The ten biggest stories in NASCAR for 2013
With NASCAR's season at an end, it's time to look back at the year that was and remember the ten biggest stories in the stock car racing world for 2013. We've also listed a link to a related Another Left Turn article from when these individual stories broke. One story that didn't make the cut was the debut and performance of the new 'Gen 6' car. While the car itself was a major story leading into the season, it seemed to make little difference to the on-track racing. Moreover, after Denny Hamlin's fine (more on that later) for giving an honest evaluation of the car, drivers were extremely leery of doing so thereafter. The sanctioning body has done extensive work both on track and in the wind tunnel testing adjustments to the new car. Those changes may well prove to be one of the biggest stories of 2014.
10. SPEED Network replaced by Fox Sports 1
The network that started as SpeedVision back in 1995 went off the air for the last time at 6am on August 17th of this year. Despite finding an audience as a niche network devoted to auto enthusiasts, Fox recognized the wider audience it could reach- and higher carriage fees it could charge- by re-branding the network as an all-sports counterpart to ESPN. Speed's original programming varied widely in quality (think Dave Despain's Wind Tunnel vs. R U Faster Than A Redneck) but the network provided a stable home for on track action. Some felt that Speed had become too NASCAR-centric over the past few years and there is some truth to that charge. NASCAR-themed shows drew higher ratings than anything else on the network so it's natural they focused on what drew. Fans are only now beginning to recognize what they lost and it remains to be seen if a market develops for a new auto-themed channel in the years to come. In an era where cable companies can justify two separate weather channels, there may yet be hope for a Speed version 2.0.
Article: FS1 announcement creates challenges for The NASCAR Network (3/6/2013)
9. Denny Hamlin fined $25k for Gen 6 car comments
After finishing third in the season's initial stop at Phoenix, Denny Hamlin was fined $25k for his (relatively innocuous) comments on the Gen 6 car. NASCAR, which had spent plenty on the success of the new car, wasn't keen on its drivers saying, “It did not race as good as our Gen-5 cars. This is more like what the Generation 5 was at the beginning.” To be fair, it probably didn't help Denny's case that he was absolutely right. In defending the fine, VP for Competition Robin Pemberton noted that the series welcomes constructive criticism but that the sanctioning body wouldn't permit drivers to denigrate the product in public. The fine drew more attention to the comments and effectively muzzled Hamlin for the rest of the season.
Article: Denny Hamlin staring down a naked emperor in Brian France (3/7/2013)
Were these comments worth $25,000?
8. The circle of life rolls on
Mark Martin and Ken Schrader both appear to have run their last races as a Sprint Cup driver; without question they appear done as full-time drivers. Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton are both looking at part-time rides (at best) after finishing 2013 with their respective teams. Meanwhile, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran his first season at the Sprint Cup level. Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon will be running the full time schedule next year and several other young drivers will make their marks in the not-too-distant future. One of note is Darrell Wallace Jr. who made a huge media splash by winning a truck race this past season; it was the first time an African-American won a race in one of NASCAR's top three series in 50 years. For some time, observers have noted that NASCAR desperately needs an infusion of youth. The pipeline finally seems clear and a wealth of talent is on its way.
7. Danica, Danica, Danica!
Speaking of “young” drivers- or at least drivers new to Sprint Cup racing- Danica Patrick made it to the finish line of her first full season as a Cup driver. Her season began with so much promise; she began on the pole at Daytona and ran up front all day long before being shuffled back on the last lap. She was the first woman to ever lead a green flag lap during a Cup race. Her 12th place run at Martinsville in the spring showed remarkable skill. But by and large her season has to be considered a disappointment. She was unable to manage another pole start (or even lead a lap) or top ten finish for the rest of the season. She finished on the lead lap in only 12 of the season's 36 races. Her average finish of 26.1 was far and away the worst of any driver in comparable equipment. 2014 will be a critical season for the soon-to-be 32 year old. There are no more excuses, no more moral victories, and no more, “We'll get better when we visit these track again,” moments because she has gotten worse on virtually all of her second visits. Her sponsor's deal is up at the end of the year and her team just added two new championship-level drivers; she needs to perform or her time at Stewart-Haas racing may come to a close.
Article: It's now or never for Danica Patrick (1/21/2013)
6. Matt Kenseth's coming out party
While he came up just short in his bid to claim his second Sprint Cup championship, Matt Kenseth's move to Joe Gibbs Racing created a career revival. The 41 year old Wisconsin native won the 2003 title with one win and 25 top ten finishes. This year, he won a career-best seven times including the first two Chase races at Chicago and New Hampshire. He was also competitive at tracks like Martinsville that had brought him nothing but grief in the past. While Kenseth is closer to his career end than he is its beginning, his 2013 showed that Matt is still among the elite drivers in the sport. Provided JGR's intermediate track program remains strong next season there's every reason to believe he'll be in the hunt once again next season.
