NASCAR Season Review and Look Ahead to 2012

The new nose that NASCAR is using for the 2011...
Trever Bayne won the Daytona 500 for Wood Brothers Racing. Image via Wikipedia

It’s been a great year in Nascar. We’ve seen a lot of great stories unfold, new winners and emerging names throwing their hats into the ring for future sprint cup championship contention.

We saw the season open with a very memorable Daytona 500. This race premièred to the masses the new style of racing at the super speedways, tandem drafting.  It may not be so prevalent next year due to various technical changes but this year was certainly exciting to watch.

In the first part of the season, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch really asserted themselves as serious contenders to dethrone Jimmy Johnson in 2011. Kevin Harvick later joined in with back to back wins before he and his team flew under the radar for most of the remainder of the year.

When it came down to it in the chase though, it came down to a titanic fight between two very strong drivers with two completely opposing personalities, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. Stewart had appeared out of contention for practically the entire year, only barely managing to scrape into the chase without a single win. Once the chase started however, he and his team simply caught fire, doing the unthinkable and winning half of the 10 races to snatch the title away from Carl Edwards at the final race. They weren’t even separated by a point at the chequered flag and it came down to the most wins, which Tony won at 5 to 1.

It’s tough for Carl but he can still be immensely proud of his effort this year. To finish on equal points to a man who won 5 out of the 10 chase races without winning one himself shows unbelievable consistency to a degree possibly never seen before by both drivers. I hope Carl bounces back and wins the title next year but this year’s championship was completely deserved by Tony. If he hadn’t won after the chase performance he displayed, there would have been outrage and calls for the points system to be further changed before next season so in that respect, the right man won.

There are so many moments from this year that were memorable. Kasey Khane winning in Phoenix for Red Bull in their penultimate race as a team owner was a special one. Kyle Busch’s many ups and downs were a major talking point. He needs to cut out all of the controversies that continue to surround him and maybe next year he can contend in the chase rather than implode. There are too many others to mention but it was a great year filled with excitement and intrigue.

In the Nationwide series, it was great to see Ricky Stenhouse Jr. show what he could do and win the championship in that series. He’s definitely a great talent who should be the future of the sport in sprint cup in the next few years. He and Trevor Bayne should be the next generation of Roush Fenway Ford stars.

Danica Patrick showed in 2011 that she had the talent necessary to succeed in stock car racing. She improved greatly on her 2010 performance and I expect her to elevate her game hugely once again now that her full focus will be on Nascar now that she’s left the IndyCar circuit where she hasn’t been particularly successful in the last few years. It’s also going to be very interesting to see how she can perform in her limited starts in the Sprint Cup. No one will be expecting much from her so she could surprise a few people.

Looking ahead to next year, I think it could be another classic season. It’s unlikely that the chase will live up to this year’s but you never know in this sport. I would expect Stewart and Edwards to be strong again, and Jimmie Johnson will have a point to prove after he couldn’t make it 6 in a row this year. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin should be contenders for Joe Gibbs and if Joey Logano can step his game up a bit, then you never know. Brad Keselowski was a revelation this year and he won’t be as under the radar in 2012 but should still be very good. A.J. Allmendinger takes over from Kurt Busch in the other Penske car and with a better car may be up to challenging for wins but the jury is out there.

Kurt Busch himself has just been confirmed with Phoenix Racing in 2012 after he was dropped by Penske for his poor behaviour. He’ll replace Landon Cassil from what I understand. I don’t know if that car will be fast or reliable enough to make him a contender but if not, he’s shot himself in the foot. There are so many other great drivers to watch: new Hendrick recruit Kasey Khane should be a contender with a strong car, and Jeff Gordan and Kevin Harvick can never be counted out. I’m probably forgetting a few but it just goes to show how strong and competitive the sport is when you compare it to F1 for example.

I’m looking forward to the Daytona 500. It should be fantastic.