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NASCAR officially ends season with awards banquet in Sin City

Roger Diez
For the Nevada Appeal

The 2011 racing season officially came to a close last night with the NASCAR Sprint Cup awards banquet in Las Vegas. There was lots of hoopla leading up to the grand finale last week, including a “This Ain’t the Newlywed Game” show hosted by Bob Eubanks. Tony Stewart, not content with just the Sprint Cup title, won that show too, partnered by teammate Ryan Newman. Winning crew chief Darien Grubb is leaving the Stewart-Haas organization, to be replaced by Kurt Busch’s crew chief, Steve Addington for 2012. Grubb’s last act for the team was to sit at the head table at last night’s awards banquet.

ESPN reported record viewership for the Homestead-Miami race last weekend. The Neilson ratings for the entire Chase were up 14.8 percent over last year and 18 percent for the season finale. Perhaps the rating slide that has worried NASCAR pundits for the last couple of years may be over?

NASCAR announced last week that the new point system used in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck series will be used in all regional touring series in 2012. This includes the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, NASCAR Canadian Tire series, and the NASCAR Mexico series. In case you have forgotten how it works, the winner of a race will be awarded 43 points plus three bonus points for the win and a bonus point for leading a lap. Second place will get 42 points, third 41, and so on, with one point separating each finishing position. Any driver leading a lap will receive one bonus point, and the driver leading the most laps will get an additional bonus point.

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Sebastian Vettel predictably won the pole for the final Formula 1 race in Brazil last weekend, but transmission problems in the race relegated him to a second-place finish behind teammate Mark Webber. Now the F1 teams go back to their shops to see who can come up with next year’s killer car design. And there will be some driver shuffling for 2012 as well. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen is coming out of retirement to drive for the Renault team, which will be renamed Lotus for the coming season. Raikkonen, 32, has signed a two-year contract to drive for the team.

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In a move that will gladden the hearts of IndyCar fans, teams, and drivers, Brian Barnhart has been removed from Race Control for the 2012 season. Barnhart, one of the last remaining holdovers from the Tony George regime, has been under fire for inconsistency and bad decisions for the past few seasons. According to reports, he will be offered a chance to remain on the IndyCar payroll as president of operations, but will have nothing to do with officiating the races.

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Last January I wrote a profile of J.R. Williams, the 76 year old Midget racer from Carson City. I had planned to travel with J.R. to a race or two this season, but the timing never worked out. Anyway, I got an email from him the other day, after he got back from the Turkey Night race at Irwindale. J.R. tells me he had a successful season, finishing 10th in driver points and eighth in owner points in the Bay Cities Racing Association Dirt Division. In the USAC Ford Focus Midget Division he finished sixth in the Utah series, eighth in the Northern California Pavement series, and ninth in the Western Pavement series.