record for 20 Top 2 finishes. He also won seven Camping World Truck races, and four Cup races... And whenever he didn't win, he whined like a petulent child... Only in the NWS and Truck series. Somehow, his PR folks managed to calm him down and make him act respectable in the Cup series, instead of blaming his team--although the latter continued to happen in Truck and NWS when he didn't win.

Perhaps the bigger story was being locked out of the Chase--despite four wins, he had a pretty terrible season, either wrecking or finishing well out of the top 10 when he DIDN'T win. Sensing that maybe his focus was wavering, he finally agreed to focus full-time on Cup in 2010, though he will still race part-time in NWS and Truck. Which is good for the NWS Championship, as someone else might actually have a shot at winning it--but bad for NWS and Truck, as he continues to steal victories away from lesser organizations that are in the series' for a living, not for fun.

Honourable Mention: Mike Bliss wins at Charlotte, then is fired by Phoenix Racing. He then races for three other teams, giving them all solid top 5s and top 10s on the way to a 5th place finish in points. Now he's signed for a start-and-park team in the Cup Series. This former Truck series champion deserves a good ride!

4. Andrew Ranger Puts NASCAR on Notice, and Wins Second NCATS Championship

Another guy I'm not particularly a huge fan of (especially since I'm a Kerry Micks fan), but he is currently "the" Canadian hero in motorsports, and proved it this season, by winning his second NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Championship, with six victories in thirteen races, including his first oval wins at Riverside, Sun Valley and Mosport. He almost swept the road course races too, but was spoiled by our local boy JR Fitzpatrick in Montreal.

Montreal though, more importantly, featured Ranger's best performance of the season, when he ran in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, leading laps, beating and banging and racing hard with Marcose Ambrose, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, eventually finishing a well-deserved 3rd, in the underfunded #11 car. How this kid doesn't have a full-time NWS ride yet is beyond me. Amazing performance--and shades of Gilles Villeneuve.

Honourable Mention: Marcos Ambrose has the win at Montreal in the bag only to overcook it into the final Chicane, narrowly miss hitting the Wall of Champions, and allows Carl Edwards by for his first ever road course win--and in the wet!

3. NCATS Delaware 200

This is a bit of a personal one to me, but seeing NASCAR come to London, Ontario, after CASCAR basically dumped Delaware Speedway a few years ago, was a pretty big deal to me. The stands were overflowing with people, we had a great 50-lap Super Stock race as a warmup, all the big-league pomp and circumstance in the opening ceremonies, and then a pretty awesome 200 lap race that had it all, including home-town favourite DJ Kennington bumping aside the "villian," Don Thompson, Jr, for the win in the final Green/White/Checkered.

NCATS returns in 2010 for the season opener at Delaware this time, and hopefully I'll be pitside, having raced in the Super Stock 50 lapper before it!

Honourable Mention: former CASCAR Champion Dave Whitlock wins NCATS season opener at St. Eustache, then announces his retirement from the sport after a long and storied career.

2. Ron Hornaday Wins 5 Races in a Row, 4th Straight Championship, Generally Continues Being No-Nonsense Racing Badass

Unlike Johnson's supposed "domination" in the boring-ass Chase, Ron Hornaday won his record 4th title in the Camping World Truck Series, which continues to impress and have a ton of great racing at a ton of great tracks.

This season had actually the LEAST exciting championship fight in the last decade or so, with Hornaday really being the class of the field unless Kyle Busch showed up--but it still featured some awesome racing, and first time winners like Timothy Peters and Brian Scott.

Old fashioned badass racing with old fashioned badass drivers, on old fashioned badass race tracks. Who would've thunk it?

Next season promises to be just as exciting, with Hornaday getting a new crew chief, which may cause teething problems and let others catch up. Kyle Busch will also be fielding two trucks of his own, with Taylor Malsam and Bryan Ickler, both of whom are sure to impress. And many other potential winners sit in the field, like Matt Crafton, that asshole Todd Bodine, Mike Skinner, and hopefully a returning Johnny Benson, if Kyle Busch gets his way. And Rowdy himself will show up and win sometimes, without a doubt.

Meanwhile, SPEED TV ratings for the Truck series continue to climb up and up while the Cup Series ratings go down, down down. Which begs the question--when will these sponsors realize the success the Truck series is having, and help these teams out better?

Honourable Mention: Timothy Peters wins his home race at Martinsville.

1. Mark Martin wins Southern 500, Four More Races, Finishes 2nd for a 5th time

Being a fan of Mark since I was 12, I was pleasantly surprised to see him return full-time this season, and his first win at Phoenix had me in good spirits. I expected him to contend, but after those first three DNFs (two engines, one blown R/R tire), I figured that was the end of the season as far as the championship. But Mark is down and never out, and he rallyed from 34th-ish in the points to 8th by the time the Chase locked in. To me his best moment of the season was winning the Southern 500 for the second time, a race which I still contend is more prestigeous and important than anything else in the season other than the Daytona 500. To see him pass Jimmie Johnson, and then pull away, with it clear that Johnson had NOTHING for him, was a refreshing reminder of how Mark used to be in the 90s, and clearly it refreshed him too, and you could see that old hunger return.

He finished 2nd, yet again, in the point standings... But we Martin fans have come to accept that. We know that, much like every other season except '98, there was always that little SOMETHING out of Martin's control that snatched it away. In 1990 it was a legal carb spacer that NASCAR deemed illegal, robbing him of the exact points he needed to win the title. This season, it was undoubtedly that farce of a race at Talladega, where Johnson lulled around at the back for the entire race, slipped through two Big Ones, and finished 6th. Meanwhile Martin, the racer's racer, fought tooth and nail in the top 10 for most of the race, and was looking good until the second-last lap, when he got caught by a spinning car and ended up on his roof. What else is new. We Martin fans have learned to cherish the highs and do our best to ignore the lows.

And he'll win the championship next year, dammit.

Honourable Mention: Kasey Khane wins his first road course race at Sonoma, holding off a hard charging Tony Stewart on TWO restarts. It was also the first win for the new Petty team.

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