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NASCAR Sprint Cup Season 2009 Review

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The 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season produced the same end result for the fourth consecutive season as Jimmie Johnson won the championship title. The path to that result, however, was in factual question throughout the “race to the chase” although the widely-held perception, based upon Johnson’s performance the previous three seasons, that Johnson would step up to take the title, was well-founded.

The rain-shortened Daytona 500 produced a surprise victor, Roush’s Matt Kenseth, and he surprised again by winning the next week in California. He then failed to win for the remainder of the season, and even failed to make the Chase. Kyle Busch then won two of the next three races, and although he won two more races, he, too, failed to make the Chase! Among the three winning drivers in the first five 2009 races, only Kurt Busch, winner of race four of the season at Atlanta, made the Chase. He won once more (at Texas during the Chase) and finished fourth in points.

Jimmie Johnson did not win until race six of the season, at Martinsville, and then did not win again until race thirteen at Dover. Six more races elapsed without a Johnson win before he won the Brickyard 400, his final win before the Chase. Jimmie’s pre-Chase win total was only three. But when it really mattered, during the Chase, Johnson won four races (races two, four, five, and nine of the Chase) and ended the season as the series’ most prolific racewinner with seven victories. He tied Jeff Gordon for the most Top Five finishes at sixteen and fell just one short of Gordon in Top Ten finishes with twenty-four to Jeff’s twenty-five.

Eventual championship runnerup Mark Martin didn’t win until race eight, at Phoenix on April 18, but thereafter he won a race every month for the next three months (May 9 Darlington, June 14 Michigan, July 11 Chicagoland). Martin won four races in the race to the Chase but in the Chase he won only the first race of the Chase, at New Hampshire. Mark’s five wins ranked second to Johnson for 2009 but his fourteen Top Five finishes were two less than Johnson and his twenty-one Top Tens were three fewer than Jimmie. Mark did have the edge in pole positions, however, seven to four.

When Jeff Gordon won the Texas race on April 4, the seventh race of the season, there appeared to be a real chance that he could wrest the title from Johnson. Jeff did match Jimmie’s Top Five total and exceeded his Top Ten total by one but his failure to win again during either part of the season doomed his bid. His third place in points, however, gave Hendrick Racing an unprecedented 1-2-3 finish point finish!

Tony Stewart’s consistent performance throughout the race to the Chase kept him in front of the point battle. He did not win a point race until race fourteen at Pocono on June 7 but then won the Daytona 400 on July 4 and at Watkins Glen on August 10. A slow start in the Chase doomed his title hopes, but he did win race four of the Chase at Kansas. His Chase performance caused him to fade to a position behind the Hendrick trio and his skirmishes at Homestead cost him fifth place in points to Denny Hamlin. Hamlin didn’t win a race until August 3 at Pocono, race twenty-one of the season, but won a total of four of the final sixteen races!

The season produced three first-time winner drivers and three first-time winner entrants. Brad Keselowski’s victory in the James Finch Chevrolet on April 26 at Talladega counted as a true surprise although the Hendrick support for the entry blunted its significance; the win was the first for both driver and entrant. David Reutimann and his team benefited from timing and rain to win Charlotte’s rain-shortened 600 for Michael Waltrip’s Toyota team; again, the win was the first for both driver and entrant. A similar scenario produced the Joey Logano win for Joe Gibbs Toyota in the June 28 New Hamsphire race as he became the third first-time winner among the drivers. Brian Vickers’ victory at Michigan on August 16 was much-anticipated and made the Red Bull team the third entrant to score a first-time Cup victory in 2009.

Fourteen drivers won the thirty-six races. Johnson led with seven wins to five for Martin, four apiece for Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart, two each for Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, and Matt Kenseth, and one apiece for Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, David Reutimann, and Brian Vickers. Nine entrants won the thirty-six races. Hendrick Racing won thirteen races with three drivers (Johnson seven, Martin five, Gordon one). Gibbs Racing won nine races with three drivers (Kyle Busch four, Hamlin four, Logano one). Stewart/Haas won four races, all with Tony Stewart. Jack Roush won three races with two drivers (Kenseth two, McMurray one). Penske Racing won two races, both victories scored by Kurt Busch, and Petty Racing won two races, both by Kasey Kahne. Single wins were posted by Finch (Keselowski), Michael Waltrip Racing (Reutimann), and Red Bull (Vickers).

Chevrolet won eighteen races with three entrants (Hendrick thirteen, Stewart/Haas four, Finch 1). Toyota won eleven races with three entrants (Gibbs nine, MWR one, Red Bull one). Dodge won four races with two entrants (Penske two, Petty two). Ford won three races, all scored by Roush Racing.

The Nextel Cup Series holds six races on “short tracks,” at Bristol, Martinsville, and Richmond. Gibbs Racing won five of the six, with Hendrick taking the other win. Kyle Busch won three “short track” races, his Gibbs teammate Denny Hamlin won two, and Hendrick’s Jimmie Johnson won one. The manufacturer total on the “short tracks” was Toyota five, Chevrolet one. The two road course wins went to Tony Stewart for Stewart/Haas and Kasey Kahne for Petty, producing one win for Chevrolet and one for Dodge. At Daytona and Talladega, two wins went to Roush (Kenseth in the Daytona 500 and McMurray at Talladega on November 1) and Ford with Tony Stewart winning the Daytona 400 for Stewart/Haas and Brad Keselowski winning for James Finch in April at Talladega to give Chevrolet two wins.

On the other superspeedway ovals, twenty-four races were held. Johnson’s six wins led Martin’s five. Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart won two apiece. Single wins went to Kyle Busch, Gordon, Kahne, Kenseth, Logano, Reutimann, and Vickers. Twelve drivers won these twenty-four races.

Six drivers won races on more than one category of track. Stewart won on three types of track: he won twice on the non-restrictor plate ovals, once at Daytona in a “plate” race, and once on a road course. Kyle Busch won three “short track” races and one race on a non-plate oval. Johnson won six races on non-plate ovals and one “short track” race. Denny Hamlin won twice on the short tracks and twice on the non-plate ovals. Kahne won one non-plate oval race and once on a road course. Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 “plate” race and the non-plate California event.

Among the entrants, only Stewart/Haas won on three types of tracks as Tony won the Daytona 400, two non-plate oval races, and a road course race. Hendrick Racing won a whopping twelve of the twenty-four non-plate oval races and one “short track” race but no “plate” races or road course races. Gibbs Racing won five “short track” races and four non-plate oval events. Roush won two “plate” races and one non-plate oval race. Petty Racing won one non-plate oval race and a road course event.

Only two driver win streaks were posted in 2009. Matt Kenseth won the first two races of the season and Jimmie Johnson won at California and Charlotte consecutively during the Chase. Entrant streaks were more common. Roush won the first two races of the season, Hendrick Racing won three straight with three drivers (March Martinsville, April Texas and Phoenix), Hendrick won consecutively at Chicagoland and Indianapolis in July with Martin and Johnson, Hendrick won consecutively at New Hampshire and Dover in the Chase with Martin and Johnson, and again won consecutively in the Chase at California and Charlotte with Johnson.

The first manufacturer win streak was posted by Ford by winning the first two races. Chevrolet won four straight from Martinsville in March through Talladega in April. Chevrolet won three consecutive races from May Dover through June Michigan, and then won three straight again from the Daytona 400 through the Brickyard 400. Toyota posted its only win streak in August when Vickers won at Michigan and then Kyle Busch won at Bristol. The longest manufacturer win streak of 2009, five races, was posted by Chevrolet from the September 20 New Hampshire race through Charlotte on October 17.

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