What a year it was for NASCAR and all of its fans. Who would have thought that it would come to an end so quickly. It always seems to happen too fast, and the shortest off-season in professional sports, always seems to last too long.
The 2007 NASCAR Nextel Cup season came to an end Friday evening with the presentation of the championship trophy to Jimmie Johnson, and a record amount of money ($32.8M) was awarded to the drivers through the points fund. The top 10 drivers shared $24M of the $32.8M awarded with each of the top 10 earning over $1M from the points fund. In the overall outcome, the top ten drivers earned over $84.7M in race winnings, special awards along with the points fund.
NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson collected a point fund award of $7,317,499, which brought his 2007 total earnings to $15,313,920. So far, the two-time champion has earned more than $59.5M in his NASCAR Cup series career.
Jeff Gordon, who finished second in the standings earned a total of over $10.9M in 2007 and is the series' all-time money leader with over $93.3M earned in his Cup career.
Even with all the money earned, it was still a season of great memories, starting at Daytona.
The Daytona 500 was won by Kevin Harvick over Mark Martin by only 0.020 seconds. Martin once again came up short on the track but continued to show class, and honored his word, when he stepped out of the car for the fifth race of the season at Bristol, per his own terms. Harvick finished the season in tenth place and was a guest at NASCAR Champions Week, not only has a driver but co-owner of the NASCAR Truck championship team. Martin finished ahead of 20 other drivers who attempted all 36 events, he only ran 24 and ended 27th in the final standings.
After seven years of research and development, the "Car of Tomorrow" (now the "car") made its debut on March 25th at Bristol Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch was able to hold off Jeff Burton to win the first ever race using the COT. Busch promptly exited his car in victory lane and informed the nation that the new COT 'sucked'. It was also the first race of the year that former Champ Car standout, A.J. Allmendinger qualified for, and finished in 40th.
Former Formula One star, Juan Pablo Montoya burst into NASCAR by being the first Hispanic driver to win a race in NASCAR's top two national series. Montoya won the Busch Series race in Mexico City after spinning teammate Scott Pruett out of the way and the Cup series race at Infineon Raceway on fuel strategy. Montoya was also crowned the Cup series 2007 Rookie of the Year over Roush Fenway driver, David Ragan.
Jeff Gordon won back-to-back races at Phoenix and Talladega to tie and then pass Dale Earnhardt Sr. with his 76th and 77th career Cup series victories. Gordon currently sits second in the 'Modern Era' for wins, three behind Darrell Waltrip who has 84.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. shocked the motorsports world in May when he announces he will leave Dale Earnhardt Inc. and join Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.
Kevin Harvick won the first ever NASCAR national series race in Canada at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The Busch series race was a thriller as Robby Gordon sneaked past Marcos Ambrose under a caution. After Gordon got around, Ambrose gave him a top to retain the lead. When Gordon refused to listen to the officials and re-grid near the end of the lead lap, the race went green, and Gordon returned the favor to Ambrose in turn 2. Harvick who brought out the aforementioned caution by bumping Scott Pruett was able to get through the spin, hang on after a bump from Patrick Carpentier (who will drive the Evernham Motorsports #10 in the Sprint Cup series next year) and take the win.
Lastly, Johnson won his second straight Cup championship by winning four straight races in the Chase and became only the second driver in the past nine years to claim back-to-back championships. His teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, Jeff Gordon, was the other Cup driver to win consecutive titles.
It was truly a great year, capped off by a great week in New York City.
The countdown starts now, the Daytona 500 is only 77 days away.