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2000s: The Decade in Sports
Posted: Friday December 18, 2009 11:52AM; Updated: Friday December 18, 2009 12:28PM

The decade in motorsports

Story Highlights

Jimmie Johnson has won more Cup races than any driver this decade

Michael Schumacher and Sam Hornish Jr. starred in their respective leagues

By Lars Anderson,

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Top 10 drivers

Jimmie Johnson has won a record four consecutive Sprint Cup titles.
George Tiedemann/SI

1. Jimmie Johnson: Since entering the Cup series in 2002, Johnson has dominated NASCAR like no other driver in history. He's won more races than any other Cup driver this decade (47), and this year he became the first driver to win four straight championships.

2. Tony Stewart: Stewart has two championships this decade (2002 and 2005) and this year became the first driver-owner to win a points-paying Cup race since Ricky Rudd in 1998.

3. Michael Schumacher: The retired Formula One star won a record seven world championships -- five this decade -- and has more wins in the last 10 years (46) than any other driver in the series.

4. Jeff Gordon: While only one of Gordon's four Sprint Cup championships was won this decade (2001), he's taken more checkered flags since 2000 (33) than any driver except Johnson.

5. Matt Kenseth: The quiet man from Cambridge, Wis., has been as consistent as any other driver since entering the Cup series in 2001. He won the 2003 Cup and his 172 top-10 finishes this decade trails only Gordon and Johnson.

6. Sam Hornish Jr.: Forget Hornish's struggles in NASCAR; he was IndyCar's top driver this decade, winning three series championships (2001, 2002 and 2006) and the 2006 Indy 500.

7. Kurt Busch: Aggressive and combative, Busch won the inaugural Chase in 2004 and since then has been a regular playoff participant, qualifying for NASCAR's second season in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009.

8. Helio Castroneves: Since entering IndyCar in 2001, Castroneves has been the man to beat in the Indy 500. The former Dancing With the Stars winner has taken the checkered flag in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing three times, the most among active drivers.

9. Kyle Busch: Of the many eye-popping statistics Busch has accumulated since making his Cup debut in 2004, this is the most impressive: In 2008, Busch drove to Victory Lane a record 21 times in NASCAR's three national series.

10. Mark Martin: Martin has twice finished runner-up in the final Cup standings this decade (2002 and 2009) and continues to show that, at 50, he's as fast as he was at 30.

Highlights and lowlights

BEST DAYTONA 500: 2004
Exactly three years after his father was killed at Daytona in a last lap crash, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Great American Race, prompting an unmatched outburst of emotion from the red-clad Earnhardt fans in the Daytona grandstands.

Hornish Jr., a native of nearby Defiance, Ohio, passed Marco Andretti on the last lap to win by .0635 of a second -- a little more than a car length. It was the second closest finish in the storied history of Indy.

BEST F-1 RACE: Hamilton's title-winning race; Nov. 2, 2008
In the season's final race (the Brazilian GP in Sao Paulo), England's Lewis Hamilton needed to finish fifth or better to win the championship. Heading into the final turn of the season, Hamilton was in sixth place, but he brazenly passed Timo Glock within sight of the finish line. Hamilton won the world title by a single point over Brazil's Felipe Massa.

BEST RACE: The Ford 400 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway; Nov. 21, 2004
Entering the race, five drivers were within 82 points of leader Kurt Busch in the championship standings. Despite having a wheel come off, Busch held on to beat Johnson by eight points in the final tally -- the closest finish in Chase history.

BIGGEST UPSET: David Gilliand's Kentucky Speedway victory; June 17, 2006
It never happens. At least it hadn't in this decade until June 2006, when Gilliland, driving an unsponsored car in his seventh career start in the Nationwide Series, took the checkered flag at Kentucky Speedway, beating a handful of Cup regulars in fully funded cars (read: sponsorships with upwards of $20 million). It was the only time in the last 10 years that an unsponsored car won a race in either of NASCAR's two highest series.

At age 16, Letarte started sweeping floors at Hendrick Motorsports. A decade later, with thorough persistence and a work ethic for the ages, he rose through the ranks and was named Gordon's crew chief. His is literally a broom-to-riches story.

Busch has won 14 Cup races in the last four years, so it's hard to call him an underachiever. Still, no other driver in the sport has been as consistently disappointing in the Chase as the freakishly talented Busch, who has never finished higher than fifth in the 10-race playoff.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY: The Talladega question
The track has become a ticking time bomb. The big wrecks that are commonplace on the 2.66-mile tri-oval in Alabama are growing progressively worse: Carl Edwards nearly flew into the grandstands last spring and Ryan Newman was lucky to walk away this fall after flipping upside-down. NASCAR clearly needs to do something to make sure the cars don't become airborne on the circuit's longest track. Paging all engineers!

BEST FEUD: Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch
While it bubbles to the surface only every so often, the animosity between Stewart and Busch is deep-seated. These big personalities frequently spar -- both verbally and on the track. They certainly don't feud like Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough at Daytona in 1979, but word in the garage is that Stewart punched Busch after a practice session in the days before the 2008 Daytona 500.

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