There was lots of action during the 2011 racing season, and not all of it was on the track. Glancing back in the rear-view mirror, here’s my list of Top 5 stories:
1) Locally, the biggest story was the closure of Nashville Superspeedway.
After a decade of puzzlingly poor attendance, the Dover Motorsports facility called it quits. The track won’t be on the 2012 NASCAR schedule and its long-term future is in limbo. A half-century of NASCAR racing in Middle Tennessee is apparently over.
2) The end seems near for local division racing as well. The second most significant story for area racing is the fading pulse of once-famous Fairgrounds Speedway.
The 54-year-old track wheezed through the 2011 season plagued by declining attendance and financial problems, and its final race was canceled.
Through 1984, the track hosted two annual NASCAR Cup races and was widely considered the country’s premier weekly racetrack. The end of an era is at hand.
3) Nationally, the big story was the end of Jimmie Johnson’s record championship streak at five, snapped by Tony Stewart’s record-breaking stretch run.
Johnson’s streak had to end sometime, but nobody expected Stewart to do the honors. Going into the 10-race Chase for the Championship, Stewart hadn’t won a race during the 26-race “regular season.” But, he suddenly came alive to win five of the 10 Chase races and nip Carl Edwards in the tightest championship battle in the sport’s history.
Stewart and Edwards battled through the final lap of the final race of the season and ended up tied in points. Tony got the title through NASCAR’s most-wins tiebreaker, five wins to Carl’s one.
4) The boorish Busch brothers got bashed – literally and figuratively. Kyle got a punch in snoot from rival team owner Richard Childress after a truck-race incident, and following another truck run-in with Ron Hornaday Jr., NASCAR suspended him for a Cup race. His fed-up sponsor, M&Ms, took its logo off Kyle’s car for the final two races.
Meanwhile, big brother Kurt became embroiled in two ugly media confrontations, the latter with mild-mannered ESPN reporter Jerry Punch.
After the season ended, he was released from Penske Racing.
The Busch brothers are NASCAR’s most talented siblings since Bobby and Donnie Allison, but they seem bent on self-destruction.
5) The mysterious Mayfield mess is heartbreaking. Jeremy Mayfield, once one of NASCAR’s most promising young drivers, was suspended indefinitely for alleged drug use. The Owensboro, Ky., native got his start with Nashville-based Sadler Racing and was one of the sport’s most popular, outgoing personalities during his early rise in the sport.
Although Mayfield proclaims his innocence – and his fans and supporters would like to believe him – the evidence appears overwhelming. Mayfield’s racing career is probably unsalvageable. Hopefully, the same doesn’t apply to his life.
On a happier note, I would like to point out some good news. The most important story was the one that wasn’t written: No NASCAR drivers were injured during the making of the season. Time after time, drivers walked away from horrifying-looking crashes that in the past would have resulted in serious injury. It’s a testament to NASCAR’s continued commitment to safer cars and safer tracks. That’s a streak that every fan wants to see continue.
Larry Woody can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.