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Armijo: DOTY Is Tough Call in Non-Jimmie Year

Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 29 2011

Jimmie Johnson is out of contention for the Driver of the Year Award. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent
RacinToday.com

That time of year again. Time to huddle in the garage and decide this season’s Driver of the Year.

But for the first time in what seems like a generation, Jimmie Johnson isn’t a candidate.

Maybe that’s good for NASCAR. Maybe not.

One thing is certain. It’s not good for Johnson, whose five-year championship reign skidded to a halt in 2011.

But Johnson’s absence hardly leaves the cupboard bare.

There still was a truckload of notable wheelmen worthy of this year’s trophy.

So with apologies to Scott Pruett, Matt Hagan, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Will Power and Joey Meyers among others, here is one person’s version of this season’s DOTY.

Drum roll, please. . .

No. 1

Tony Stewart.

Do you get the feeling Bonnie and Clyde never would have been caught had Stewart been their getaway

Tony Stewart won five races and the Cup championship. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

driver?

We do.

We also believe that if Michael Jordan was born to perform wizardry on a basketball court and Babe Ruth was born to swat a baseball a country mile, then Stewart, it seems, was born to drive the wheels off a racecar.

During a memorable (well, maybe not for Carl Edwards) 10-race NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, Stewart was virtually unstoppable. Following a winless regular season, Stewart found a sixth, seventh and even eighth gear in the playoffs, winning a record five Chase races.

Take that, Mr. Johnson.

No moment was more ingrained in our eyes than when Stewart absolutely refused to lose the season finale at Homestead, Fla.

Forget A.J. Foyt. That undeniable performance would have made Dale Earnhardt proud.

No. 2

Del Worsham

Not long after Worsham won the NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel Dragster crown, he announced his

Del Worsham is going out as a champion. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

retirement, literally leaving the sport while on top.

And what a way to go.

Despite competing in only a limited number of Top Fuel races during parts of three seasons in a two-decade-long Funny Car career, you couldn’t tell by Worsham’s performance in 2011.

In a word, it was “spectacular.”

Worsham won eight races and collared his first NHRA crown, stealing the limelight from more celebrated teammates Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown.

See, sometimes nice guys do finish first.

No. 3

Dario Franchitti

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a gazillion times, Mrs. Franchitti didn’t sway our selection one way or another.

Wink, wink.

Just kidding.

As highly as we think of Franchitti’s beautiful better-half (actress Ashley Judd), Franchitti can stand on his own gifted merits, which this season included four IZOD IndyCar Series wins and a third straight championship.

Power actually won a series-high six races, but go ahead and ask Power if he would trade places with Franchitti in a New York minute.

Yeah, we thought so.

No. 4

Carl Edwards

Yes, we know. One win hardly knocks your shocks off. But there was more to Edwards’ season. Much more.

Edwards actually tied Stewart in the final driver standings, but lost the title when NASCAR employed the “most wins tiebreaker.”

Aside from failing to become a regular in victory lane, Edwards still came close in just about every stop on the calendar, finishing with 19 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes in 36 starts.

Mix in eight Nationwide Series wins, 23 top-five and 27 top-10 finishes in 33 starts and it’s hard for anyone to turn their back on Edwards’ combined season.

In this corner, at least, we couldn’t.

No. 5

Dan Wheldon

Maybe there shouldn’t be any room for sentimentality, but we’re invoking the we-can-do-this-because-it’s-our-vote clause.

Wheldon entered two races this season. He won one of them, the granddaddy Indianapolis 500 in May.

In the second one, he died only minutes after the green flag at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

No one has to remind us that Wheldon only won at Indy because of a costly mistake by J.R. Hildebrand on the final turn of the final lap.

The fact remains, Wheldon won. And we’re thankful he had with him that enduring memory to take into eternity.

– Mark Armijo is the long-time auto racing beat writer for the Arizona Republic and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com.

Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 29 2011
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Mr. Tony Geinzer says:

    I would like to say Sammy Swindell,but, Tony Stewart has been passed 4 Times to not win the Driver of the Year, all apologies to Del, Hagan and Scott Pruett.