Tuxedos optional for this awards shindig

The second annual NASCAR Champion's Week hoedown in Las Vegas ends tonight at Wynn Las Vegas with a black-tie affair that essentially excludes regular Joe and Josephine Fan.

The celebration was never called a hoedown when it was in the swanky haunts of New York City for 28 years. But this is Las Vegas, and it is the traditional opening week of the National Finals Rodeo, so the NASCAR shindig deserves a Western touch.

Before we reveal our 2010 awards, we must reflect on NASCAR's visit this week to Las Vegas with its 12 top drivers, sponsors and a couple of hundred fans -- at most -- who came to enjoy free events such as the Chasers for Charity Fanfest at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Wednesday and the following day's thundering Victory Lap on the Strip.

Great, fun-filled events open to all fans. And for free.

Tonight's banquet, however, has provided only a few hundred chances for common folk to share good entertainment and boring speeches by drivers who would rather not be stuck in tuxedos for three hours.

The contract between NASCAR and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to have the festivities here is good for one more year. The only way public funding should be used to extend the deal is if the banquet is moved to a venue where at least 5,000 reasonably priced tickets could be sold, with proceeds going to charities.

While the three-day event brings attention to Las Vegas through national media coverage, what's believed to be an annual LVCVA expenditure of $500,000 to NASCAR is a good investment only if it draws several thousands -- not several hundreds -- of visitors to town.

Keeping the banquet in a small hall is not why the LVCVA wanted to bring it to town.

And, now, the envelopes please ...

Tony Stewart presented his annual Stewie Awards on Thursday night. I refuse to use "Wolfies" for my annual awards because that sounds dumb and my ego is much smaller than Tony's.

So, without a cool title and further adieu, here are my top performers for 2010:

■ COMEBACK DRIVER -- Denny Hamlin had knee surgery early in the year and rallied to finish second in the Sprint Cup series by winning eight times. But that pales to John Force nearly dying in a 2008 Funny Car crash and going winless in 2009 before winning this year's NHRA championship. Force is 61 years old, and that adds to his worthiness.

■ TOP OWNER -- Chip Ganassi clearly tops the category. His IndyCar team with driver Dario Franchitti won the Indy 500 and series title. In NASCAR, driver Jamie McMurray didn't make it into the Chase but won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 for Ganassi, whose organization also won the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series.

■ TOP TEAM -- No one can argue the dynamic duo of Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus aren't the best combination in racing. Their bond is tighter than a fissure fused with epoxy. Their mutual respect, calm demeanors and confidence are why they won a fifth straight Cup championship this year.

■ TOP DRIVER -- Hamlin nearly stopped Johnson's championship streak.

Larry Dixon won 12 of 23 NHRA pro tour events this year and the Top Fuel season championship.

But only one driver should be considered for this award: Kyle Busch.

He won 24 of the 81 races he entered in NASCAR's top three national series: He won three of 36 in Cup, a record 13 of 29 in Nationwide and eight of 16 in Camping World Trucks.

Add to that he led his rookie Kyle Busch Motorsports team to the owners championship in the truck series and is responsible for Joe Gibbs Racing winning the Nationwide owners crown.

There should be no debate about Kyle Busch being the best racer on the planet this year.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf's motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.