Looking toward 2010

Published 8:42 pm Saturday, November 28, 2009

The 2009 NASCAR season is in the books. We all witnessed history when Jimmie Johnson wrapped up his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship last week at Miami Homestead. History was also made when three Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Johnson, Mark Martin, and Jeff Gordon, finished in the top three spots in the final standings.

We saw Martin finish as a bride’s maid, without being the bride, for the fifth time in his career. We saw Kyle Busch implode and not make the Chase, we saw Dale Earnhardt, Jr. not even show up, or so it seems, for the entire season, we saw Richard Childress Racing get shut out in the Chase, and we saw some interesting rivalries being formed.

But, hey, that was last year, let’s look forward to next year.

NASCAR teams have the shortest offseason, basically one month, of any professional sport. The month of December is usually reserved for the banquet and family time, but come January, teams will be looking toward Daytona.

Speaking of the banquet, Las Vegas is the new host city this year. For 25 years, the awards banquet was held at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, but the change was made this year to Las Vegas. It will be held Dec. 4 and broadcast on the SPEED channel.

The big question going into the 2010 season will be who can stop Hendrick as a whole, and Jimmie Johnson in particular. Will Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, or Kurt Busch break Johnson’s championship streak? Who knows, but the No. 48 will be Public Enemy Number One.

Also, the continued below average performance or the vast improvement of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will be a story in watch in 2010.

If Junior continues down the path he currently is on, it will be interesting to see how Rick Hendrick reacts. With three of his four teams finishing one, two, and three and two others, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, that he provides equipment to making the Chase, there’s a good chance that Junior should have finished better than 25th.

Is Rick Hendrick more interested in winning races, for all his teams, or selling merchandise and attracting sponsorship money? That is a question that he very well may face if Junior doesn’t drastically change his ways.

A blast from the past may be looking to reappear in the pits. Ray Evernham won three championships with Jeff Gordon and then led the charge as Dodge made its return to racing in 2001. Evernham Motorsports morphed into Gillette Evernham Motorsports that morphed into Richard Petty Motorsports, which will merge with Yates Racing.

Through all the mergers and acquisitions, this is no longer the team that Evernham created and he is pretty much on the outer fringes, looking in. Supposedly, Evernham wants to liquidate his remaining minority stake in the team and get back in the garage.

If that happens, look for Evernham to be in high demand. Could he rejoin Gordon for a last shot at glory before Gordon’s career comes to an end? Watch out for this one.