They’re the best of the best and worst of the worst in NASCAR. The pretty and the ugly, the cool and the lame. They made us cheer, laugh and, as Robert Plant once said, taught us “to weep and moan.”
They are the recipients of the Athlon Awards — back by popular demand — recognizing excellence (and lack thereof) from the 2012 NASCAR season. Some are fairly obvious, others off the wall. But none pull any punches. So, without further ado, the Athlon Awards.
Driver of the Year
Sprint Cup: Brad Keselowski
Nationwide: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Camping World Truck: James Buescher
Yeah we went chalk here, but the reason for a points system is to determine each series’ best driver, right? So who are we to disagree with results?
Crew Chief of the Year
Sprint Cup: Brian Pattie
Nationwide: Luke Lambert
Camping World Truck: Michael Shelton
There were numerous deserving head wrenches in the Cup Series, but Pattie gets the nod for leading a team that did not exist just one year prior and guiding it to a runner-up points finish.
Race of the Year
Sprint Cup: Watkins Glen
Nationwide: Daytona (Feb.)
Camping World Truck: Homestead
Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski versus the best road racer in NASCAR in Marcos Ambrose on an oiled-down roadie with checkers in the air. ’Nuff said.
Best Radio Transmission
There are a lot to choose from, but the one that demonstrated the mettle of a driver and his team came on the warm-up laps at Dover in the fall race. Jimmie Johnson was the overwhelming favorite to win the AAA 400 and entered the event with a one-point advantage over Brad Keselowski in the standings. The No. 2 bunch was tight; there was pressure to perform that day. As the field circled the track prior to the race, Keselowski, seemingly out of nowhere, came over the radio and asked his crew if they’d seen the “undecided voter” sketch on the previous evening’s “Saturday Night Live.” As he explained how funny he thought it was, the tension was broken, and the team performed flawlessly.
Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe used strategy to find their way to the front, going the final 89 laps on a single tank of fuel that Sunday. Inheriting the lead with 10 laps to go, they held on to bag 2012 Chase victory No. 2.
It was a statement performance and a shining example of Keselowski’s leadership.
Comeback Driver of the Year
Sprint Cup: Martin Truex Jr.
Nationwide: Sam Hornish Jr.
Camping World Truck: Cale Gale
Wait a second ... Cale Gale? Wasn’t his career on life support just a season ago? Credit Eddie Sharp for putting the paddles to him, as Gale scored his first career Truck Series win in the season finale at Homestead. Too bad he's not behind the wheel in 2013.
Sprint Cup: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Nationwide: Ryan Blaney
Camping World Truck: Kyle Larson
Stenhouse is a no-brainer, while Blaney and Larson could both win a couple touring series events this season if given the right opportunity.
Best Primary Paint Scheme
No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet (above)
Does it get any more crisp and clean than Kevin Harvick’s 2012 ride? Gloss black, white print and red trim … so simple, yet so sweet. His 2013 scheme is no slouch, but why they went away from this, we’ll never know.
Best Special Paint Scheme
No. 88 “Dark knight rises” Chevrolet (above)
An argument could be made that the Batman logo on the hood resembled the droppings of a giant seagull. That said, there was a buzz about this car’s speed and paint scheme in the garage at Michigan in June. Sure enough, Junior drove her to Victory Lane for the most popular win of 2012.
Worst Primary Paint Scheme
No. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW Chevrolet (above)
Sorry Junior Nation, but silver, red and three shades of green just don’t go together. For a paint scheme aficionado like Earnhardt, we expect better.
NASCAR’s must-follow accounts:
Driver: Brad Keselowski (@keselowski)
Crew Chief: Steve Letarte (@SteveLetarte)
Spotter: Mike Calinoff (@MikeCalinoff)
WAG: DeLana Harvick (@DeLanaHarvick)
Print Journalist (info): Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass)
Print Journalist (entertainment): Monte Dutton (@MonteDutton)
TV Personality: Kyle Petty (@kylepetty)
Memorable Tweets of 2012:
Clint Bowyer, the day after his Phoenix “run-in” with Jeff Gordon: “This just in... Pretty sure I pulled a hammy yesterday. Damn it!!!!”
Kasey Kahne, while doing some grocery shopping: “Just walking though supermarket. See a mom breast feeding little kid. Took second look because obviously I was seeing things. I wasn’t!”
"One boob put away one boob hanging!!! #nasty.”
Most Underrated Driver
Sprint Cup: Matt Kenseth
Nationwide: Mike Bliss
Camping World Truck: Parker Kligerman
How can a former Cup champion and winner of three 2012 races be considered underrated? We’re not sure, but when was the last time you heard Kenseth’s name mentioned as a title favorite — a real title favorite, not the “well, he’s third in the standings, so we have to throw him in the conversation” type? It’s been a while. He’ll excel at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Most Overrated Driver
Sprint Cup: Juan Pablo Montoya
Nationwide: Brian Scott
Camping World Truck: Todd Bodine
We’ll admit, it’s tough to label a two-time Truck Series champ with 37 career touring series wins overrated ... but man, Bodine tears up a lot of equipment.
Best Driver Move for 2012
Many thought Clint Bowyer was crazy for leaving what was viewed as a rock-solid organization at Richard Childress Racing for Michael Waltrip’s unproven bunch. Three wins and a runner-up points finish later, Bowyer is laughing last.
Worst Driver Move for 2012
AJ Allmendinger to Penske Racing. We’re glad it appears he’s gotten things straightened out, but that was an unmitigated disaster.