The Sprint Cup is staying put for at least another year. Here are the other prized performers of the 2010 season
BEST DRIVER: Jimmie Johnson
Well, sure, JJ won his fifth straight title and padded his Hall of Fame résumé, but it was clear he wasn't as fast as he'd been in the previous four years. He nevertheless won six races, had a series-high 17 top five finishes and led a series-best 1,314 laps. As long as Johnson stays with his inimitable crew chief Chad Knaus, the record of seven career Cup championships will be in danger.
FASTEST DRIVER: Denny Hamlin
Yes, he came up 39 points short of unseating Jimmie Johnson, but no driver was flat-out faster than Hamlin this season. Once the spoiler replaced the rear wing on the back ends of Cup cars late last March, he cruised to the front of the field. Displaying the car control and smarts of a champion, Hamlin won more races (eight) than any other driver and had 14 top five finishes. At 30 his days of being a serious title contender are only beginning.
BEST COMEBACK: Kevin Harvick
How bad was Harvick in 2009? He had zero wins and nine top 10 finishes, and he ended the season 19th in the standings. How good was Harvick this year? He would have won the championship under the old points system, as he raced to a series-high 26 top 10 finishes. No driver in the sport was more consistent in 2010.
DRIVER TO WATCH IN 2011: Carl Edwards
Edwards was quiet for most of 2010, failing to win a race in the season's first eight months as he struggled with a poor-handling car. But late in the year he and crew chief Bob Osborne suddenly solved their setup problem. On Nov. 14 at Phoenix, Edwards snapped a 70-race winless streak. He made it back-to-back victory backflips on Sunday with his second win at Homestead in three seasons. "I can't wait for next year," Edwards says. "The momentum we have is going to carry over."
MOST IMPROVED DRIVER: Joey Logano
Logano, 20, is seemingly gaining speed with every lap. After struggling in the spring, he came on strong in the fall, with five finishes of seventh or better in the final seven races of the season. He looks like a solid bet to qualify for his first Chase in 2011.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Juan Pablo Montoya
A year after contending for the championship, Montoya was a complete nonfactor, finishing 17th in the standings. One statistic tells the story: In his last 10 starts Montoya had only one top 10 finish. A former Indy 500 champion and an upper-echelon driver in Formula One, Montoya is immensely talented. But if 2011 is anything like '10, he may wish he were back in open-wheel racing.
"THE MOMENTUM WE HAVE WILL CARRY OVER," SAYS THE STREAKING EDWARDS.
MICHAEL DINOVO/CAL SPORT MEDIA