Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Denny Hamlin, found the silver lining in a dark cloud of a season. Hamlin ran strong throughout the entire race leading 72 laps en route to victory.
Hamlin looked like the Hamlin of old, when many were picking him to win the championship. An obviously happy Hamlin talked about his win, “It was just an amazing drive. I knew we had a strong car. Pit strategy worked out great for us. We came back from the mid-20’s early in the race and we drove back up there. Just proud of Darian (Grubb) and this whole team for giving me a race-winning car.”
Championship contender, Matt Kenseth, was flawless the entire weekend. He was fast in practice, sat on the pole, led the most laps, and was catching Hamlin late in the race until being challenged by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt, turning in one of his most impressive runs of the year, tried Kenseth on the inside and outside in an attempt to take second, but came up just short. The battle, however, permitted Hamlin to slightly pull away.
Kenseth’s second place finish was not enough to prevent Jimmie Johnson from clinching his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Johnson was once again smooth, consistent and executed everything perfectly en route to the title.
Kenseth commented on his season, “Obviously, it’s been a great year, the best I’ve ever had. Had a lot of fun racing over at Joe Gibbs Racing.” He continued, “For me, when you’re running good, you kind of don’t want the season to end in a way. You want to keep going to the track. When you end the season on not as good a note, you come down here and struggle, you’re ready for a month or two break.”
“Oh wow… I don’t even know where to start here. I am at a loss for words, but I am so proud, and so thankful for this opportunity at Hendrick Motorsports.”, Johnson said as he looked back at the cheering crowd and allowing the fact that he is a six time champion sink in.
Johnson had two close calls that could have taken away his chances. During a restart, the field stacked up ad Johnson, ironically, got into the back of Kenseth. Johnson also had a run-in with Greg Biffle. Biffle seemed to run Johnson very hard and give him as little as possible. Earlier in the season at Martinsville, Biffle was irate with Johnson after the race due to the fact that he thought Johnson ran hi too hard. This could have been his way of getting a little payback.
Johnson survived all challenges and when the checkered flag fell, he found himself in ninth place, giving him a 19 point gap over Kenseth and put him one step closer to tying the record for the most championships. That title is currently held by two legends of the sport– Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
Johnson is writing his own chapter of NASCAR history. He has easily been the most consistent driver in the sport since his first full season in 2002. Johnson’s record speaks for itself – 435 starts – 66 wins – 182 top-5’s – 272 top-10’s. A record that earned him five straight and six total championships.
Johnson, who is 38 years old, still has plenty of time to break several records. With no signs of slowing down, he could easily win nine or ten championships and could possibly reach David Pearson’s mark of 105 wins. Regardless of how many wins or championships he ends up with, his unprecedented record will forever have its place in NASCAR history.
This championship also gave team owner, Rick Hendrick, his 11th championship surpassing Petty Enterprises for the most all-time.
Roush-Fenway Racing driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., clinched the Rookie of the Year title over Danica Patrick. Stenhouse accumulated three top-10’s with one top-5 during the season and finished 19th in the final points standings.
Asked about his win, Stenhouse replied, “It means a lot, looking at all the other names that have won this award. It definitely wasn’t the season that we wanted, but we slowly but surely got a little bit better throughout the season.”
As another NASCAR season comes to a close, we look forward to 2014. With many drivers changing teams, teams changing manufacturers, a group of rookies that could lead to the best Rookie of the Year battle in recent history, it is sure to be a fantastic year.