SPEED Announces Finalists for Mario Andretti Trophy

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, NHRA Top Fuel king Tony Schumacher and World Superbike phenom Ben Spies each made history in 2009 and these ultra-talented racers are among 15 finalists for the 2009 SPEED Performer of the Year and the Mario Andretti Trophy as part of the 4th Annual SPEED Performance Awards.

“What an incredible year for racing," said SPEED President Hunter Nickell. “Whether you are a fan of two wheels or four, nitromethane or gasoline, road courses or ovals, all of these guys delivered amazing performances … picking one winner is going to be a tough call."

Johnson, a three-time winner of the Andretti Trophy, scored his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, a feat unmatched in the history of the sport. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus dominated The Chase in 2009, scoring four wins in 10 races and winning the championship by a margin of 141 points over second-place Mark Martin and 179 over third-place Jeff Gordon.

Schumacher, a runner-up for the Andretti Trophy in 2008, lost longtime crew chief Alan Johnson and most of his crew when Johnson formed his own team with Sheik Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar at the end of last season, yet won his unprecedented sixth consecutive Top Fuel championship and seventh overall. Schumacher accomplished the feat in his U.S. Army dragster with the help of crew chief Mike Green, who had never won a Top Fuel championship before teaming with Schumacher. “The Sarge" won the title by two points — the closest margin in the history of Top Fuel racing — over the Johnson-owned car driven by two-time champ Larry Dixon.

Spies, a rookie on the World Superbike circuit in 2009 and a SPEED Performance Awards nominee for Rookie of the Year, needed no time at all to adjust to his new surroundings, dominating the series with 14 race wins in 28 starts and a record-breaking 11 pole positions. In a single season of racing, Spies already is tied for 12th on the all-time World Superbike career wins list.

Other finalists for the 2009 SPEED Performer of the Year are Jenson Button (Formula One), Joey Saldana (WoO), Dario Franchitti (IndyCar), Scott Dixon (IndyCar), Kyle Busch (NASCAR), Valentino Rossi (MotoGP), David Brabham (ALMS), 2007 SPEED Performer of the Year runner-up Donny Schatz (WoO), James Stewart (Supercross), Mark Martin (NASCAR), Alex Gurney/Jon Fogarty (Grand-Am) and Sebastian Vettel (Formula One).

The 2009 SPEED Performer of the Year will be selected by a panel including Andretti, "Wind Tunnel" host Dave Despain, veteran broadcasters Bob Varsha and Ralph Sheheen, SPEEDtv.com writers Robin Miller and Tom Jensen, versatile racers Tommy Kendall and Dorsey Schroeder and a select group of SPEED motor sports producers. The winner receives the Mario Andretti Trophy, created by bronze artist Elie Hazak.

Nine additional “fan chosen" SPEED Performance Awards are open for voting at www.speedperformanceawards.com through Dec. 20, with winners being announced as part of a one-hour television special in February.

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