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Nascar's year in review


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I sympathize most with #8 on the list. TV coverage is becoming painfully full of interruptions! :(

Year in review: Junior's move highlights wild season

Dec. 29, 2007

By Pete Pistone

Before the calendar changes to 2008, let's look back at some of the headlines from the 2007 NASCAR season. It was a year punctuated by as much off-track news and controversy as actual racing and one that will also go into the history books after a dominating performance by Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports.

Here are the top 10 stories from NASCAR 2007:

1. Earnhardt Jr. joins Hendrick Motorsports

After dropping the bombshell he would leave DEI and the company that was created for him by his late father, Dale Earnhardt Jr. rocked the racing world one month later when he announced he would join the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports organization. NASCAR's most popular driver and most prominent figure will be part of what many believe to be the best team in the sport's history. Beginning in 2008 Earnhardt Jr. will round out an all-star lineup that includes two-time champion Jimmie Johnson and four-time titlist Jeff Gordon.

2. Hendrick rolls

Capped by Johnson's second straight title, Hendrick Motorsports completed one of the most dominating performances in NASCAR history with the team's drivers winning half of the 36 races on the schedule. After rattling off nine wins in the first 10 races of the season, the Hendrick quartet was nearly unbeatable all season, led by Johnson's 10 victories including four in a row during the Chase.

3. Tomorrow is today

The long-awaited debut of NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow came amid much criticism from both drivers and fans alike. After being used in 16 of the 36 races, NASCAR decided to expedite the new machine's rollout to include the entire slate in 2008. "I hope that long-term, we'll look back on it and say the Car of Tomorrow was a success," driver Jeff Burton said. "I think it has some potential, but I think it has a lot to live up to."

4. Bill France Jr. passes

"Big Bill" France may have founded NASCAR more than 50 years ago, but it was Bill Jr. who turned the sport into what it is today. One of professional sports' true visionaries, France Jr. took NASCAR from a regional attraction to a worldwide phenomenon, thanks to expanding the sport's schedules away from its Southeastern roots and making NASCAR a lucrative television property. France helped Madison Avenue discover the marketing opportunities within NASCAR, which brought billions of dollars in sponsorship and corporate partnerships. France Jr. died of cancer in June at age 74, but his legacy will live forever.

5. Oh, not a feeling

Toyota's foray into NASCAR's top division was a near disaster. The season started in an embarrassing way when flagship team owner Michael Waltrip was found using an illegal jet fuel substance in Daytona 500 qualifying. It went downhill from there with Toyota teams struggling to make races all season long, led by Waltrip who missed 11 straight after Daytona. The manufacturer has vowed to stay the course and will get a big boost in 2008 when the powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing team switches from Chevrolet to Toyota.

6. Open-wheel invasion

Led by former Indy 500 winner and Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya, a parade of open-wheel drivers made their way into NASCAR racing last season. Montoya, who became the first foreign-born driver in NASCAR history to win a Busch race and a Cup race in one season, won Rookie of the Year honors and set the bar incredibly high for the next group of former open wheelers set to descend on NASCAR. Last year's Indy 500 winner and IRL champion Dario Franchitti leads the list with Sam Hornish Jr., Patrick Carpentier and Jacques Villeneuve also set to make the move to fenders in 2008.

7. Let's make a deal

Mergers and acquisitions dominated the headlines in 2007 with several teams working out business arrangements with other race teams as well as businesses outside the motorsports world. Jack Roush sold half of his team to the Fenway Group of Boston Red Sox fame, Ray Evernham entered into a deal with Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett and DEI merged with Ginn Racing to lead the business maneuverings of 2007. Several more deals are in the works throughout the garage area as teams look to find the revenue and resources to compete.

8. Must-not-see TV

Television ratings were down significantly for the second straight year amid thunderous complaints from fans on atrocious coverage and too many commercial breaks. The much-anticipated return of ABC/ESPN to the NASCAR television fold was met by severe criticism from fans who expected more from the networks that put the sport on the map nearly 20 years ago. NASCAR officials acknowledged the ratings decline, but CEO Brian France said the sport was still a healthy television property in his year-end state of the sport comments.

9. Trouble with No. 2

The Busch Series continued to struggle with its identity problem, completing another season dominated by Cup drivers and teams. Carl Edwards won the series title going away, following the same kind of performance by Kevin Harvick in 2007. After 26 years, Anheuser-Busch will leave the series in 2008 making way for Nationwide as NASCAR's number two division tries to regain the popularity and prominence it once enjoyed.

10. Consistently inconsistent

NASCAR's officiating was again under fire for several controversial calls and judgments during the season. Kevin Harvick's win over Mark Martin in the Daytona 500 was marred by the sanctioning body suddenly ignoring the rule of freezing the field when caution is displayed, instead letting the duo to race to the finish line under yellow. The September Kansas race featured winner Greg Biffle not crossing the finish line first when the race was called because of darkness, with Biffle's car obviously running low on fuel. Tony Stewart compared NASCAR to wrestling earlier in the year, accusing officials of manipulating races, which significantly hurt the sport's credibility.

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