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NASCAR's 2010 season was one for the history books

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Las Vegas, NV (Sports Network) - From NASCAR's pre-season "Boys, have at it" speech in January to Jimmie Johnson's fifth straight Sprint Cup Series championship in November, the 2010 NASCAR season was a roller coaster ride of storylines from start to finish. Feuds, fights and even a fire suit made for an entertaining year in stock car racing's biggest circuit.

JOHNSON'S "DRIVE FOR FIVE"

The Jimmie Johnson dynasty continues.

Despite facing a points deficit in the season-finale at Homestead last month, Johnson claimed his record-extending fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship.

Johnson trailed leader Denny Hamlin by 33 points after the November 7 race at Texas. While it appeared that Johnson's "drive for five" was in jeopardy, Hendrick Motorsports swapped Jeff Gordon's No.24 pit crew with Johnson's crew after the No.48 team struggled with its pit stops at Texas. Johnson finished ninth at Texas, but rallied with top-five runs at Phoenix and Homestead to edge Hamlin for the title by 39 points.

With Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus remaining at HMS for years to come, don't be surprised if the title streak continues for quite some time.

"I would love to get 10 straight," Johnson said. "I don't know how ridiculous that sounds, but I would love to do X, Y and Z. The realistic side, there's no telling how long it's going to last, and I think we are all shocked it's gone on this far. Being a realist, I don't know if it's going to last. I'm amazed that we've been able to do this for five years straight.

Jimmie Johnson is now two titles away from tying NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the record.
"I want to believe, and I do feel in my heart, that we'll have a shot next year, but I don't know what those challenges are going to be, how competitive we'll be, what the competition's going to look like. It's really hard to look that far ahead. I feel like I have my best chances at Hendrick Motorsports, with Chad Knaus as my crew chief."

Johnson is now two titles away from tying NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the record.

"If I can seam together seven in any shape or form to tie those two greats, I would be extremely honored," Johnson added. "If I was ever able to surpass them, it would be out of this world."

BOYS CAN'T PLAY NICE AT TIMES

When NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton told drivers, "Boys, have at it and have a good time," during a pre-season media conference, it didn't take long for the fellas to really have at it on the track, especially Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski.

The on-going feud between Edwards and Keselowski boiled over into the spring race at Atlanta. Keselowski got his bell rung when Edwards intentionally bumped him from behind and sent his No.12 Penske Racing Dodge flying upside down into the wall along the frontstretch at the fast Atlanta track. The two had an encounter earlier in the race when Keselowski put Edwards into the wall.

NASCAR placed Edwards on probation for the next three races after Atlanta.

In July, the feud between them showed no signs of letting up when Edwards nudged Keselowski and spun him into the frontstretch wall, as they were heading out of the final turn on the last lap in the Nationwide Series race at Gateway International Raceway. Edwards won the race, while Keselowski slid across the finish line in 14th-place before Shelby Howard plowed into him, causing another spin around.

"[Edwards] ain't going to kill my boy," Keselowski's father, Bob, a former NASCAR driver and current team owner, said during a post-race interview on ESPN at Gateway. "He just overreacted so bad. If he wanted to bump Brad, that's one thing, but don't drive him through the inside guard rail. Don't put him through the grandstands at Atlanta. That's asinine."

After Gateway, NASCAR placed Edwards and Keselowski on probation for the remainder of the year. The two have behaved since then.

Keselowski went on to win this year's Nationwide championship by a sizeable points margin over Edwards.

Edwards and Keselowski weren't the only ones who sparked fireworks on the race track during the season.

Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon had a brawl after the two wrecked during last month's race at Texas. Gordon also had his run-ins with Matt Kenseth (Martinsville in March), Martin Truex Jr. (Sonoma in July) and teammate Johnson (Texas and Talladega in April).

Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano had a post-race skirmish on pit road in June at Pocono. Harvick bumped Logano and put him into a spin during the final laps.

Harvick's crew members blocked Logano from getting face to face with their driver. Logano's father, Tom, also partook in the confrontation.

A generally calm and easy-going Logano expressed his ire towards Harvick during an interview with television network TNT.

"I don't know what his problem is with me, but it's probably not his fault; his wife [DeLana Harvick] wears the fire suit in the family and tells him what to do," Logano said.

Both drivers butted heads earlier in the season when Harvick bumped Logano from behind on the final lap of the Nationwide race at Bristol.

Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin exchanged words in the garage at Charlotte following an incident between the two in the all-star race. Hamlin blocked Busch from taking the lead, causing Busch to hit the wall with eight laps to go.

"Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin; we had this race won," Busch shouted to his crew chief, Dave Rogers, over the team radio.

Kyle's brother, Kurt, went on to win the race and collected a $1 million prize.

COMEBACK DRIVER

Jamie McMurray missed qualifying for the championship Chase by a distant 127 points, but McMurray enjoyed a dream season that he would have never imagined one year ago.

After losing his ride with Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the 2009 season, McMurray found a new home at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. And what a year it was for him, winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis and the fall race at Charlotte.

He also tied Kasey Kahne for most poles this season.

McMurray had won just three Cup races since he made his debut in the series late in the 2002 season.

MEDICAL AND TECHNICAL

After making the Chase for the first time last year, Brian Vickers' 2010 season was curtailed in May when he was diagnosed and treated for blood clots in his left leg and both lungs. Vickers also had open heart surgery to repair a hole in his heart.

Red Bull Racing expects Vickers to return to the team in 2011, as he pairs up with new teammate Kasey Kahne.

Hamlin underwent surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee days after he won his first race of the season in March at Martinsville. Hamlin tore his ACL while playing basketball during the off-season.

Just before the spring race at Martinsville, NASCAR replaced the rear wing with the spoiler on the current Cup cars. NASCAR also tinkered with the restrictor plate, which made for thrilling races at Daytona and Talladega this season.

THRILLING CHASE

This year's Chase had its share of drama from start to finish.

Clint Bowyer won the Chase opener in September at New Hampshire, but Bowyer's winning car failed a more thorough post-race inspection conducted at NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, NC. NASCAR penalized Bowyer with a 150-point loss, and crew chief Shane Wilson received a six-race suspension and $150,000 fine.

"I'm angry about the whole thing," Bowyer said the following weekend at Dover. "This tarnished my win, something that I was very proud of. I'm very angry about it."

Richard Childress Racing lost in two appeals to have Bowyer's point reduction overturned, but Wilson's suspension and fine were reduced in the final appeal.

After a dismal season last year, Bowyer, Burton and Harvick helped revive RCR, with all three drivers making the Chase. Harvick led in the points standings when the regular season concluded with the Richmond fall race.

Hamlin gave Johnson a fight for the championship during the Chase, winning two times during the final 10-race stretch. Hamlin won his series-high eighth race of the season at Texas, but faltered the following week at Phoenix, where he finished 12th after he was forced to pit for fuel with 14 laps remaining.

Johnson, who finished fifth at Phoenix, arrived to Homestead just 15 points behind Hamlin, making it the closest margin between the top-two drivers for the season-finale since NASCAR began it playoff format for its top-tier series in 2004.

However, Hamlin's bid to dethrone Johnson came up short when Johnson finished second and Hamlin wound up 14th at Homestead.

Johnson will be honored for his fifth title during Friday night's NASCAR Awards Ceremony at the Wynn Las Vegas.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

Follow Chris Symeon on Twitter and Facebook.

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