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Monday, November 23, 2009

Emergence of Montoya among things to smile about in 2009

Yes, there was a race Sunday. But since all that happened was the never-ending Jimmie Johnson / Rick Hendrick title reign being extended, there really isn’t much for me to talk about that everyone doesn’t already know.

So instead, I’ll take the advice of our mothers, and only say nice things today, looking back at the more positive developments of the 2009 NASCAR year.

The emergence of Juan Pablo Montoya
When he came over from Formula 1, JPM was known as a racing talent, but it took him a while to learn NASCAR and become a competitive driver. This year, he should have won at Indianapolis, and will win on an oval soon. Driving for a brand new Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team, he did more than impress … he was simply awesome.

Also, he has a great, honest personality and NASCAR needs that right now. I hope he is even more competitive in 2010.

The return of Mark Martin to contention
While Johnson took home the trophy, everyone was hoping Martin could pull off a miracle and take home the title. Why so much love for Mark? That’s easy … he’s a great representative of the sport, and should have won a title by now. Not having one doesn’t make him less of a driver, but it sure would have been nice to see him do it this year. He’s the most respected guy in the garage, for good reason.

If there’s anyone who doesn’t like the guy and pull for him to do well, I’ve never met them. It was great to see him winning again, and here’s hoping he can be back in the hunt again in 2010. I’d love for the Hendrick dominance to end, but I wouldn’t mind if they got another one if Martin was the driver.

Drivers expressing themselves on Twitter
I love the fact that drivers can go online and argue with each other on Twitter, or just talk trash online about their competition. Take this little gem from today for example, as Montoya went on Twitter after the race and shared his thoughts about his on-track battle with Tony Stewart, writing: “I always said pay back its a bitch”

Twitter is great for NASCAR fans, because it lets drivers vent in an atmosphere that’s not controlled by the France family, and honest drivers like JPM can really let loose. (The only downside is the occasional too-much-information moments from Michael Waltrip, Kyle Petty and Kenny Wallace, but I’ll accept the bad with the good.)

The improvement of Brian Vickers, Marcos Ambrose
Ambrose is similar to Montoya, as he is regarding as a great talent due to how he ran in previous racing series, but had to prove himself in NASCAR. This year, he showed he could compete with the big boys, finishing 18th in points and letting everyone know he is more than just a road course specialist.

Brian Vickers has stumbled since leaving Hendrick Motorsports, but the Red Bull team stepped up and he put on some great drives to make it to the Chase (where he ultimately stunk it up bad, but we’re thinking positive today so I won’t focus on that). Vickers is another young driver who has a bright future and it was nice to see him do well in his post-Hendrick ride. Hopefully, this was just the first of many good years for Vickers, as we need some new blood near the top of the standings.

Michael Waltrip’s retirement from full-time driving
This may sound negative, but it really isn’t. Waltrip was smart enough to realize he was mostly just riding around each week, and putting Martin Truex in his car will only improve the performance of that team in 2010. In the end, Michael Waltrip’s team will benefit from this switch.

Joey Logano’s arrival in Cup
“Sliced bread” didn’t put on as impressive a rookie show as Tony Stewart did in that #20 car a decade ago, but he did pretty well for a teenager, taking his first checkered flag. Believe the hype, he is for real and will be a regular visitor to Victory Lane very soon.

When I look back to 2009, I’ll try to forget about the overall result and focus on these elements.

And I’ll continue be here all winter, in the brief offseason, dissecting all the moves that will be made as teams try to catch up to the #48 and Hendrick Motorsports.


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