As 2010 comes to a close, NASCAR.com looks back at the season that was and forward at the season that’s looming on the horizon with some top 5 lists.
In this list, Mark Aumann recaps the five most memorable races of 2010.
Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway
Who knew a lowly pothole would have the ability to play havoc with the biggest race of the year? Daytona’s aging asphalt, last repaved during the Carter Administration, had stood up to freezing and flooding for more than three decades. But heavy rains earlier in the week, coupled with bitterly cold, cloudy and windy conditions on race day, contributed to a section of the track described as 9 inches wide by 15 inches long by 2 inches deep tearing loose in turn 2, creating a major mess:
The race was red-flagged twice for more than two hours total as track officials and crews tried frantically to find a suitable solution to the problem, and as afternoon turned to evening, many in attendance headed for the exits in an effort to find someplace warmer. Fans watching on television also turned away, as overnight ratings for the live race portion of the broadcast were at their lowest level in 20 years.
It was Bondo that came to the rescue. Normally used to repair body damage on cars, officials searched throughout the garage area for enough of the putty material to fill the crack, then used jet dryers to warm the patch so that it would set. Amazingly, it worked well enough to complete the event, as Jamie McMurray held off a late charge from Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a race that featured 21 leaders and 52 lead changes.
"It’s unbelievable," McMurray said. "I can’t really put it into words the way it feels. I talked to Christy, my wife, this morning. She was like, ‘You know, what would it mean to you if you won this race today?’
"I told her it would be like a dream come true. I’m trying to be genuine and as sincere as I can and not sound cliche. As a kid growing up, this is what you dream of, of being able to win the Daytona 500."
But it was the pothole that wound up taking center stage and leading to sweeping changes. International Speedway Corporation accelerated the timetable for asphalt replacement, completing the project in time for December tire testing, and Speedway president Robin Braig was eventually replaced by Joie Chitwood.
Kobalt Tools 500, Atlanta
Before the season, vice president Robin Pemberton used the phrase "boys, have at it" to describe NASCAR’s decision to let drivers settle things on the track. But nobody expected Carl Edwards to take that missive to the extreme.
Edwards and Brad Keselowski had been at odds with each other since Keselowski turned Edwards and sent him into the catchfence on the final lap to win at Talladega the previous spring. But the feud magnified itself on lap 41 when the two drivers bumped, with Edwards getting shoved into Joey Logano and winding up with heavy damage to his car.
While Keselowski was running in the top 10, Edwards returned to the track with the sole idea of getting even. Coming side-by-side down the front straightaway, cameras showed Edwards turned his steering wheel to the right, sending Keselowski’s car up into the air, where it caught the fence and then turned on its roof.
"Brad knows the deal between him and I," Edwards said. "The scary part was his car went airborne, which was not at all what I expected. At the end of the day, we’re out here to race and people have to have respect for one another and I have a lot of respect for people’s safety.
"I wish it wouldn’t have gone like it did, but I’m glad he’s OK and we’ll just go on and race some more and maybe him and I won’t get in any more incidents together. That would be the best thing."
After discussions with NASCAR officials, Edwards was placed on probation for three races. NASCAR president Mike Helton said Edwards had crossed the line of what was acceptable payback.
"We made it very clear to [Edwards] that these actions were not acceptable and did go beyond what we said back in January, about putting the driving back in the hands of the drivers," Helton said. "I believe [Edwards] understands our position at this point."
Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500, Martinsville Speedway
If Denny Hamlin was out to send a message to the rest of the competition in 2010, it came across loud and clear at Martinsville. Powering his way through traffic following a green-white-checkered restart, Hamlin used four fresh tires to work his way past Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon, who was within sight of the white flag when the final caution flag flew for Kyle Busch’s spin.
