Looking back at the 2013 season, NASCAR had the usual ups and downs but this year would be different. NASCAR unveiled its new GEN-6 car to mixed reviews and fans waiting to see what this new car would bring to actual racing.
It started with the horrific wreck during the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) season opener at Daytona International Speedway (DIS). Unfortunately, we watched the same scene played out at most restrictor plate tracks like Daytona, only this time when the “big one” happened the fence didn’t hold and fans were hurt, some seriously. Everyone waited and listened the rest of the day for updates on those injured and looked back in amazement that the car of Kyle Larson, which had hit the fence, was destroyed, yet he walked away.
The next day at the Daytona 500 we all waited and watched, held our breath and prayed that the scene the day before would not repeat itself and thankfully it didn’t. The 55th running of the Daytona 500 went off without any major issues with Jimmie Johnson in his 400th start taking the prize. That perhaps was a sign of the year to come.
It was the fifth race of the season in Fontana, California that Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin got together with six laps to go and ended up wrecking each other. Denny Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his back that most thought would sideline the driver for the season. But Hamlin worked hard at his recovery and was able to return to race at Talladega.
Talladega was a rainy day and eventually the race was red flagged due to the rain. The red flag was three hours and 36 minutes long and darkness had started to fall but with the rain stopped, NASCAR made the decision to go ahead and race. A late race caution bunched the field up with 20 to go. By this time the skies were even darker and the “big one” happened sending Kurt Busch flipping and landing on top of Ryan Newman’s car. In all 14 cars were involved and Newman went on to criticize NASCAR for continuing the race in the dark.
It was at Iowa Speedway where Tony Stewart crashed hard into a car that spun in front of him. Stewart was taken to the hospital where it was determined by doctors that he had broken both his tibia and fibula in his lower right leg. Stewart would be sidelined for the rest of the season, after undergoing several surgeries and then physical therapy, so that he would be ready for the 2014 season.
There was a lot of hype over Danica Patrick joining the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) for the 2013 season. There was a lot of expectation put on her but she was still a rookie and ended up with a best finish of 8th, her only top-10 finish, which came in the Daytona 500 where she had also won the pole. Her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, competed with Patrick for Rookie of the Year in which Stenhouse took home the prize.
Jamie McMurray won at Talladega, his second at that track, and his seventh win overall in his NSCS career. The win snapped a 108 winless streak for McMurray.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. would see the 2013 season close without a win. But it was a consistent season overall and he ended up fifth in the series standings.
We had the announcement that Mark Martin had decided to retire along with Ken Schrader. Martin ended a long career with NASCAR starting in 1981 in North Wilkesboro and giving him a career with 40 wins, 453 top 10′s and 56 poles. Schrader started his career in 1984 in Nashville and went on to have four wins, 184 top 10′s, and 23 poles. NASCAR will not be the same without these drivers and they will both be missed in 2014.
To everyone’s astonishment we also had what was dubbed “Spingate” which was Michael Waltrip Racing’s (MWR) attempt to manipulate the chase for the championship. This not only marred MWR but their reputation was further damaged by Clint Bowyer who is believed to have spun to cause a caution in order to get a teammate into the chase. These issues actually made NASCAR add a 13th spot to the chase, to the benefit of Jeff Gordon being that 13th driver. This put another mark on NASCAR for adding the 13th spot but with the chase outcome in question, it was the only course of action NASCAR could see to attempt to right what MWR had attempted to change. The biggest loser in that whole deal was Martin Truex Jr. who had done no wrong but paid a penalty all the same.
Matt Kenseth probably had one of his best years of his career and in the end was truly the only driver in contention with Johnson to take home the big prize. Kevin Harvick, having a good run of his own, was unable to catch Kenseth and Johnson. Kenseth did everything he could and came out strong at the end but it was Johnson who would bring home the 2013 Sprint Cup Series trophy, the sixth of his career, making him at the moment the only driver with the chance to tie or surpass Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt’s seven championships.
When we look back on the year there were tragedies as well.
On June 12th 2013 on a Wednesday night we heard of a serious crash at Bridgeport Speedway involving former NASCAR driver Jason Leffler in a Sprint car. We would find out later that Jason “LEFturn” Leffler had died from the injuries that he sustained in the accident. He left behind one son, five year old Charlie. The biggest tragedy of all is learning that if Sprint cars used the same neck restraints as NASCAR does, he may have survived the accident.
It was May 16th that I learned of the death of my friend, Richard Leroy Trickle, aka Dick Trickle; he had taken his own life after years of struggling with chronic pain. He had raced in NASCAR becoming the oldest Rookie of the Year at age 48 in 1989. He was best known for his career in the Midwest. Known best as “the White Knight,” it is estimated that he ran well over 2,200 races in his Midwest short track career and his many loyal fans will remember not how he died, but how he lived. He will be remembered wearing snakeskin boots, a cigarette in one hand, and a cup of coffee or barley pop (beer) in the other, signing autographs and even going down to his knees to be eye level with children who wanted an autograph.
With a new season beginning, questions remain to be answered.
- What will the 2014 NASCAR season bring?
- Which rookie will come out on top, maybe Kyle Larson or perhaps Parker Kligerman?
- Who will win their first race this season?
- Will Austin Dillon, driving the number three, live up to the expectations of fans that are waiting to see if he will do the number three proud?
- Who will take it all? Matt Kenseth or maybe it will be Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s breakout year, or will it be Jimmie Johnson again, tying that seventh championship.
- What new rivalries will form, and what old rivalries will manage to put it behind them?
Hopefully in 2014 there will be no injuries or tragedies as we’ve seen this year. Perhaps it will be NASCAR’s best year yet. We won’t have to wait long as it’s right around the corner!