Thursday, November 21, 2013

Checkered Past: 2013 in the Rearview Mirror

The Camping World Truck Series saw a major influx of youth, the Nationwide Series saw its share of Cup veterans and the Sprint Cup Series saw one of its champs return to the top after a two-year hiatus. In between, there were injuries, moments of name-calling and other announcements that were shocking and not-so-shocking. Here’s a look back at some of the highlights – and lowlights – of NASCAR’s 2013 season.

“DanicaHouse” – shortly after Danica Patrick announced her divorce from her husband of seven years, Paul Hospenthal, she made another announcement: she was dating fellow Cup Series Rookie of the Year candidate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Patrick went on to bring home the pole award from the Daytona 500, but Stenhouse Jr. took home the Rookie title.

Injuries and maladies galore – first it was Denny Hamlin with a compression fracture in his back following an on-track incident with Joey Logano in March. Then Tony Stewart broke his leg in a sprint car accident in August. Later that month, Martin Truex Jr. broke his wrist at Bristol. But the problems weren’t all on the track. Brian Vickers missed the final few races of the season in both the Cup and Nationwide Series after doctors revealed a blood clot in his right calf, similar to the issue he had in 2010. And just days before the season ended, 2011 Daytona 500 champ Trevor Bayne revealed he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Also of note: at the season finale of the IZOD IndyCar Series in October, former NASCAR driver and four-time IndyCar champ Dario Franchitti suffered extensive injuries in a last-lap crash at the Houston Grand Prix. He announced his retirement five weeks later due to the injuries.

Jason Leffler
Credit: Getty Images/Jason Smith
Losing “LefTurn” – as fans of the sport, we know there are dangers, but it’s still a difficult thing to process when a talented driver is taken from us too soon. On June 12, NASCAR driver and open-wheel champ Jason Leffler died from injuries suffered in a sprint car crash. Leffler was 37 years old and left behind a five-year-old son, Charlie Dean.

The kids are alright – before the 2013 season got underway, NASCAR lowered the age limit for drivers to participate in the Truck Series to 16, with 16- and 17-year-olds allowed to race on tracks of one mile or less and on road courses. This led to the youngest winner record being broken twice: first by Chase Elliott in September and later by Erik Jones in November. In addition to these two youngsters, there were wins by Kyle Larson, Jeb Burton, Ty Dillon, Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr.

Bristol in March:
Kyle Busch celebrates one of 12 NNS wins
Credit: Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton
“Busch-wacked” – in 2010, Kyle Busch won 24 races across NASCAR’s top-three divisions. In 2013, he came oh-so-close to that number again, with 21 wins across the three series: four in Sprint cup, 12 in Nationwide and five in the Truck Series.

Busch wasn’t the only “invader” to find the winner’s circle in the Nationwide Series this season – in 33 races, only one race was won by a driver with no Cup Series experience – Ryan Blaney at Kentucky. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, A.J. Allmendinger, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Trevor Bayne were among the Cup Series regulars or part-timers to win this season, while former Cup Series drivers Sam Hornish Jr. and Regan Smith also found victory lane.

“Rich kids” and rough words – Kevin Harvick didn’t appreciate “being dumped,” as he termed it, by Ty Dillon in the Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville in October, and had some choice words about the two grandsons (Ty and Austin) of his team owner, Richard Childress:

“(Dillon) just dumped me. Exactly the reason why I’m leaving RCR because you’ve got those kids coming up, and they’ve got no respect for what they do in this sport and they’ve had everything fed to them with a spoon…It’s a shame you’ve got to get taken out by some rich kid like that.”

Dillon retorted that Harvick was “kind of hogging the bottom, and I just kept diving to the inside…he kept chopping down, chopping down.” Dillon also added, “I’m sure he's tweeting something now about it.”
Richard Childress celebrates with grandson
Austin Dillon, the 2013 Nationwide Series champ
Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images

Whether all was truly forgiven or not, Harvick did apologize for the outburst. While Ty Dillon will move up to the Nationwide Series in 2014 for RCR and brother Austin will run in the Cup Series for his grandfather’s team, Harvick will shift gears and move to Stewart-Haas Racing.

The champs – Truck Series veteran Matt Crafton took home his first title, while Austin Dillon picked up his second top-tier NASCAR title with his Nationwide Series championship. Jimmie Johnson returned to the top of the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the sixth time in the last eight years, putting him one behind the record of seven titles held by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

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