|The 2011 season finale summed up the excitment of the entire season.|
Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
The Daytona 500 saw rookie and Nationwide racer Trevor Bayne in Victory Lane, starting the season in dramatic fashion. This young, fresh-faced, and surprisingly humble lad was an optimistic start for a new season. Fan-favorite and, sometime when I wasn’t looking, “old-guard” Jeff Gordon took the win in Phoenix. Carl Edwards, flexing his muscle, was triumphant in Las Vegas. Kyle Busch, under the guise of a “new” Kyle Busch took home the trophy in Bristol. Next, Kevin Harvick struck gold twice in both Fontana and Martinsville, throwing the gauntlet down that he was going to recapture the opportunity to vie for the Cup. Matt Kenseth, “The Silent Assassin”, won in Texas. Finally, in April, five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson picked up a victory at Talladega. Kyle Busch became the second two-time winner of the season when he took top honors at Richmond. Regan Smith took top honors at Darlington, once again taking this season into the realm of fresh, new, and interesting with another first-time winner. Matt Kenseth was the next driver this season to make it a second win, tying both Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and making this season competitive, newsworthy, and fun. Kevin Harvick, determined and focused, won his third race of the season in the marathon Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte. Next, Brad Keselowski added a second race to his all-time totals by winning Kansas and continuing the trend of the younger generation winning in 2011. Jeff Gordon picked up his second victory of the season in Pocono and reawakened chants for his “Drive for Five” indicating his goal to win a fifth championship. Denny Hamlin, last year’s runner up, finally found a winning combination in Michigan. Kurt Busch with veteran crew chief Steve Addington figured out Sonoma and brought home a well-earned victory there. David Ragan became the next first time winner this season at the Coke Zero 400 over the 4th of July weekend in Daytona. At the inaugural race in Kentucky Kyle Busch made history as the venue’s first winner and the season’s next three-time winner. Ryan Newman found victory in New England at Loudon. Paul Menard proudly took the checkered flag in Indianapolis marking his first win of his career. Brad Keselowski was dialed in when he won for the second time in 2011 at Pocono. Tasmanian, Marcos Ambrose flexed his muscle at Watkins Glen claiming the victory at that historic road course. Kyle Busch chalked up his fourth win of the season in Michigan and drove home the point that he was hungry to get his first Sprint Cup. Brad Keselowski answered the next week by winning his third race of the season in Bristol. Jeff Gordon responded with his third win of the season at Atlanta. Kevin Harvick reminded everyone of his competitiveness when he took the victory, his fourth, and tied him, once again, with Kyle Busch. The “Regular Season” concluded with fifteen different winners, several of them first time victors.
The 2011 Chase found Tony Stewart taking the first two races (his first victories of the season), Chicago and Loudon, which surprised everyone including Tony himself as he had all but thrown in the towel as the Chase began. Kurt Busch won in Dover, Jimmie Johnson in Kansas, and Matt Kenseth in Charlotte. Clint Bowyer chalked up a win in Talladega marking his first of the season. Tony Stewart proceeded to win the next two events at Martinsville and Texas putting him squarely behind the points leader Carl Edwards who held on to a very narrow margin. Kasey Kahne became the eighteenth different driver to win a race this season; the victory came at Phoenix. Finally, Tony Stewart won at Homestead-Miami Speedway in an unprecedented battle that came down to the final laps and ended in a tie that was broken by Tony Stewart’s wins over the season.
True to my character, I didn’t care who won the championship, I just reveled in the level and depth of competition I witnessed week in and week out. I saw tomorrow’s stars break out and witnessed more staid drivers’ victories. The brass of today showed muscle throughout the season but, when it mattered most, only two men were able to bring the right stuff to the track; Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. Their battles, duels, and skirmishes were all conducted on the track, with a twinkle in the eye and a calm demeanor that kept the audience at rapt attention unable to ascertain who would out drive, outperform, and outwit the other.
The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Season provided ten months of entertainment, spectacle, controversy (thank you Robbie Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, and Brian Vickers) fandom, a reverence, and a refreshed attitude about the Cup Season. The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Season is yet another reason why I love NASCAR.