For better or for worse, 2013 was an eventful season for NASCAR. While there are plenty more headlines beyond these on this list, this is what this observer is going with as the top 13 of 2013. Arriving at a final order was challenging to be sure, but at this moment, this is my story and I’m sticking to it:
13. RCR announces return of iconic race car number- Some fans say it is time, others still aren’t ready. The number ’3,’ last used by the beloved Dale Earnhardt, will return to usage in 2014. Austin Dillon will drive the car using the number, raising the question of whether or not driver numbers should be retired- something that’s never been done.
12. Danica earns Daytona pole position- The polarizing Patrick- a marketing machine and former Indy car star- becomes the first woman to earn the P1 spot qualifying for the 2013 Daytona 500. Patrick finished eighth in the “Great American Race.” It proved to be the highlight of the Sprint Cup rookie’s season.
11. Trevor Bayne announces he has MS- The 2011 Daytona 500 announced his diagnosis near season’s end. Armed with a strong faith and optimistic attitude, Bayne says he has no plans to slow down.
10. Kenseth makes most of fresh start- Any time a top driver changes teams, there are always questions of whether or not the success can be replicated. Kenseth quickly erased any doubts with a career high seven victories and he battled Jimmie Johnson with gusto for the championship.
9. “Gen 6″ car debuts- In an effort to appeal to the fans- namely improve the racing and provide a car that more closely resembles the showroom product- NASCAR rolled out a new Sprint Cup car. So far, the governing body is one for two in their quest, with more changes being made to address an absence of passing for the lead.
8. Kurt Busch signs with Stewart-Haas Racing- If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? SHR co-owner Gene Haas engineers the move of bringing on board in 2014 the one-time arch-rival of Tony Stewart. That adds another top competitor into the fold, along with Kevin Harvick, who announced a move to SHR in late 2012. The 2004 champion’s stock rose, thanks to his performance with underdog Furniture Row Racing, qualifying the single car organization for their first chase.
7. Hamlin- Logano feud boils over at Auto Club Speedway- The acridity surfaced at Bristol, and then came to a head during the last lap at Auto Club Speedway. The two former teammates jockeyed for the lead and banged doors with Logano’s strike causing a collision that sent him into contact with the outside wall, while Hamlin crashed hard into the inside wall. Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his spine that caused him to miss four races. Logano also rattled swords with Tony Stewart afterwards as well.
6. Darrell Wallace makes NASCAR history- For the first time in nearly 50 years, an African- American won a NASCAR national event, Bubba’s win coming in the truck series at Martinsville on October 26th. Desiring greater diversity, the win was a boon for the sport.
5. NASCAR returns to dirt track racing roots- The truck series also produced the first race NASCAR has had on dirt since 1970. The race was greeted with great enthusiasm and hype. While the racing was a little awkward at times, the event was considered a success, raising hopes for more.
4. Racing community mourns the loss of Jason Leffler- Injuries to Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart reminded us racing was dangerous, but Jason Leffler paid the steepest price. The NASCAR journeyman was killed in a 410 Sprint race at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey on June 12th. His death was especially emotional for Leffler’s close friend Kasey Kahne. The racing community has reacted with an outpouring of love and support for the divorced Leffler’s young son Charlie.
3. Injuries from wreck shelve Tony Stewart- The three-time champion broke both bones in his right leg in an August 6th sprint car crash in Oskaloosa, Iowa. The injuries were serious enough to require multiple surgeries and a lengthy recovery process. Stewart says he will be ready for Daytona in 2014. Most would concur NASCAR wasn’t the same without the tempestuous veteran out of the picture.
2. “Spingate” re-shapes Chase picture- Be careful little tongue what you say. A radio conversation and a subsequent spin by Clint Bowyer set in motion events that NASCAR’s Mike Helton declared a “defining moment,” perhaps more like a PR pile-up. Regardless of whatever Bowyer may have intended, the fallout was far reaching. Penalties and suspensions were handed out, with Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon making the chase, and Martin Truex was out. NAPA pulled their sponsorship, MWR scaled back by one team and Martin Truex moved on to another team. Going foward, expect unprecedented scrutiny, with every suspicious move questioned in the last race of NASCAR’s “regular season” going foward.
1. Jimmie Johnson wins 6th NSCS Championship- By this juncture in NASCAR history, only two drivers have won more champions than Jimmie Johnson: Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. His Daytona 500 win set the tone for another run of excellence, and only a spirited run by Matt Kenseth, spiced with dashes of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch made his championship quest somewhat interesting. Is Johnson in a class by himself? May we quote Bum Phillips “He may not be in a class by himself, but whatever class he’s in, it doesn’t take long to call the roll.”