Harris: A Little Day Dream Believin’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 10 2010
Will Tony Eury Jr. and Danica Patrick make a big splash in stock car racing in 2010? Could happen. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Will Tony Eury Jr. and Danica Patrick make a big splash in stock car racing in 2010? Could happen. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

Ah, the dawn of a fresh new year. A clean slate to be written on.

If we do some serious day dreaming maybe we can come up with some scenarios 
that would make 2010 a very memorable and interesting year in NASCAR and IndyCar:

* Danica Patrick, the subject of intense scrutiny, begins her 
stock car career in the ARCA race at Daytona International Speedway 
with a solid victory. Shades of Kyle Petty, Ryan Newman and Joey 
Logano, all of whom got off to a great start in ARCA. Maybe this girl 
really is a pretty good race driver.

* Mark Martin starts his 51st year on the planet by finally winning the 
Daytona 500, coming out of the pack in one of those typical last-lap DIS
cavalry charges to nip teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and 
Jeff Gordon at the wire. Of course, the 1-2-3-4 Hendrick finish enrages 
many NASCAR fans. Here we go again.

* Danica moves into a Nationwide Series car and begins her “real’’ 
stock car education. She acquits herself well, but finishes outside the 
top 20. This could take a while.

* Week Two of the Sprint Cup season looks very different than Daytona, 
with Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards fighting it out 
for supremacy in California. In the end, Montoya whacks Stewart, 
sending both spinning and Edwards goes through the middle unscathed to 
win for the first time in Cup since 2008. The Hendrick boys? Blown 
engines, crashes and pit mistakes relegate all four of them to the 
middle of the pack.

* The IZOD IndyCar Series finally gets under way in Brazil – and nobody 
cares. Starting its season outside the U.S. isn’t a great way to get 
American race fans to pay attention. Still, it’s a fun race, with 
Danica challenging defending champion Dario Franchitti and series 
runner-up Scott Dixon for the win before settling for third place.

* The first Talladega race of the season produces yet another  “Big 
One,’’ this time taking out half the 42-car field on the first lap. 
And, yes, it was Brad Keselowski who got it going – with a little help 
from Denny Hamlin. Oh yeah, Edwards won again. Nice backflip – and without the car this time.

* It’s May and time for the Indianapolis 500. Danica has been running 
really well in the early going and speculation runs high at a track 
where she is always competitive. The excitement grows as the queen of open-wheel racing wins the pole and goes into the 94th Indy classic as 
co-favorite with three-time winner and defending champion Helio 
Castroneves. DanicaMania is rampant in the world. In the race, it’s nip 
and tuck, but Patrick gets out of the pits ahead by a nose on the final 
fuel stop and holds on to keep Spider Man off the fence. Suddenly, 
Indy is really big again. Thanks Danica.

* The big ongoing story in Sprint Cup is that Hendrick Motorsports is 
struggling. Roush Fenway, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing 
and Penske Racing have all caught up and passed the big boys. Not only 
is Jimmie Johnson no longer the favorite to win an unprecedented fifth 
straight Cup title, the odds of him making the 12-man Chase for the 
championship aren’t so good at this point.

* Kyle Busch is having a dream season, winning races in Cup, in 
Nationwide and in his own truck. He’s also on his best behavior, 
strumming the winner’s trophy in Nashville instead of smashing it.

* Thanks to Danica, people are demanding Versus on their cable systems 
and the IndyCar ratings are climbing. There are actually more people 
watching on TV now than sitting in the grandstands at the IndyCar 
races. And they’re seeing some great racing as Patrick, Franchitti, 
Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Castroneves, Will Power and Graham Rahal are all 
separated in the championship battle by 25 points.

* Uh oh! Here comes JJ. Crew chief Chad Knaus has suddenly found 
something and Johnson has run off three wins in a row and is up to 
eighth in the points. And Junior is suddenly running in the top five 
every week, along with Martin and Gordon. Hendrick is back.

* Going into the September Richmond race, the battle to get into the 12-man Chase is a good one. Nine drivers are bunched from ninth place through 17, separated by 40 points.  Oh yeah, the top four a Johnson, Martin, Gordon and the resurgent Earnhardt Jr., with Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart close behind.

* The Chase is set, with all the usual suspects and one shocker _ Robby Gordon, who finally found time away from his off-road racing to put together the best stock car season of his career and earn the all-important 12th position in the postseason.

* The IndyCar Series comes down to Homestead, the last race of the season. Tickets are scarce and excitement is almost off the hook as Danica, who has won four races in 2010, goes into the final event holding a 10-point lead over both Franchitti and Dixon. It all comes down to the final lap and the lady does it again, holding off her challengers by inches in a three-way, side-by-side-by-side finish that has the full house on its collective feet cheering. Sitting atop team owner Michael Andretti’s shoulders holding the championship trophy, Patrick yells, “Now, we’re going to go drive that stock car for a while.’’

* Yes, now that the wild IndyCar season is over, Danica can get back to working on her future in NASCAR. Back in the JR Motorsports Chevy for the Nationwide race at Charlotte, she looks like a rookie again, spinning twice and finishing 31st.

* It looks like Jimmie Johnson’s historic bid for a fifth straight Cup title is finished. Consecutive 37th-place finishes at Martinsville (engine) and Talladega (early crash) have relegated JJ to fifth place, 212 points behind Hamlin, again the most consistent driver in the postseason.

* Wait a minute, here comes JJ. Consecutive wins at Texas and Phoenix have brought him within 41 points of the suddenly stumbling Hamlin heading into the season-finale at Homestead. Hamlin says, “I’m not feeling any pressure. My team has been waiting two years for this moment.’’ Johnson answers, “My team has been here before. We’ll be ready.’’

* While Kyle Busch sweeps both the truck and Nationwide championships, wrapping them up with victories in the two preliminary races at Homestead – his 24th and 25th wins of the season – Danica finishes second in the Nationwide event and says, “I can hardly wait for Daytona. I think I’m getting the hang of this.’’

* Finally, the long season is over, but things don’t seem much different. New dad Jimmie Johnson is the champion yet again, running away with an easy victory at Homestead after Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin collided under caution early in the race. Keselowski and Hamlin are each blaming each other. Johnson is drinking champagne with car owners Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon, who finished third in the points, just ahead of teammates Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kyle Busch, who won nine Cup races and wound up sixth in the points, says, “We’ll be the team to beat in 2011. Bet on it.’’

Hey, it could happen.

– Mike Harris an be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 10 2010


  • Rachel says:

    I loved it, loved it, loved it. (Except for Junior finishing fifth in the points – even fantasy ought to be based on reality.) I especially loved the season-ending race with Brad-Denny wrecking under caution to give Daddy Jimmie his fifth championship. But I don’t want Kyle too nice – he needs to whack somebody over the head with one of his trophies to make the season complete.

    Most of all, I would like to see the a race end without the second place finisher ever saying, “it was a great points day for us.” That is NOT what Aaron Rodgers said after the Packer game Sunday night.

  • ed says:

    Mike, I am guessing you are new to the use of mushrooms. Give it a day before writing any hallucinations down! Thanks for the laughs.

    My “It Could Happen”: Second Talladega: NASCAR cuts the restrictor plate to .01000 in. Joe Nemechek takes the pole with a time of 9 minutes, 26 seconds. The Big One comes on Lap 119, as half the field falls asleep and rolls to a stop on the backstretch, with minor scrapes to all 21 cars involved. Junior is all jacked up on AMP Energy Drink and stays awake long enough for the win!