2009 in review: Sprint Cup Series

There were some outstanding performances – both from a

driving and racing standpoint – that took place during the

recently completed 2009 NASCAR season. The following is a look back

at some of those standout performers and memorable races, as

selected from discussions with the national series directors,

competition department and NASCAR PR managers.

Top Drivers (in alphabetical order)

  • Jimmie Johnson – Made NASCAR history by

    becoming the first driver to win four consecutive NASCAR Sprint

    Cup Series championships … His team has truly reached the

    “dynasty” level … Won a series-high seven

    races, including four during “clutch time” in the

    Chase … Had a series-best Driver Rating of 112.2 …

    Posted 16 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes … Led a

    series-high 2,238 laps … Won three of the first five Chase

    races to put himself in position to claim an unprecedented fourth

    straight title.

  • Mark Martin – At the age of 50, turned in

    perhaps his finest overall season … Finished second in the

    point standings … Was the points leader for four weeks and

    led the standings heading into the Chase … Won five times

    on the year; second most in the series … Claimed a

    career-best seven poles, also tops in the series on the season

    … Posted 14 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes … His

    average starting position of 9.8 led the series while his Driver

    Rating (100.3) was second best in the series … Was

    sentimental favorite to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup

    championship.

  • Tony Stewart – In his first year as a

    driver-owner, turned in just an incredible season … Both of

    his teams – the No. 14 car he drove and the No. 39 car

    driven by Ryan Newman – made the Chase … Won four

    times on the season and also won the 25th running of the NASCAR

    Sprint All-Star Race .. Led the point standings for 13 weeks and

    became the first driver-owner to lead the points since 1992 (Alan

    Kulwicki) and became the first driver-owner since 1998 (Ricky

    Rudd) to win a race … Finished sixth in the final point

    standings … Posted 15 top-five and 23 top10-finishes.

Raybestos Rookie of the Year

  • Joey Logano – Became the youngest driver

    (19) to ever win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race when he won the

    first New Hampshire race in June … Finished a solid 20th in

    the final point standings … Posted three top-five and seven

    top-10 finishes … Driving the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for

    Joe Gibbs Racing, he had some big shoes to fill, as two-time

    series champion Tony Stewart had piloted that car for 10 years

    – but the rookie did an admirable job.

Top Team Owner

  • Rick Hendrick – The leader of Hendrick

    Motorsports also stamped his name in the NASCAR history books in

    2009, winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive NASCAR NASCAR

    Sprint Cup Series title, a record 12th national series

    championship and a record-tying ninth NASCAR Sprint Cup crown

    … His organization also made history by having the

    top-three finishers in the point standings – Jimmie

    Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon …Recipient of the

    prestigious Bill France Award of Excellence at this year’s

    2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony … His

    teams’ recent dominance in the sport can be likened to the

    great dynasties of the New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers and

    Boston Celtics.

Top Breakthrough Performers (in alphabetical order)

  • Marcos Ambrose – In just his second season

    at the NASCAR Sprint Cup level and first full season of

    competition, the affable Australian finished 18th in the point

    standings driving the No. 40 Little Debbie/Kingsford/Clorox

    Toyota for JTG/Daugherty Racing … Posted four top-five and

    seven top-10 finishes … Finished second at Watkins Glen,

    third at Infineon, third at Bristol (2), and fourth at Talladega

    (1).

  • Juan Pablo Montoya – Competing in just his

    third full season of NASCAR racing, this former Indianapolis 500

    winner emerged as one of the top stories of the 2009 season

    … Made the Chase and finished eighth in the final point

    standings … Was a model of consistency the first four races

    of the Chase, finishing third at New Hampshire, fourth at Dover,

    fourth at Kansas, and third at Auto Club Speedway … Was on

    target to win the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, leading 116

    laps, before speeding penalty on pit road doomed his chances

    … As a demonstration of how far he’s progressed

    racing stock cars, he finished second at Pocono (2) and third at

    Martinsville (2) … Posted seven top-five and 18 top-10

    finishes with two poles.

  • David Reutimann – In just his third full

    season of Sprint Cup competition, he stepped up and finished a

    solid 16th in the final point standings … Was in contention

    to make the Chase up until the cut-off race at Richmond …

    Stayed in the top 12 for nine weeks … Won the

    rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600, marking his first NASCAR Sprint Cup

    Series victory … Posted five top-five and 10 top-10

    finishes and had two poles – Texas (1) and Dover (1).

  • Brian Vickers – Broke through to make the

    Chase field … Finished 12th in the final point standings

    … Reached Victory Lane at Michigan (2), marking the first

    NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win for Red Bull Racing … Went on

    a tear at midseason to get into the Chase, finishing 12th or

    better in the final nine races leading up to the Chase …

    Posted four top-five and 13 top-10 finishes, to go along with six

    poles – the second most in the series.

