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Sturbin: Here Are 10 To Remember from ’09

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 30 2009
Guess you could say Kyle Busch had a pretty good year. Certainly one worth celebrating. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Guess you could say Kyle Busch had a pretty good year. Certainly one worth celebrating. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

For those of us still fortunate enough to be involved in this profession, the 2009 motorsports season was not all about Jimmie and Junior and Danica.

For this writer, 2009 was about transitioning from a 35-year career in the daily newspaper industry into the 24/7 world of cyberspace. Away from the keyboard of this Sony Vaio, it was learning about “networking” and the “elevator speech” and “hidden jobs” – and something economists are calling a “jobless recovery.”

Wonderful. Thank you. Where do I sign up for that?

Meanwhile, armed with the proper credentials as “Citizen Journalist,” 2009 was about rediscovering the satisfaction of writing a solid game story on deadline; of tuning into a teleconference largely overlooked by the competition, of cranking out that oddball Pikes Peak or X-Games feature.

Keep that bit of self-indulgence in mind, please, as I list my top 10 motorsports stories of 2009:

* Jimmie Johnson wins fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship – Last time I checked, you can’t do better than “unprecedented.” On top of title No. 4, the Hendrick Motorsports ace became the first racing driver selected as Male Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press in the award’s 78-year-history. (There’s a joke here about Athlete of the Decade Tiger Woods and his putter, so have at it).

* Tony Schumacher wins seventh NHRA Top Fuel title – “The Sarge” has bagged six of those championships in a row, the most recent with a revamped U.S. Army Dragster team. Schumacher finished two points ahead of archrival Larry Dixon of Al Anabi Racing in the closest Top Fuel championship in history…and largely has gone unnoticed.

* Helio Castroneves wins third Indianapolis 500 – Five weeks after being cleared of federal income tax evasion charges, Castroneves won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” for the third time since 2001. Conspiracy theorists will tell you this kind of feel-good script typically carries a NASCAR copyright. Instead, the affable Brazilian shed real tears after his “best Month of May ever.”

* Kyle Busch wins a gazillion races and first Nationwide championship – Kyle came this close to an unprecedented sweep of the NASCAR Camping World Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Texas Motor Speedway in November…and as the Cup race wound down Sunday I found myself rooting for him to get it done. That would have been one helluva deadline story…

* Dario Franchitti wins second IndyCar Series championship – The Scotsman rebounded from his failed foray into NASCAR with his second open-wheel title in three years. Sure, Franchitti landed a top-shelf ride with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. But at age 36, Dario declined to second-guess his NASCAR decision, declaring that getting out of his comfort zone after 12 seasons made him a better driver.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. flops at Hendrick Motorsports – In a season that saw teammates Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon finish 1-2-3 in the points standings, Junior careened home a career-worst 25th. A non-winning streak that began in June 2008 continued after crew chief/cousin Tony Eury Jr. was replaced by Lance McGrew. Makes me wonder if even Chad Knaus could resurrect Junior’s fortunes.

* Danica Patrick takes aim at stock car racing – Count me among the observers questioning Danica’s desire to go ARCA/NASCAR racing, interrupting  an open-wheel career that is best graded as Incomplete. Open-wheel drivers with much thicker resumes have tried to switch and failed. But those guys didn’t have GoDaddy.com founder/CEO Bob Parsons throwing around money for his client, either.

* Eddie Gossage beats cancer – It was headline news in Dallas/Fort Worth when Gossage, president and promoter extraordinaire of Texas Motor Speedway, disclosed in September his cancer was in remission. Gossage never has revealed what form of the disease he beat with chemotherapy over the summer. My prayer now is that industry friends Jim Hunter and Marcy Scott win their cancer battles.

* Jerry Cook voted into International Motorsports Hall of Fame –Growing up in Rome, N.Y., Cook and Richie Evans were my equivalent of David Pearson and Richard Petty in NASCAR’s National Modified Tour. Between them, Cook (six titles) and Evans (nine) dominated that series from 1971 to ‘85. It was cool to reconnect with Cook, at age 65, as he joined Evans on the IMHOF’s roster of heroes last spring.

RacinToday.com launches, and is up-and-running – Largely in response to the void created by the shrinking/disappearing American daily newspaper, managing editor Jim Pedley (and his two-person tech staff) launched the site on March 27. Thanks for the career life preserver, Jim, and boost to my self-esteem. And kudos to my five writing colleagues for continuing to raise the motorsports journalism bar.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 30 2009


  • sm says:

    Good article. Liked the personal touches.

    Well, stocks for many of Tiger’s sponsors started dropping the day of his accident; not following the DOW but dropping along with Tiger’s reputation. 2010 will be interesting for the once “cleanest” athlete in sports. Um.

    Good luck to the sports magazine for 2010. It is nice to read true articles about sports instead of the little blurbs so common on the internet.

    God Bless “Racin’Today.com for 2010.


  • Marybeth says:

    “Makes me wonder if even Chad Knaus could resurrect Junior’s fortunes.”
    I do not believe that Jr. is going to be competitive again as long as he is at HMS. If RH wanted him competitive he would have hired Addington as his cc with some of the ton of money Jr. is bringing into HMS. Nascar Now and others have said that Jr. is not in the same equipment. Tony Jr. was making his cars on old DEI specs from 2007. What was RH thinking of? He knew what was going on. Last year Jr. had more equipment breakdowns than all of the rest of HMS cars combined! He is driving the old 25/88 R&D test car for JJ. He has to get out of HMS…NOW!!!

  • steve-o says:

    I remember seeing Cook and Evans at Thompson. Great drivers. Now racing has Danica the brand. A fine example for little girls who hopefully won’t be seeing the sleazy Go (pimp) Daddy commercials on TV this year. She has no technical knowledge or on track stock car experience and will not be competitive with the hard core Nascar drivers.