ROGER DIEZ: Come-from-behind winning was theme of racing in 2010
For the Nevada Appeal
Well, he did it. Jimmie Johnson is the newly-crowned five time Sprint Cup champion. It wasn’t nearly as easy as his previous four titles, but he and the team pulled it off at Miami-Homestead last Sunday. The note that crew chief Chad Knaus held up for the cameras at the end of the race said it all … “Our TEAM won.” Not since 1992, when Alan Kulwicki did it, has a driver come from behind in the last race to win NASCAR’s biggest title. It’s the first time it has happened under the Chase format.
In the wake of Johnson’s victory, there have been some shakeups at Hendrick Motorsports. Steve LeTarte has been moved over to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team, and that team will now share space with Johnson’s No. 48 crew. Johnson and Jeff Gordon had been teamed previously. The hope is that LeTarte will help rebuild Junior’s confidence and get him back on the winning track. Earnhardt’ former crew chief, Lance McGrew, will join Mark Martin, and Alan Gustafson will move from Martin to Gordon. Knaus and Johnson will remain together, because after five championships in a row, Rick Hendrick would have to be crazy to split them up. Next season also will be Martin’s last in the No. 5 Hendrick Chevy, as Kasey Kahne will take over that ride in 2012 after spending next season at the wheel of the Red Bull No. 83. Anybody taking bets that Johnson won’t win his sixth in a row in 2011?
This season was the year for come-from-behind championship runs. Not only did Johnson overcome a points deficit to win his championship in the final race of the season, but the same thing happened in Formula 1, Indycar, and NHRA Funny Car. Dario Franchitti passed Will Power in the final race (also at Homestead) for the Indycar title, Sebastian Vettel took his Red Bull to a convincing victory at Abu Dhabi to take the F1 driving championship, and John Force won his 15th Funny Car crown in California after coming into the race in second place. I can’t recall a year when similar events have taken place.
Randy Bernard has breathed new life into the Indycar series after moving into the series’ top slot last year. Bernard headed up Professional Bull Riding prior to his selection, and a lot of industry insiders were leery of his background. But Bernard put his efforts into promotion and picked good technical people to ride herd over the rule changes for 2012. So once again, we’ll get to hear the sound of turbocharged engines shrieking their way around Indy in May. Not only that, but with three different engine manufacturers and at least three different aero kits for the mandated chassis, we’ll have some visual variety in the look of the cars as well. I for one can’t wait for 2012 to roll around!
However, before 2012 arrives, there’s the 2011 racing season to look forward to. The Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona is scheduled for the final weekend in January. Jimmie Johnson will once again drive a Daytona Prototype for the Gainsco-Bob Stallings team. Brendan Gaughan has also announced that he will participate in the endurance classic, and I’m sure that other NASCAR and Indycar stars will soon make their plans to drive in the race known. NASCAR will be back on track at Daytona on Feb. 12 with the Shootout, followed by the Daytona 500 on the 20th to kick of the Sprint Cup season. And I expect an announcement any day now that NASCAR drivers will only be allowed to score points in one of the three top series. Word is that when drivers apply for their 2011 NASCAR license, they will have to declare whether they are racing for points in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, or Camping World Truck series. This means that Cup drivers still can race in the other two series, but will not be able to contend for championship points. The official announcement is not expected until January, but Nationwide team owners, including Rusty Wallace, all believe that it is a done deal.