Comeback Driver of the Year

  • Kurt Busch – The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup

    Series champion bounced back from a lackluster 2008 season, when

    he finished 18th in the point standings, to finish fourth in the

    championship points race … Won twice on the season –

    at Atlanta (1) and at Texas (2) … Was consistently ranked

    in the top five in points all season long … Had 10 top-five

    and 21 top-10 performances … Finished the season strong by

    winning at Texas, finishing sixth at Phoenix and fourth at

    Homestead-Miami.

Top Races of the Year (in chronological order)

  • Goody’s 500 at Martinsville Speedway (March

    29) – An aggressive pass of Denny Hamlin on Lap

    485 gave Jimmie Johnson the lead and he pulled away to beat

    Hamlin by .774 seconds and claim his 41st career NASCAR Sprint

    Cup victory and his fifth in the past six races at Martinsville.

    It also gave Hendrick Motorsports its 18th win at the .526-mile

    short track, exactly 25 years after its first series victory at

    this same track. Hamlin, who led a race-high 296 laps, had

    grabbed the lead from Johnson with a bold move to the inside on a

    Lap 456 restart. Entering Turn 3 on Lap 485, Johnson nosed

    beneath Hamlin, who in turn, squeezed Johnson to the inside,

    which forced him to bounce off the curb. Johnson then slid up the

    track, there was contact between the two lead cars and Johnson

    passed for the lead.

  • Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway (April

    26) – In a typical wild and wooly Talladega

    finish, Brad Keselowski was a surprise winner, laying claim to

    his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory. With Carl Edwards’ car

    flying hard into the catch fence behind him, Keselowski crossed

    the finish line just .175 seconds ahead of his mentor, Dale

    Earnhardt Jr. Driving the No. 09 Chevrolet for car owner James

    Finch, Keselowski moved to the inside when Edwards went high to

    block him in the final 400 yards of the 188-lap race. Edwards

    slid back down the track in another attempt to block, but

    Keselowski was already inside his left-rear quarter panel and his

    move to victory was on.

  • Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway (May

    16) – It was the 25th running of the NASCAR Sprint

    All-Star Race and the evening’s action on the race track

    delivered an exciting 100 laps of fierce competition for the

    fans. Tony Stewart passed Matt Kenseth through Turn 2 on Lap 99

    to capture his first all-star race win and his first trip to

    Victory Lane as a driver-owner. Stewart only led the final two

    laps, but that was all he needed. The race was divided up into

    four segments: 50 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps, and a go-for-broke

    10-lap shootout at the end. The fans loved the format and so did

    the drivers.

  • Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway (May

    31) – Restarting eighth on Lap 374 of 400, Jimmie

    Johnson atoned for a slow pit stop and charged through the field

    to run down Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart and win his fourth

    NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover. Johnson, who led a race-high 298

    laps, cleared Stewart for the lead through Turns 3 and 4 on Lap

    398 and pulled away to finish .861 seconds ahead of Stewart.

    Having taken two tires to Johnson’s four during the final

    pit stops for both teams, Stewart repeatedly ran high through the

    corners to try to block Johnson’s line. But, Johnson

    finally found room to the outside through Turns 1 and 2 and

    completed the winning pass through the final two corners.

  • Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway (June

    21) – Kasey Kahne held off road-course ace Tony

    Stewart through a succession of four late-race double-file

    restarts to post his first win at a road course and get Richard

    Petty Motorsports back into Victory Lane – the

    organization’s first win since 1999. After Kahne took the

    lead from Scott Speed on Lap 80, he stayed out in front the rest

    of the way. Stewart’s attempts to pressure Kahne into a

    mistake failed to materialize. Marcos Ambrose made things

    interesting, by charging up through the field after starting from

    the rear because of an engine change to eventually finish

    third.

  • Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway (July

    4) – With Kyle Busch slamming the frontstretch

    wall after an unsuccessful attempt to block, Tony Stewart posted

    his second victory of the season and his third win at the

    mid-summer Daytona race. With a push from teammate Denny Hamlin,

    Busch had taken the lead approaching the white flag and held it

    through Turn 4 of the final lap. But Stewart drove his No. 14

    Chevrolet to the left rear of Busch’s No. 18 Toyota off the

    corner, forcing Busch to the bottom of the track to maintain

    control of his car. Stewart then moved high and as Busch slid

    back up to block, contact with Stewart’s car turned

    Busch’s car into the wall and ingnited a dramatic multi-car

    wreck near the finish line.

  • Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Sept.

    20) – In the first race of the Chase for the

    NASCAR Sprint Cup, Mark Martin held off a ferocious charge by

    Juan Pablo Montoya on a restart with three laps left to win for

    the first time at New Hampshire. Martin’s team relied on

    shrewd pit strategy to help pull off the win. Under caution on

    Lap 194 of 300, crew chief Alan Gustafson opted to leave Martin

    on the track with a small group of cars that did not pit. On Lap

    204, Martin passed Kurt Busch for the lead and held the top spot

    until he pitted on Lap 243, earlier than any other car. Martin

    regained the lead on Lap 272 and held it for the remainder of the

    race, despite a flurry of late cautions that resulted in three

    harrowing double-file restarts in the final 20 laps.