Monday, November 17, 2008
Updated: November 25, 10:37 AM ET
Three-time champ Johnson tops list of Blount's Blitz Awards and Razzies
By Terry Blount
A dynasty and domination.
It's a good way to sum up a couple of championship performers in the 2008 season of auto racing.
Jimmie Johnson earned a historic third consecutive Sprint Cup championship, joining NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough as the only men to accomplish the feat.
Now everyone will start asking whether Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus can take the No. 48 Chevrolet team to a fourth straight title in 2009, securing their place as a NASCAR team dynasty for the ages.
Tony Schumacher already has reached that status in the NHRA. He won his fifth consecutive Top Fuel crown and sixth overall in the Army dragster.
If motorsports greatness is what you're looking for, this was your year. But it's only a small part of the story for us in the third annual Blount's Blitz Awards and Razzies.
Here's a look at best/worst, good/bad, highs/lows, funniest and saddest moments of the 2008 season:
• Most Historic Moment -- Johnson's third straight Cup crown. Thirty years after Yarborough became the first man to win three consecutive championships, Johnson joined him on the exclusive list. All of Johnson's titles came in a playoff format. Yarborough's came in a full-season points total. Which is tougher? You be the judge.
• Crew Chief for the Ages -- Chad Knaus one-upped his partner in one category. Knaus became the first crew chief in NASCAR history to win three consecutive championships.
• Driver of the Year -- Tony Schumacher. A tough choice, but Schumacher won a remarkable 15 of 24 events, including 10 of the last 12 races. Granted, this wasn't the strongest year for Top Fuel competition, but Schumacher was as close to perfect as you'll ever see in a racing machine.
• Crew Chief of the Year -- Alan Johnson, the master guru of Schumacher's success. He guided Schumacher back to the top after he joined Don Schumacher Racing in the middle of the 2003 season.
Johnson now has eight Top Fuel crowns, winning three as Gary Scelzi's tuner. But Johnson will move on next year and run a new two-car operation. It will be interesting to see who fares better -- Johnson's new team or Schumacher without him.
• Best Move -- Kyle Busch's going to Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch took a major step upward as a serious championship contender in his first year at JGR. He won eight Cup events and led the standings most of the regular season. Things didn't work out for Busch in the Chase, but it shouldn't take away from an amazing season; he won a total of 21 races, including 10 Nationwide events and three Truck races.
• Best Gift -- Tony Stewart's becoming a Cup team owner for free. Stewart starts a new chapter in his career next season as the man in charge at Stewart-Haas Racing. And it didn't cost him a dime. He brought in over $30 million in sponsorship, along with adding fellow driver Ryan Newman and a core group of talented workers in Cup racing.
• Gutsiest Pass Attempt -- Carl Edwards, calling it his "banzai move" going for the win by trying the old slide move on Jimmie Johnson off Turn 4 of the last lap at Kansas Speedway. Edwards got under Johnson, but slid up the track and scraped the wall. Edwards still finished second.
• Biggest Flop -- The open-wheel invasion in NASCAR. Dario Franchitti lasted half a season before he was out from a lack of sponsorship. Patrick Carpentier lost his ride and Jacques Villeneuve's Cup career was over almost before it started. Sam Hornish Jr. didn't post a top-10 finish in his rookie year and didn't qualify for the final event.
• Best Merger -- The IRL and Champ Car's finally coming together after a bitter 12-year separation that severely damaged open-wheel racing in America. The problems from the split will take years to overcome, but the merger was a huge step in the right direction.
• Most Surprising Merger -- Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing's becoming one organization. Teresa Earnhardt and Chip Ganassi are partners. What's next? Queen Elizabeth sharing the monarchy with Sean Connery?
• Best Quote -- NASCAR team owner Jack Roush's calling Toyota executive Lee White an "ankle-biting Chihuahua."
• Historic Victory -- Danica Patrick's win in Japan to become the first woman to go to Victory Lane at a major open-wheel event.
