The Best Season Ever? Surely not 2013

By Ron Fleshman On Tue, Dec. 03, 2013

Photo Credit: David Yeazell
Photo Credit: David Yeazell

It took me awhile to collect my thoughts after the 2013 NASCAR season. What did I think of the racing? I didn’t think much of it and it has nothing to do with who did or did not win the championship. I couldn’t care less about that. Once upon a time, winning races mattered, but today it’s the Chase from February until November.

The problem of the Chase takes away some of the appreciation of other drivers who had good seasons, but realistically those who had no chance at a championship. For example, let’s look at the season turned in by guys like Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, 2012 Champ Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, and Martin Truex, Jr. They all won this year, and yet who paid any attention to them?

Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards won twice this year, but did it mean anything? Apparently not, because there wasn’t much coverage of them on television. The whole season revolved around six time champ Jimmie Johnson (6 wins), Matt Kenseth (7 wins), Kyle Busch (4 wins), Jeff Gordon (1 win), and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (0 wins). Even Kevin Harvick, despite his four wins was under the radar most of the season. Once upon a time a win, even a lone win by someone like Ricky Rudd or James Hylton was special. Today, you don’t even have to win to get national coverage. That is, unless you happen to be Austin Dillon, but that’s another story. Try to find a diecast in your local Wal-Mart for anyone but Johnson, Earnhardt, Gordon, Edwards, McMurray, or Stewart, good luck!

I was in the press box at North Carolina Speedway when Matt Kenseth clinched the 2003 championship. The No. 17 crew celebrated, but not many people noticed. All the attention was on Bill Elliott who won the race. Elliott was escorted to the press box for media interviews, but nowhere was Kenseth to be found. It was the win that mattered. Yes, Kenseth celebrated at a race later on, but he was forever to be chastised as the champion who only won one race. He was the father of the Chase, something that I imagine he’s not too proud of, if truth be told. It all changed in 2004. After Kurt Busch won in 2004 and Tony Stewart’s win in 2005, seven of the last eight championships have been won by Hendrick Motorsports or satellite teams. Six of those championships were won by Jimmie Johnson and the other by Tony Stewart, whose team had a technical alliance with Hendrick.

Prior to the Chase, 25 of 55 champions were from different drivers. From 1980 until 2003, we had 14 different champions. What does it tell me? Lots of people dominated, but not everyone ran all the races. It just wasn’t that important. David Pearson and Fred Lorenzen had tremendous winning percentages. They didn’t run all the races (I can remember a time when there were over 50 races each year), and didn’t care. The win was more important. Today, we start counting points and calling people out at Daytona. The most exciting races I saw this season included Brad Keselowski’s tremendous moves at Charlotte at the fall race and Carl Edwards’ dramatic win at Richmond. Neither win had anything to do with the Chase. Neither mattered because it was all about the points.

Railing on about NASCAR’s playoff system falls on deaf ears. Someone somewhere is convinced the system is the way to go. Never mind tacks eliminating seats or somewhat lower television ratings, baseball, football, and basketball have playoffs, so it has to be the way to go, right? Here’s a hint. I travel to races about 10 times a year. I camp like so many do. Most of them are flying Dale Earnhardt flags. Why? It’s because although he won seven championships, he was exciting to watch.  I’ll always remember Benny Parsons as he yelled, “here comes Earnhardt.” I remember the late 60’s and 70’s when King Richard Petty was going through the field in the late laps.

Today, it’s all technology and money. That’s what is turning off fans. It’s hard to express the thrill of a Trevor Bayne win at Daytona or a David Ragan win at Talladega, not to mention a McMurray win anywhere. Only problem is, when you count up the points afterward, it’s still the championship that matters. We’ve created a monster and there is no turning back.

Ron Fleshman (163 Posts)

Ron Fleshman has followed NASCAR racing since attending his first race at Martinsville Speedway in 1964. He joined the Motor Sports Forum on the CompuServe network in the 1980s and became a reporter for Racing Information Systems in 1994. In 2002, he was named NASCAR Editor for RIS when it appeared on the World Wide Web as www.motorsportsforum.com. He can now be found at www.ris-news.com. Ron is a member of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association. You can find Ron following and reporting on the top three NASCAR divisions each week. As a lifer in his support of racing, he attends and reports on nearly 30 events a year and as a member of the motor sports media, his passion has been racing for 47 years. He lives with his family in rural West Virginia and works in the insurance industry when not on the road to another track.


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Displaying 3 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Ron Fleshman says:

    I’ve been one of those who watched racing since the 1960′s when I was very young. Each week brought a new potential winner and kit was something to win. Sadly, I was at Charlotte when rad Keselowski just blew away the field in the final laps. Of course, he wasn’t part of the Chase, so he was tolerated. It was more an explanation of how he could win because of the late caution. Unfortunately, it’s more like a company line. You pay attention to the Chase drivers, who are the only ones qualified to win “the championship,” so you just tolerate the other 40. And if you happen to win? It’s just a freak accident, probably created by the sanctioning body for blind luck. REgardless, thanks for your comments and keep reading. 2014 should be a blast!

  2. Josh Farmer says:

    Lucas, Jeff Gordon would be a 6-time champion under the old points system. It’s Jeff Gordon who created Jimmie Johnson. Gordon is as good as Petty or Earnhardt…Johnson is a creation of Knaus and the best equipment. Watch Gordon race ANYTHING and he’s a racer at heart. As is, the Chase is destroying NASCAR and Chairman Brian France doesn’t know what else to do. Bring back the old points system.

  3. Lucas says:

    Take comfort, you are one of the many, many people who dislike “The Chase”. The media demonizes anyone who hates it, they tend to describe the MANY who don’t like it in the most uncomplimentary terms, like we are the ones void of any brain cells. Jeff Gordon always gets way too much press, heck, anybody from HMS does. And you are right to point out the other teams are really satellite teams for HMS.

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