Article: Cue the Imperial March for Darth Kenseth (9/22/2013)
5. Jimmie Johnson wins his sixth championship
Athletic questions aside, NASCAR fans are watching one of the greatest feats in driving history. Johnson, winner of six of the last eight Sprint Cup championships, will go into 2014 with a chance to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt's record seven title reigns. What's scarier is that had a few things broke differently, he might already eight to ten championships. Critics like to point out that the Chase reset allowed Johnson to make up ground and that under the old points format he wouldn't have won at least two of the championships. That's ridiculously short-sighted; of course his era is different than Earnhardt's era. But Dale's was different than Petty's as well. Earnhardt had far fewer races to rack up points compared to the King. Petty didn't have nearly as many quality challengers as Dale or Jimmie. Every NASCAR era is different and all Jimmie can do is work within the rules of this one. And right now, it clearly belongs to the #48.
Article: Jimmie Johnson haters, meet Jimmie Johnson (9/30/2013)
4. Kurt Busch and Furniture Row make the Chase
In an era of multi-car teams dominating the sport, it was refreshing to see a single-car team out of Colorado qualify for NASCAR's playoffs. The fact that Kurt Busch, who lost his ride at Penske due to an inability to control his temper, was the driver was simply icing on the cake. Yes, the team has a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. Yes, Busch is a phenomenal driver and a former series champion who won't be back next year. But none of that should take anything away from what the #78 team accomplished this year. More than anything else, they provided hope to all of the other single car teams out there trying to compete with NASCAR's behemoths. With the right driver, the right technical alliance (and yes, a pinch of luck), they too could find themselves in the Chase someday.
Article: Furniture Row has a decision to make (8/27/2013)
3. NASCAR signs record TV rights deals with FOX, NBC
In late July, NASCAR announced that NBC would replace ESPN and TNT in the broadcast booth for the second half of the season starting in 2015. Despite limited interest from its current partners, the sanctioning body managed to negotiate new TV deals that will earn NASCAR an average of $820 million a year between 2015 and 2024. The deals show that despite relatively stagnant ratings and track attendance, stock car racing is still a valuable product to networks hungry for live sports programming. Time will tell how much coverage the “Worldwide Leader” will devote to auto racing once NASCAR is off the network; for now, the significant increase in television dollars will be a boon to everyone involved.
Article: Penny wise, pound foolish (7/30/2013)
2. Tony Stewart's season ends in an Iowa corn field
Three time former Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart has long said that racing outside of NASCAR's corporate umbrella is his way of relaxing. He chided reporters for questioning the hobby despite a crash that left him spinning down a dirt track. Yet no one was laughing on August 5th when Stewart broke both bones in his leg in a dramatic Sprint Car crash in southern Iowa. Stewart, who was Chase-eligible at the time of the crash, missed the rest of the season- only recently returning to the track in an ownership capacity. Max Papis, Mark Martin and Austin Dillon all took turns filling in for Smoke but the #14 missed the owner's version of the Chase and finished the season as SHR's #2 effort. Tony's sponsors appear to be sticking for now but the accident put his entire operation at risk and has the ever-stubborn Stewart re-evaluating what outside races he plans on running in the future.
Article: Time for Stewart to decide if he's an owner or a driver (8/6/2013)
1. Chaos erupts at Richmond
Could it be anything else? With the laps winding down, Clint Bowyer made a hard left and turned his #15 car around to bring out a late race caution flag. Both he and teammate Brian Vickers dove onto pit road before the re-start, allowing Martin Truex to gain enough points to pass Ryan Newman and slide into the final wild card Chase slot. As the story developed, it appeared that they weren't alone in following team orders to enable someone else to make the playoffs. The downstream effects of the race end (Truex being replaced in the Chase by Newman and Gordon being added as a 13th participant, NAPA leaving MWR) could themselves be considered major stories as well. This story made fans question the integrity of the sport, chased away one of its better sponsors and kneecapped the sport at the worst possible time. The only bright spot in the whole mess is that all involved seem to be moving forward and the “100% rule” gave NASCAR a big stick to wave at any team considering the risk vs. reward of trying to manipulate the points ever again.
Article: Martin Truex has some good friends in low places (9/8/2013)
Agree with the choices? Disagree? Add your thoughts in the comments field below!