NASCAR’s Final Chapter of 2010: Horseshoes, Hand Grenades and Hope

The Daytona 500 may still be months away, but fans, media and the drivers themselves are already gearing up for the 2011 season.  After the wild ride that we took in 2010, how could next year possibly compare?

For the first time in since the introduction of the Chase in 2004, where only 18 points separated points leader Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson heading into Homestead, have we seen such a close battle for the Sprint Cup. Another first was seeing someone other than Jimmie Johnson sitting in the No. 1 position after race 35, a position that Johnson had majestically held since 2006.

[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Denny Hamlin gave us hope. Hope that the winning streak the No. 48 team so gleefully basked in four times prior would be broken. Hope that maybe the Chase was not the flawed monster that conspiracy theorists declaimed. Hope that for once in a great while fans would watch every lap of the Ford 400 without changing the channel in disgust, because a champion had been crowned long before the final lap was run.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Hamlin may not have been able to steal the golden crown from Johnson, but he did give him a hell of a fight. The trophy was Hamlin’s to lose and Johnson stole it away with calculated perfection and luck.

After a rear axle problem took Johnson out of the Daytona 500 on lap 185, we delighted in the notion that maybe the 48 crew’s cream would not rise to the top in 2010.

Chad Knaus proved us wrong by whipping up a brand new batch of vanilla confection and boldly serving it atop a plate of crow, after the 48 team posted a first place finish, just one week later in California.

On February 21, during a post-race press conference in Fontana, fans may recall a certain scorned second placed finisher, hailing Johnson and his crew for their serendipitous win.

As luck would have it, Johnson pitted right before Brad Keselowski spun out on lap 230 and was able to restart in the first position with just 20 laps to go, all but forcing the other leaders to pit under caution. Despite a rear bumper full of Kevin Harvick’s No. 29 machine, Johnson maintained his position until the checkered flag waved.

Once again a strange twist of NASCAR fate worked in favor of the No. 48 team, but how?

Kevin Harvick had his own theories stating in his post-race interview, “They did a good job today in winning the race, but they have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass. I mean, there’s no way to get around that.”

Hmmm…so that’s where he’s been hiding that good fortune for the last five years, knowing all along it was the one place that NASCAR would never inspect. Reminds me of the story told by Captain Koons to a young boy named Butch in the movie Pulp Fiction regarding the child’s birthright, his great-grandfather’s watch.

“He hid it (the watch) in the one place he knew he could hide something. His ass. Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. And then he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable hunk of metal up my ass for two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you.”

Jeez, what does this mean? If Jimmie dies from dysentery will Chad Knaus have to hide that golden horseshoe up his own ass until the next champion comes along?

Hey, I’m not knocking the guy, I’m just saying that it might be easier to just carry a rabbit’s foot, but to each is own. 34 races later,  The golden horseshoe proved lucky for Johnson in Homestead, just when he needed it most. In the end, the luck o’ the 48  propelled him from a 15 point deficit to a 38 point lead over Hamlin and the “Drive for Five” was in the books.

But what if?

What if Harvick hadn’t launched his No. 29 Chevrolet like a loose hand grenade into Kyle Busch’s bumper on lap 242?

I know that Harvick hoped to capture the title in the end and in turn raced hard to gain points on Hamlin and Johnson after battling back from a speeding penalty on pit road at lap 188. I know he had his own frustrations with Busch on the track stating,“He raced me like a clown all day – three-wide, on the back bumper, running into me, and I just had enough. The last time I just didn’t lift”

If he hadn’t wrecked Busch, the caution flag would not have flown with 25 laps to go. Hamlin would not have gone a lap down, leaving him in a position to restart the final leg of the race at the tail end of the lead lap in the 20th position; conclusively dashing any chance of winning the championship.

Hamlin knew it was the perfect storm of mayhem that the 48 team needed to grab hold of the reigns and steer it home.

“I thought it was over when the 18 (of Kyle Busch) wrecked, for sure – that trapped us a lap down,” Hamlin said. “The 29 (of Harvick) and the 48 (of Johnson) were actually just a straightaway ahead, but the way it timed out to when that caution fell, it trapped us a lap down, and so they stayed out and the cars at the back all came and got tires, so it separated us.

“What was a straightaway turned into 15 spots when that caution flew, and that really hurt us quite a bit. But we were lucky to be in that position – our car was banged up bad and we just could not overcome that.”

Joe Gibbs Racing President J.D. Gibbs said he wasn’t happy with the Harvick-Busch incident, saying it impacted the Chase by putting Hamlin a lap down.

“We got wrecked by the 29 [of Harvick], so that was really frustrating – it caused Denny to go a lap down,” Gibbs said. “That was disappointing.”

What if Hamlin had not damaged his splitter after spinning out on lap 24, was he doomed from the start?

What if Johnson’s engine had given up the ghost on lap 200 instead of teammate Jeff Gordon’s?

What if anyone, anyone, other than Johnson had won the championship this year, would we fans be happy with what we could have gotten in the end?

Life continuously leaves us wondering “what if” and as we reflect on all of the different scenarios, we often kick ourselves over the “shoulda, whoulda, couldas,” but never can we go back and change the outcome.

There is always next year, right? Yes there is! A new year filled with anticipations of what the 2011 Sprint Cup season will hold. Sure, some say that they’ll never watch another NASCAR race since it is so “obviously rigged” in Johnson’s favor, but I don’t believe you. You’ll find yourself flipping through the channels on February 20 and pause “for just a moment” to watch the green flag drop. Before you know it, you’re hooked all over again.

While Jimmie Johnson does not top my list of favorite drivers, I do have respect and a clear understanding of his accomplishments. We witnessed something on November 21 that we will probably never see again. It was an amazing piece of history in the making and as a NASCAR fan, it is something that I am proud to have been a part of.

The 2011 season will no doubt bring lots of hope and hype. I, along with millions of fans around the world will be there once again for the ride of our lives. So, NASCAR show me what you’ve got! Jimmie Johnson may be your “ace in the hole” for now, but I’m pretty sure we ain’t seen nothing yet.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


  1. NASCAR likes to look at past history to help in predicting the outcome of a race or the season. Since those that have gone head to head with Jimmie for the Championship have had a dismal performance the following year, I am looking forward to Denny and Kevin not even winning a race in 2011 let alone making the Chase.

    Jimmie Johnson won his 5th championship even when the overall performance of the Team was below their normal high standard. The competition brought their A Team and they still lost.

    If people choose not the watch or follow NASCAR because Jimmie dominates, then they are not true fans and we don’t need them. Just take your toys and go home.

    • No, not kidding about “The ride of our lives,” but to each is own. I totally understand & respect that my opinions are not shared by all. Just curious as to the reason why you personally choose not to watch next year.


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