Thrilling NASCAR Season to Produce New Champion: Fan’s Look

For the first time since 2005, a NASCAR season will produce a Sprint Cup champion who is not named Jimmie Johnson.

After a five year run at the top, Jimmie Johnson must wave goodbye to the Sprint Cup title in 2011
Wikimedia Commons

On Sunday, November 13, with the #48 car finishing in 14th place in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, the five time champion was officially eliminated from capturing a sixth consecutive Sprint Cup. Though Johnson has enjoyed a solid campaign, by capturing only 2 wins and 14 top five finishes, this effort has lacked the dominance of prior championship seasons.

In fact, with only one race remaining in 2011, all but two contenders have been removed from contention for the coveted title. Those still standing with hopes of inheriting the throne are two-time past champion Tony Stewart and 32 year-old Carl Edwards.

Though Johnson's championship streak has completely rewritten the NASCAR record books, I think it is positive for the sport that someone else will capture this year's title.

Everyone respects what the #48 car has accomplished for the past half decade. In addition to emerging as stock car racing's best driver, the stars have aligned for the entirety of the Lowe's sponsored team. Johnson has enjoyed superior engine and chassis support from Hendrick Motorsports, a crew chief in Chad Knaus who makes all the right calls, and a pit crew that puts him in position to win at crunch time.

Yet, with the personalized nature of motorsports, fans naturally view at Johnson's accomplishments in individual terms. It is difficult to compare the driver's accomplishments to other sporting dynasties, such as the New York Yankees or Boston Celtics, because in NASCAR there are no off-season trades, rookie draft picks, or free agent signings.

While winning teams can look different annually, Jimmie Johnson alone has been the face of NASCAR for the length of his championship run.

As such, motorsports will benefit from a new top dog in NASCAR. Though Tony Stewart has triumphed twice before, winning would cement his legend as champion. A title in 2011 would come nearly a decade after the first for Joe Gibbs Racing back in 2002. Furthermore, it would defy the odds if "Smoke" earned this year's Sprint Cup as a driver/owner of a start-up team, something that seemed farfetched only a few years ago.

On the other hand, a win by Carl Edwards would truly breathe new life into the list of NASCAR champions. Edwards has been among the sport's best drivers for the past seven years. With 19 victories and 143 top ten finishes, the Missouri native has become the standard-bearer for top tier Roush/Fenway Racing. Edwards is photogenic, fires up crowds with victory back-flips, and has a personality suited for celebrating wins in front of the camera.

Entering this weekend's race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Edwards leads Stewart by only three points. The slim margin makes this the tightest battle in a final race for the Cup since 1990. Edwards has been steady all season and his 25 top ten finishes are already more than Jimmie Johnson has ever earned in a season. Meanwhile, no driver has been hotter down the stretch than Stewart, who has impressively scored four victories in the Chase's nine races.

2011 has proved to be a riveting season for NASCAR and crowning a new champion should be a fitting conclusion. Let's hope the year's final race lives up to the lofty expectations that the drama has created.

Source:

Yahoo! Sports

More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:

NASCAR's Year of the First Time Winner

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Jeff Briscoe is a motorsports fan who covers the IZOD IndyCar Series for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and a longtime Mark Martin supporter.

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Updated Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011