This week, FOXSports.com will offer its own series of NASCAR awards to close out the 2011 season. In this segment, NASCAR on FOX’s Darrell Waltrip, Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond, FOXSports.com Senior NASCAR Editor Jorge Mondaca, FOXSports.com Senior NASCAR writer Lee Spencer, FOXSports.com NASCAR writers Holly Cain and Rea White and SPEED NASCAR writer Mike Hembree weigh in on which moment from the 2011 season will be the most enduring.
Moment of the Year
Waltrip: I can find all kinds of moments during the year — I can look at the great finishes we had, the first-time winners, etc. But there are a couple of things that stick out in my mind, and I go back to the Chase for the Sprint Cup because that’s when the defining moments of the year happened: Tony Stewart’s incredible rally at Martinsville Speedway — I think that drive at Martinsville won him the championship. That was sort of a wild-card race, and by performing one of the best drives I’ve ever seen to pull off that win, I think, propelled him to the championship because it gave him a big boost while his title rival Carl Edwards struggled all day. Another top moment of the year, which was pretty important and went a little unnoticed, happened a few weeks later at Phoenix International Raceway when Stewart passed Jeff Burton on the last lap of the race. Watching that race, I was thinking, “Wow, Tony’s driving hard and really putting the pressure on Burton — he’s jeopardizing getting into a wreck or having a problem.” But that pass gave Stewart another point. He wouldn’t have been tied with Carl if that hadn’t of happened, which proved crucial a week later when he ended the season tied at the top of the standings and won the title on the most-wins tiebreaker. There are all types of moments throughout the year, but those two during the Chase proved to be defining moments.
McReynolds: This was a tough one. Options ranged from Regan Smith winning the Southern 500 to Jeff Gordon breaking his tie with DW and Bobby Allison for third on the all-time wins list — the list went on and on. This one might not get the unanimous vote from everyone else, but I just thought, because of all the connections and everything that tied into it, I’ve listed Paul Menard’s win at the Brickyard 400. To see it be his first one, the connections the Menards have at Indy, that’s what I’ve ended up concluding.
Hammond: I still think moment of the year has to be that fantastic finish at Talladega. For that one brief moment, to see all those cars basically suspended, in that stop-action camera, to see them all going for the win, that moment is hanging in my head.
Jensen: Brad Keselowski winning at Pocono Raceway four days after breaking his ankle and wrenching his back in a crash at Road Atlanta. A gutsy move if there ever was one.
Spencer: Tony Stewart coming from behind in the points and winning the championship in the only way possible — with a victory in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Stewart battled through adversity from the opening laps with a punctured grille, further damage on the nose following contact with David Reutimann and a hung lugnut on a late pit stop that dropped the No. 14 Chevrolet back in the pack. But each time Stewart vowed to come back — and did.
Cain: When Tony Stewart prophetically radioed to his crew, “They’re going to feel like (expletive) after we kick their (expletive) after this.’’ Stewart made the bold declaration after dropping to 40th place with a hole in the front of his car’s grille a handful of laps into his must-win season finale. Whether he was trying to motivate himself or encourage his crew, it worked. He ultimately passed 118 cars that evening on his way to the race win and his third Cup championship.
White: This was it. The championship was on the line. Tony Stewart and Darian Grubb knew they had to win the race to snare the title. So what happens? They opt to push the fuel window so they can make the race on one less stop than the competition. What happens? The gamble works — and Stewart nets his third career Cup title.
Mondaca: Seeing two heavyweights of the sport, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, battling head-to-head at the conclusion of the final three races of the season to decide the championship is something we may never see happen again. It is absolutely the dream scenario, and we got to experience it in 2011.
Hembree: Trevor Bayne crossing the finish line first in the Daytona 500 and the celebration that followed along the frontstretch.