Here we are at the end of 2011, one of the best NASCAR seasons in recent memory. And your pals here at the Marbles were on board for every single lap, win, fight and postrace tantrum. Join us, won't you, as we take one final look back at the glory that was the 2011 NASCAR season here at From The Marbles:
January: We started out by asking if 2011 would mark Year VI of King Jimmie's reign. (Spoiler: no.) ... Kyle Busch rang in the new year a newly married man. He'd have more adventures as 2011 went on ... Tony Stewart got into a fight in Australia and was apparently held for questioning. His year would get better ... NASCAR began kicking around a new points system ... Travis Pastrana announced plans to run the Nationwide series. Unplanned: catastrophic injury beforehand ... The media got criticized for being too negative; was it a fair complaint? ... Richard Childress predicted a Cup championship for his boys. Missed it by just a touch.
February: Uh, what the heck was Kyle Busch thinking letting this photo be taken? ... This year marked the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's passing at Daytona, and we listened to your reflections ... ESPN yapper Tony Kornheiser tried to assert that NASCAR is "fixed," and later recanted ... Some kid named Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500, and the NASCAR world said, "Who?"
March: Two races in, were Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle already out of the hunt? (Spoiler: yes.) ... Robby Gordon got into a fight in Las Vegas with Kevin Conway, and ended up on probation for the rest of the year ... Brian Vickers wrestled with cheetahs in Saudi Arabia? What the hell? ... Jennifer Jo Cobb struck a blow for drivers everywhere when she refused to start-and-park at Bristol in the Nationwide race ... Bristol attendance in the spring? Yeah, it stunk on ice.
April: Kimi Raikkonen announced plans for a long and prosperous career in NASCAR, plans that apparently changed ... Junior wins! Junior wins! There's no way Kevin Harvick is going to catch him at Martinsville, right...? ... Say what you will about the two-car drafting at Talladega, it gave us the closest finish in NASCAR history.
May: Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya got into it at Richmond, and may well have thrown some fists in the NASCAR hauler. Awesome, but the fights got even better ... In the throwdown of the year, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch brawled after the Darlington race, with Harvick throwing punches and Busch driving right through Harvick's unmanned car ... Jimmie Johnson brought planking to NASCAR, but thankfully the phase passed pretty quickly ... Everybody welcome the 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame class! ... Kyle Busch got tagged going 128 mph in a 45-mph zone. Whoops ... Memorial Day featured two of the most heartbreaking (which is not the same as "tragic") finishes, as both J.R. Hildebrand and Dale Earnhardt Jr. surrendered last-lap leads.
June: Brian Vickers skydove into Daytona International Speedway ... Jamie McMurray's childhood home was destroyed by tornadoes; this was a sobering picture of that ... Kyle Busch fought with Richard Childress? Wait, that can't be right ... More secret fines? Nice work, NASCAR ... Is Dale Earnhardt Jr. a future Hall of Famer? Stop laughing and think about it ... This was our biggest post of the year, and it wasn't even about NASCAR: Two cycles got hooked up and danced a dance of death! ... Jeff Gordon cameo'd in Cars 2, and we picked the greatest athlete cameos in movie history ... Kurt Busch berated his crew on the radio but won at Infineon. And surely there would be no negative blowback.
July: The Kentucky race was a decent one, as long as you weren't one of the 20,000 who didn't even get in or the thousands more who got stuck trying to get out ... NASCAR showed up to help save the world in Transformers 3 ... Jeff Gordon spent the off-week in the Congo. Of course he did ... Kyle Busch won his 100th NASCAR national series race, and the recognition of that drove quite a few folks a bit insane ... Simply the best NASCAR prerace invocation you'll ever see: Boogity, boogity, boogity, amen.
August: Brad Keselowski had a hard wreck in testing, but that was OK, because he was ranked in the 20s and not really much of a factor this season ... The best postrace interview of the year belonged to road-course ringer Boris Said, who teed off on Greg Biffle with an epic rant ... Matt Kenseth: funniest driver on Twitter. No kidding ... Danica Patrick prepared to jump to NASCAR full-time, and the earth briefly stopped spinning on its axis ... We would advise against eating anything you caught in the Bristol parking lot.
September: Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be at Hendrick through 2017 ... Several drivers declined a White House invitation, which instantly became a huge political issue ... The most horrifying picture you'll see all year, guaranteed ... Tony Stewart criticized the media for asking the same old questions. No big deal, as it looked like he wasn't going to be much of a factor in the Chase ... The last race of the regular season, Richmond, featured the most bizarre press conference in NASCAR history, capped by Kurt Busch ripping a transcript in half ... Oh, and Paul Menard might just have spun on team orders to give Kevin Harvick the Richmond win, leading to a new catchphrase: "Go to Channel 2."
October: Clint Bowyer closed one of the wilder free-agent bonanzas in recent memory by announcing he'd be driving for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012 ... Charlotte Motor Speedway created the "funnel bacakonator," the most unhealthy food in human history ... Horrible tragedy: Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed in a Las Vegas IndyCar crash ... Check out the greatest Hot Wheels track in human history... More "team orders" drama with Jeff Gordon and Trevor Bayne at Talladega.
November: Jeremy Mayfield arrested for meth possession. But he really was innocent all those other times ... Kyle Busch crashed Ron Hornaday Jr. in a trucks race, and got himself parked for the Sprint Cup race for his trouble ... And then came the piling-on, as sponsors sought to distance themselves from Busch ... Coonskin Cap Man gives us a philosophy for life: get it, dig it like Dale Junior ... Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart starred in an epic pre-Homestead press conference ... In the end, it was Tony Stewart, winning on a tiebreaker, to take the 2011 Sprint Cup in one of the greatest races in the sport's history ... Stewart responded by firing winning crew chief Darian Grubb. Alas.
December: Champions Week in Vegas featured a fun "Newlywed Game" won by, of course, Tony Stewart ... Yes, Dale Earnhardt Jr. does have a girlfriend ... Kurt Busch and Penske Racing have parted ways, much to almost nobody's chagrin ... Crew chiefs and drivers switched seats and boxes like their old spots were infested with bees ... And the year ended with Kasey Kahne getting into a fight over breastfeeding. Of course it did.
And that was that! Thanks to all of you for joining us this year, and we'll all gather again for 2012, won't we?