By admin | December 5, 2013
By Richard Allen
With the Sprint Cup banquet coming this weekend I have compiled a list of the most surprising happenings of the year to put a final punctuation on the 2013 NASCAR season. Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I considered to be the most surprising things to happen during 2013:
Kurt Busch- There were two things that surprised me about Kurt Busch during 2013. After his release from Penske Racing at the end of 2011 and a tumultuous season driving for James Finch, it seemed as if the often volatile driver had worn out his welcome in NASCAR. But for this past season, he landed with the Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing team for another shot to turn things around.
The results for the talented driver were better than I ever expected. After all, this was not a high profile mega-team Busch would be driving for, even with their alliance with Richard Childress Racing. And, the driver had shown in the previous season that he could have a rather short fuse when working with a lesser funded team.
Ultimately, the #78 was unable to win a race, but they did make the Chase for the Sprint Cup while scoring 11 top-5s and 16 top-10 finishes during the year. Busch also collected one pole position. At the beginning of the season, I wrote a series of pieces in which I predicted the twelve drivers I thought would make the Chase for 2013. Busch was not even on my radar screen at that time.
But that wasn’t all for the elder of the racing Busch brothers when it came to surprises. As the season drew toward its conclusion, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion had made no announcement regarding his plans for the following campaign as rumors began top swirl. Eventually, it was made known that Busch would be changing teams in 2014 by moving to Stewart-Haas Racing.
If not making the Chase wasn’t on my radar screen for Busch, this move wasn’t even in the same zip code as the radar screen. I would have never expected this pairing, which was apparently the idea of team co-owner Carl Haas, to happen.
So, Kurt Busch offered up more than one surprise for this writer.
Injuries causing drivers to miss races- In an era in which so many advances have been made, it has become easy to take safety for granted. However, 2013 slammed home the realization that this is still a very dangerous sport as two of the biggest stars in Sprint Cup racing missed races due to injury.
Denny Hamlin suffered a serious back injury after a last lap tangle with Joey Logano at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. that resulted in the Joe Gibbs Racing driver slamming an inside retaining wall that had not been covered with SAFER barriers. It was both surprising that a driver was injured severely enough to miss races and that there was a part of that high speed track not protected by the energy absorbing walls.
Ultimately, Hamlin missed four events on the Sprint Cup schedule.
Unfortunately, the serious injuries did not end with Hamlin. As the 2013 season neared its final stretch run, Tony Stewart was hurt away from a Sprint Cup track. The busy racer suffered a broken leg in a sprint car event that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
Even though that type of racing is not governed by NASCAR, it is still startling to hear of such a big star having to be carried away from a race track. This incident came on the heels of the tragic death of Jason Leffler in a sprint car earlier in the season.
Since the deaths of Dale Earnhardt, Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin, racing has made great strides in driver safety. But this season jolted us back to the reality that this is very much a dangerous sport.
Backlash from the Michael Waltrip Racing situation in Richmond- I have to categorize what happened in the Chase deciding race at the Richmond International Raceway as both surprising and not surprising. The events that eventually resulted in Michael Waltrip Racing driver Martin Truex’s ouster from the playoff have been well documented so there is no need to recap them here.
With so much emphasis placed on making the Chase for the Sprint Cup, I was not so surprised that a team would be willing to go to just about any lengths to gain entry into the playoff. Further, I cannot say I was surprised at the particular team that conducted the misdeed. After all, MWR has had other instances in which it has run afoul of the rules.
What was surprising to me was the backlash that came from the event. NASCAR reacted more harshly than I ever expected they would by removing Truex from the Chase after it deemed that Clint Bowyer’s late race spin had been an intentional move to cause a caution. As sponsor conscious as the sanctioning body is, I never thought they act so harshly as to risk chasing such a major backer as NAPA away from the sport.
I, for one, was surprised not by the happening itself but by the way NASCAR reacted to it.
Brad Keselowski offers poor defense of his championship- After standing strong against all comers, including the seemingly invincible Jimmie Johnson, during his championship run of 2012, Brad Keselowski looked like the type of driver who would always be in contention for race wins and championships. Instead, the driver failed to even make the cut for NASCAR’s ten race playoff.
As a matter of fact, the #2 Penske Racing team did not win a race until the 31st event of the season in Charlotte.
To me, this was more than a little surprising. Perhaps the team’s switch from Dodge to Ford caused some glitches. But whatever the reason, I expected Keselowski to be more of a contender than he was in defense his Sprint Cup title.
There were no doubt other surprising things about the 2013 NASCAR season. What were some of your favorites?
Keselowski offers weak defense- Switch to Ford. Thought he would at least be in the Chase.
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