Hamlin and Jeff Burton appeared to have the dominant cars late in the going, but when Burton blew a tire with fewer than 10 laps remaining in regulation, Hamlin ducked into the pits for fresh rubber, handing the lead to Gordon. Throwing caution to the wind, Hamlin went from ninth to fourth in three laps but needed Busch’s spin to have a second chance at the victory.
On the final restart, Kenseth bumped Gordon out of the way to take the lead, only to suffer retaliation in the next corner. But that also got Gordon out of the groove, allowing Hamlin to sneak through on the inside for the win — the first of eight on the season — despite having a tire going down.
"I had to bully my way through there toward the end, but everybody was just running into everyone," Hamlin said. "I flattened my tires with Kenseth going down the backstretch and just somehow made it work."
Gordon made it clear after the race that he wasn’t pleased with Kenseth’s bump-and-run move.
"Next thing I know, I got nailed," Gordon said. "I don’t know who got into me. I thought it was the 17. If it wasn’t, I apologize to him. I made sure he didn’t win the race down the straightaway."
Amp Energy Juice 500, Talladega Superspeedway
After 87 lead changes, just one shy of the record set earlier in the spring, it’s not surprising that the outcome was in doubt until the end. Except in this case, the doubt lasted several minutes longer than the race.
When a multi-car accident occurred just after the leaders took the white flag, NASCAR officials were forced to throw the caution flag and use loop data and video replays to determine whether Clint Bowyer or Kevin Harvick was in front at the time of the yellow. Bowyer went ahead and did a just-in-case victory burnout, then exchanged high-fives with Harvick before getting the word that he was the winner by no more than perhaps six inches.
"You know, it was so close because we didn’t know where the caution had come out," Harvick said. "I was pretty confident that I beat him to the start/finish line. But you just never know where the caution flew.
"Heck, I honestly didn’t even know the caution was out until halfway through turns 1 and 2. They probably told me on the radio. But at that point you’re so in tune with what’s going on, trying to focus on when you got a guy behind you pushing you. You got to hold the wheel straight."
Bowyer got a huge push from Juan Montoya to take the lead, but Harvick had help from David Reutimann.
"I thought we had it for sure," Bowyer said. "When two cars hook up, they just drive off from them and they were coming on the outside and ran us down, and then I quit dragging my brakes and we kind of took off again.
"[We were] door to door there and all of a sudden ... [spotter Mike] Dillon is yelling at me in my ear that the caution was coming out. I looked over to make sure I was ahead of him. I thought I was, but I didn’t know."
AAA Texas 500, Texas Motor Speedway
Texans love to boast that everything’s bigger and better there, and that was undeniable this season. It may be easier to list what didn’t happen rather than what did. Denny Hamlin looked invincible with a convincing victory while Jimmie Johnson looked anything but when his entire over-the-wall pit crew was replaced midway through the race.
And that came about after Jeff Gordon was wrecked by Jeff Burton under caution, leading to an unscheduled pushing and shoving match between those two on the backstretch. Burton later admitted fault, saying the setting sun was in his eyes when he was pulling up alongside Gordon’s car to explain an earlier incident. The cars then hooked bumpers, sending both hard into the wall and Gordon striding angrily to confront Burton.
"He deserved a lot more than that, I can tell you that," Gordon said. "That kind of stuff is ridiculous and uncalled for. You know, Jeff and I ... I just like the guy too much and we’ll be able to go on racing with one another after this — but I just lost so much respect for Jeff for doing something like that. That was really stupid.
"Sometimes I can’t hold my emotions back — and believe it or not, I was holding them back right there."
And to top things off, both drivers wound up riding in the same ambulance on the way to the infield care center.
"We talked on the whole ambulance ride in. When you’re too upset like that, you don’t care to hear any explanation," Gordon said. "I mean, I know he’s sorry. But he’s sorry because he got caught up in it himself.
"I didn’t want to ride in the vehicle with him, I can tell you that. I wanted to go confront him, that’s for sure. But it wasn’t fun. He talked a lot — but I didn’t say a whole lot."