• Best Safety Decision -- The NHRA's reducing the distance of a pass from a 1,320 feet (a quarter mile) to 1,000 after Kalitta's death. Some traditional drag-racing fans didn't like it, but it was the responsible thing to do. And it actually improved competition and made the racing closer.
• Best Cat Fight -- Danica Patrick and Milka Duno's arguing on pit road before Duno threw a towel in Patrick's face.
• Worst Tantrum -- Patrick's stomping down pit road during the Indy 500 to try to confront Ryan Briscoe before she was escorted back over the wall by a security official.
• Best Executive -- Jay Frye of the Red Bull Racing Team. It's hard to see because the two-car Toyota operation has yet to win a Cup race, but Frye has done a remarkable job in moving the team forward in one year, taking the worst team in Cup in 2007 and setting the foundation for a successful future.
Tony Stewart thought enough of Frye that he tried to hire him to run the show for his new team next year, but Red Bull officials wisely made Frye an offer he couldn't refuse.
• Worst Trend -- A Cup driver winning the Nationwide Series title for the third consecutive year. Congratulations, Clint Bowyer, on being the Cup Lite champion. Maybe next year AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee will post 20 victories in Toledo.
• The True Nationwide Champion -- Brad Keselowski. He finished third in the standings but first among the competitors who aren't full-time Cup drivers.
|Carl Edwards gets a Blitz Award for his wall-banging, last-lap "banzai move" at Kansas Speedway.|
• Saddest Moment -- Veteran NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta's losing his life in a crash during qualifying at Englishtown, N.J.
• Best Championship Battle 1 -- Lewis Hamilton's becoming the first black driver to win a Formula One championship, edging Felipe Massa by one point. Massa won the final event in Brazil, but Hamilton made a last-lap pass to give him just enough points to win the title.
• Best Championship Battle 2 -- The Craftsman Truck Series. It came down the final race when Johnny Benson edged Ron Hornaday Jr. by seven points. Benson won it by finishing one spot ahead of Hornaday (sixth to seventh) in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
• Smartest Cutback -- NASCAR's deciding to implement a no-testing policy in 2009 to cut costs in difficult economic times. Many Cup teams spent more than $1 million a season per car to run test sessions.
The ban included the traditional two weeks of testing at Daytona in January. Anything that cuts expenses and makes the longest season in sports a little shorter is a good thing.
• Most Disappointing Legal Problems -- Two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves. The man known as the nicest guy in all of auto racing is battling serious tax-evasion charges.
A year ago he was on top of the world after winning "Dancing with the Stars" and becoming a national celebrity. Now's he trying to save his career, and everyone in racing is hoping he does.
• Worst Race -- The ridiculous sideshow of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. Constant tire failures caused NASCAR to throw caution flags every 10 laps to allow the teams to change tires before they exploded.
• Best New Racing Facility -- The zMAX Dragway. Bruton Smith's latest racing palace is the Taj Mahal of the NHRA. The Concord, N.C., facility even has four racing lanes, although no one has figured out how to use them all yet.
• Most Controversial Story -- The Rolling Stone magazine piece on Tony Stewart. If you haven't read it, be warned. This yarn won't be listed on the church bulletin board.
• Worst Loss -- The death of Paul Newman. Racing was the passion of his life for 40 years. He partnered with Carl Haas and built one of the most successful open-wheel teams in racing.
• Best Schedule Swap -- Moving the Labor Day weekend event from Auto Club Speedway in California to Atlanta in a three-way swap with Talladega that gives Cali a Chase race next year.
• Wise Rule Change -- NASCAR's saying it will implement a plan in 2009 to randomly drug test drivers and crew members. But it didn't happen until after Aaron Fike revealed he competed in Truck races while using heroin.
|The death of Scott Kalitta prompted the NHRA to shorten the race distance in the nitro classes.|
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.