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October 19, 2014

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Will we see Jimmie Johnson on the stage in Las Vegas in 2011?

It was deja vu. Once again, there was Jimmie Johnson on the stage at the Wynn giving an acceptance speech for winning the Sprint Cup. Will he be there again next year? Well, I won’t be visiting the sports books to bet against him. He wants to reach the record of seven championships, but in consecutive fashion. And I think he has a better than average shot at pulling it off.

Fans often complain that the Sprint Cup Awards Ceremony is filled with boring speeches and endless displays of affection for corporate sponsors. Well, what else do you expect from an auto racing awards banquet? These aren’t politicians running for office who need to uplift and inspire with their speechifying. The NASCAR Awards Ceremony is all about celebrating the champion and corporate America, as it has to be. I attended the banquet and I doubt that boring speeches would have mattered anyway since many of the guests and members of the media were so busy twittering most of the night.

Overall, I thought there were a lot of speeches that were quite good. Several of the drivers had their sense of humor on display as they flung a few one-liners at Johnson and Chad Knaus. My favorite jab of the evening came from Greg Biffle. Biffle complained that the champ was beating him at winning championships and that Johnson, who had just experienced the birth of his first child, had even beat him at starting a family. “I guess you’re just fast at everything,” said Biffle.

If driving in the Sprint Cup Series won’t thicken your skin, then having comedian Frank Caliendo take a few verbal swings at you in front of 1,500 people certainly will. As he did his best David Letterman impression, Caliendo rattled off the top 10 reasons Denny Hamlin didn’t win the Championship. Ouch! It was a funny bit, but given the way Hamlin lost his championship bid and his obvious heartache, I think I would have chosen another target. Hamlin was a class act and he let the top 10 list roll off his back, but then he had to sit there as video highlights of the season replayed his spin at Homestead.

This was Caliendo’s second year hosting the ceremony, and while I thought he was a little better last year, his impersonations were on the mark and his jokes about personalities and current events were all hits. Of course, the crowds at these banquets can be tough. The only jokes about politicians that got the biggest laughs were the ones poking fun at Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama.

Jeff Gordon's banquet speech

Caliendo’s impersonation of Donald Trump was the best of the night. The video of him fumbling his way through the garage at Phoenix International Raceway ended with the impersonator offering to buy the racetrack from Mike Helton.

Each year a master of ceremonies introduces the drivers before they come to the podium to give their speeches. This year those introductions included candid comments from the other Chase contenders. It was interesting to hear what drivers thought of their competition both as drivers and as people. And it was plainly obvious, despite the wrecks and emotional volcanoes that erupt throughout the season, that all of these athletes have a tremendous amount of respect for one another.

I heard a few rumors that the ceremony might be moved to the NASCAR Hall of Fame after next year’s banquet in Las Vegas. For my own selfish reasons, I certainly hope not.

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