As we ring out the old and ring in the new this New Year's Eve, it's my tradition to look at some of the top stories in NASCAR.

As 2009 draws to a close, it's apparent that it's been a tough year for the sport.

Johnson debate: Jimmie Johnson notched his fourth consecutive Cup championship, making him the first driver ever to do so. His efforts were so impressive that he was named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, another first.

But these accomplishments were met with controversy for the driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. Some fans complained that Johnson wins too much, and that he is helped to victory lane by the dirtiest crew chief in the business -- "Cheatin' Chad" Knaus.

I say, give it a rest. While Knaus has been hit with multiple penalties for
"actions detrimental to NASCAR," he hasn't won four consecutive championships as crew chief because he cheats.

Internet message boards lit up with the selection of Johnson as the Associated Press winner, reigniting an argument about the athleticism of race car drivers.

Some fans of traditional "stick and ball" sports don't have a clue as to what it takes to race, but chances are that if you're reading this column, you already know what it takes to manhandle a car at speeds over 200 mph.

Mayfield lawsuit: Although lawsuits aren't new to NASCAR (last year's settlement of a sexism/racism suit by a former official comes to mind), 2009 was the year of a particularly ugly one involving driver Jeremy Mayfield.


And the controversy involving Mayfield is far from over.

I was in the media center of Darlington Raceway in May when word got out that a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver had failed a drug test. By the end of that weekend, a news conference revealed that the driver was Mayfield and he had been indefinitely suspended from NASCAR. Mayfield sued NASCAR challenging the validity of the drug test, and later sued his stepmother, Lisa Mayfield, for wrongful death in the 2007 death of his father, Terry Mayfield.

Lisa Mayfield had stated in a July affidavit that she had seen Jeremy use methamphetamines. Lisa Mayfield responded in August by suing Jeremy for defamation because of the wrongful death suit.

Jeremy's troubles grew last month, when he was sued for unpaid legal fees by the attorney he hired in May to handle his case against NASCAR. According to the suit, the amount owed is nearly $400,000. Mayfield hired a new attorney in October.

Kentucky lawsuit: And in other legal action involving NASCAR, it was announced this week that a former minority owner of Kentucky Speedway is suing the racetrack's one-time majority owner, seeking to stop him from dropping an antitrust lawsuit against NASCAR.

Only time will tell if NASCAR's legal merry-go-round will end in 2010.

Happy New Year!

Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dis patch. She can be reached at esiska@yorkdis