Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Look Back: The 2011 NASCAR Season

The 2011 NASCAR Season was one of the best seasons in recent memory.  There were multiple first-time winners, exciting racing, and it all culminated with a fantastic championship fight that came down to the final lap.  Here are my Top 5 NASCAR Stories from the 2011 Season:

5. Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Win Championships
Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the Camping World and Nationwide Series Championships, respectively.  Stenhouse won a championship that was highly contested throughout the season.  Austin Dillon was an early-season favorite to win the championship, and the battle came down to the final race, where he was able to defeat Johnny Sauter to win the title.  With young drivers like Dillon and Stenhouse, the future of NASCAR seems to be in good hands.

Stenhouse and Dillon with their championship trophies (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
4. First-Time Winners
The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series had five first-time winners this season.  The winning started as soon as the season began, with Trevor Bayne won the season-opening Daytona 500.  The next driver to get his first win was Regan Smith, who out-dueled Carl Edwards to win the legendary Southern 500.  When the Sprint Cup Series returned to Daytona in July, David Ragan became the third driver to win his first career race.  Paul Menard won the Brickyard 400 at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  And two weeks later, Marcos Ambrose finally won his first Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen.  Hopefully next season, we will see more drivers take their first trips to Victory Lane.

Trevor Bayne celebrates winning the Daytona 500.  Bayne was among five first-time winners (Photo courtesy REUTERS)
 3. Trevor Bayne Wins the Daytona 500
Trevor Bayne helped to push drivers such as Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards all through Speedweeks; but, when the White Flag flew, Trevor Bayne found himself leading the field. Bayne, who raced for Jack Roush in the Nationwide Series, was on loan from Roush to the Wood Brothers, who made their return to Victory Lane in the biggest way possible.  Trevor Bayne also won his first Nationwide race, and seems to be on track to be one of NASCAR's future starts.

2. Brad Keselowski's Breakout Season
Brad Keselowski had won one Sprint Cup Series race prior to the 2011 season, and had shown flashes of what the future might hold.  But I don't think anyone expected Keselowski to have the breakout year that he would have in 2011.  First, Keselowski won a fuel mileage race in Kansas.  He then won at Pocono in August, following a broken ankle the week prior.  Three weeks later, he won again at Bristol, and was able to work his way into the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.  He finished off his solid season with a fifth place finish in the championship standings.  Only time will tell if this is the way that Keselowski will be every year, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see Brad Keselowski fighting for a Sprint Cup Championship in the future.

Brad Keselowski celebrates with his crew (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
1. Tony Stewart Wins the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship
Tony Stewart entered the Chase in ninth place, and had zero wins in the regular season.  Following a Chase performance that was legendary, Stewart would hoist the Sprint Cup Trophy for the third time.  Carl Edwards fought with Stewart for the championship, and would tie Stewart in the season standings; Stewart won the tie breaker on his five wins, as compared to Edwards' one.  Stewart also completed a bookend of Jimmie Johnson's amazing reign as Sprint Cup Champion; Stewart was the last person to win a Championship before Johnson's reign began in 2006.

Stewart won five times in the Chase, including Texas, en route to his third Sprint Cup Championship (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
 2011 was an amazing year for NASCAR from start to finish.  From Trevor Bayne's Daytona 500 victory to Stewart's Championship triumph, the season was filled with surprises.  Hopefully the 2012 season will provide just as much excitement as this past season.  Who's ready for Daytona?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Look Back: Games of 2011

2011 is quickly coming to an end, and now is the time to look back at the games that came out during this past year.  This year was marked by many big games, such as Battlefield 3, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and Batman: Arkham Asylum.  While all of those games are great, none of them made it onto my list of the Top 5 games of 2011.  Here's the list:

5. NASCAR: Unleashed
NASCAR: Unleashed was Activision's second game with its newly-acquired NASCAR license, and they did not disappoint.  The arcade racer provided lots of fun throughout the whole game.  In my review, I gave it an 8.5/10.  This game is a must for any NASCAR fan.

Photo courtesy Activision
 4. L.A. Noire
L.A. Noire tells the story of the Los Angeles Police Department following World War II.  Rockstar Games revolutionized how a game was made, as they used real actors and 365-degree camera angles to show the emotions of the game characters.  Though the story does get boring at times, the player must be reminded at multiple points that they are playing a game and not watching an episode of CSI.

Photo courtesy Rockstar Games
 3. NASCAR: The Game 2011
NASCAR: The Game 2011 was the first licensed NASCAR racing game since 2009's NASCAR 09 and NASCAR Karts for the Wii.  The game did not disappoint.  While the game was plagued by glitches while racing online during the first few months of the game's availability, the developers quickly made patches to fix all the problems.  While the game is not perfect, it is a good start, and NASCAR: The Game 2012 promises to be even better.

Photo courtesy Activision
 2. Minecraft
This game is a little bit different than most.  At first glance, it seems like a very old game with dated graphics; once you begin playing, however, you understand that it is much more than meets the eye.  I started playing the game back in May as the school year was winding down.  It is a little like Legos for the computer, only there are monsters.  While you have the ability to fight the monsters and survive, I play on peaceful, which is a lot less stressful.  At only $26.95, this is the most affordable game on the list.  After playing, it will have you saying, "Just one more block, just one more block..."

Photo courtesy Mojang
 1. Portal 2
When I decide what my favorite games are, I look at how they affect me when I'm not playing.  I decided Red Dead Redemption was an amazing game whenever I began to dream about being in the Old West.  And every time I saw a bird, I thought I could just switch into Dead Eye mode and shoot it down.  So whenever I began to look at walls and figure out where I could place a portal, I realized that this game was one of the best games I've ever played.  The game stretches your brain with its mind-bending puzzles, and its hilarious dialogue will keep you laughing.  I never thought I'd fall in love with a game this much, but I have, and it's absolutely wonderful.

Photo courtesy Valve
 While I'm sure I've snubbed some games, these are the games that I've been playing this year.  Modern Warfare 3 and Little Big Planet 2 just missed the cut.  I'm sure I would have put Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure on this list as well, but I'm not getting that until Christmas.  Any of these five games would be a fantastic last-minute Christmas gift, but be warned: L.A. Noire is rated M due to its graphic images.  Also, Minecraft is only available online at  Hope you enjoyed this countdown, and happy gaming!