Harris: A Little Day Dream Believin’
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 email@example.com Comments