NASCAR is more popular than it's ever been. It's increasingly being embraced by locals, partly because our other professional sports teams are underperforming (read: they suck), but also because the drivers are becoming a part of our communities. From a mean old man to a hot young wife, these are the best of the best.
To become the champion you must beat the champion. That's what Jimmie Johnson did en route to winning the 2006 and 2007 Sprint Cup championships. Considered a rising star in 2001, and handpicked by Jeff Gordon to join the Hendrick Motorsports team, Johnson hasn't disappointed. He won ten races in 2007 (many drivers don't accomplish that in a career), including twenty top-five finishes while earning $7.6 million in winnings.
In keeping with our tradition of awarding a BOB to a Sports Illustrated model (Matthews' Brooklyn Decker graced our BOB cover last year), this one goes to Ingrid Vandebosch. She isn't just Jeff Gordon's wife. She's his hot wife. All NASCAR wives are hot, you say? But Vandebosch appeared in the SI swimsuit issue just a few months after having a baby.
The twenty-two-year-old driver for Roush Fenway Racing was the runner-up for rookie of the year in 2007. (And he may have won it if he didn't lead the circuit in accidents.) Ragan has the talent and has shown he can compete in the big races (he finished fifth in last year's Daytona 500). If he can tame his wild streak he'll find a lot of success on the track.
There are a handful of people who call the shots for the entire sport and industry that is NASCAR. Not too many of them are more powerful than eighty-one-year-old billionaire Bruton Smith. His battle last year with Concord leaders over the right to build a drag strip angered many locals, but hate him or love him, he's advancing the sport.
This guy has to be the inspiration for Sacha Baron Cohen's French character in Talladega Nights. But Franchitti is real, and he was enticed by Charlotte business mogul Felix Sabates to come over from the Indy Car circuit to become the first European driver to race full-time for NASCAR. Oh, and he's married to actress Ashley Judd.
Event from last season
Bank of America 500 Fan Fest
It's only fitting that the “Official Bank of NASCAR” that sponsors the October race in its hometown would create an event for fans. Thousands flooded the streets of uptown to take pictures in front of their favorite race cars and trophies and drive simulated cars, while kids built wooden toy cars, and drivers, such as Kasey Kahne, made appearances.