Ranking the Most Memorable Moments of the 2013 NASCAR Season
The odyssey that is the NASCAR season has again come to a close with the season finales of all three national series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
It's been yet another long journey. The February-to-November schedule ranks as one of the longest in pro sports, and it has provided plenty of memorable moments along the way.
From Daytona to Homestead, find out what moments were the most memorable from the 2013 NASCAR season.
10. Brian Vickers Wins at New Hampshire
There are plenty of reasons why Brian Vickers’ career could have been coming to an unfortunate close in the Sprint Cup Series.
He lost his ride with Red Bull Racing when the team shut their doors after the 2011 season. He had previously missed substantial time when a nearly fatal blood clot left him unable to drive during treatment.
But Vickers has made the most of a limited schedule in 2012 and 2013 with Michael Waltrip Racing, and it ultimately paid off when he won at New Hampshire in July.
The unexpected win was a catalyst for Vickers signing a full-time deal to drive MWR’s No. 55 in 2014.
9. Feuding Teams and Drivers
Jimmie Johnson left the 2012 season with a bad taste after losing his sixth title to Brad Keselowski, a champion entirely willing to gloat on his success and perhaps celebrate a bit too much for the seasoned veteran’s liking.
In 2013, it produced a slow burn of a feud between the two, with Johnson suggesting Keselowski should temper his rhetoric and Keselowski offering his opinions that Johnson has a weak spot on track when pushed.
But the best—albeit short-lived—feud of the season took off between ex-teammates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano at the Daytona 500.
By Bristol, just five races later, they had made contact on track and had a confrontation on pit road. It came to a head when they scrambled for the win on the final lap at Auto Club Speedway in March, making contact several times before Hamlin spun and Logano slid high, giving Kyle Busch the win.
Hamlin was injured in the crash and spent the next several weeks sidelined, basically ending the feud. Don’t be surprised if it crops up again in 2014, however.
8. Matt Kenseth’s Resurgent Season
There has never really been any doubt about how good Matt Kenseth, the 2003 series champion, is behind the wheel. But his offseason move to Joe Gibbs Racing ignited his abilities on the track.
Kenseth won seven times in 2013—the most of any driver—and was a challenger for the championship throughout the Chase until a car with nasty handling led to a 23rd-place finish at Phoenix International Speedway.
Perhaps the moment that most set the tone for the season-to-be for Kenseth was the season’s third race at Las Vegas in March. Kenseth deftly held off Kasey Kahne in a fantastic late-race battle at the Kobalt Tools 400 to secure his first win with JGR.
7. David Ragan Wins at Talladega
The chances for an unexpected driver to go to Victory Lane at Talladega Superspeedway are always higher than normal. Still, it’s rare, and even more rare for any low-budget team like Front Row Motorsports to finish 1-2 in the 500-mile side-by-side battles.
But that’s just what David Ragan (winner) and David Gilliland (second) pulled off during the early May race.
The duo started just outside the top 10 on the final green-white-checkered restart and stuck together while they pushed through the pack to take the lead on the final lap.
It was the first win and just the third and fourth top-five finishes ever for the team owned by Bob Jenkins.
6. Denny Hamlin Injured in California
Denny Hamlin tied for the most race wins in 2012. That, together with the addition of veteran teammate Matt Kenseth to the Joe Gibbs Racing stable, seemed to make Hamlin primed to again be a major player in the championship conversation.
That all went out the window when Hamlin crashed on the final lap of the spring race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Hamlin made contact on the last lap with Joey Logano while battling for the win and slammed into an inside wall, causing a compression fracture in his lower back.
He missed five total races and was unable to make a last-ditch effort to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
5. Jimmie Johnson's Sixth Cup Title
Jimmie Johnson started the season with a statement victory of sorts in the Daytona 500.
It was a win that said to all in the garage area that he was still going to be a threat for the title even after two years off the series' top throne. It ended with that message becoming fact, as Johnson scored his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.
It didn't come easy for Johnson. Matt Kenseth challenged him until the second-to-last race, and he rebounded from a nasty bout of bad luck just before the postseason started. But it looked easy by the end.
"Five-time" is now "six-time."
4. Nationwide Series Crash Injures Fans at Daytona
An otherwise fantastic season opener for the Nationwide Series turned tragic and scary on the final lap when leader Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski made contact with the checkered flag in sight.
The crash then enveloped more than 10 cars right behind them, with Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet rocketing high into the catch fence. That protected tens of thousands of spectators just before the start-finish line.
The front end of Larson’s car disintegrated and showered debris into the crowd at high speed, leaving more than 30 fans injured and several in the hospital.
All drivers walked away from the crash—Tony Stewart won the race—but the incident put NASCAR on wide-scale national news and brought into question just how safe fans are while attending races.
3. Danica Patrick’s Daytona 500 Performance
Everyone knew Danica Patrick’s full-time entrance into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series would be a top story to start the 2013 season. Not many predicted how big it would be by the start of the season’s premier race.
Patrick won the pole for February’s Daytona 500, jump-starting her first full-time season in NASCAR’s top level. Patrick wound up handling the pressure well, finishing eighth after becoming the first woman to lead laps in "The Great American Race."
Unfortunately for her, the restrictor-plate race proved to be anomaly in an otherwise disappointing season.
Still, the effort and distinct possibility existing late in the race that she could actually win the Daytona 500 made the moment more than memorable.
2. Tony Stewart Breaks Leg in Iowa Sprint Car Crash
Already a season with a top driver missing time thanks to an injury, the 2013 Sprint Cup Series was rocked again when three-time series champion Tony Stewart suffered a compound fracture of his right leg during a sprint car race in Iowa on Aug. 5.
The injury was severe.
Stewart has had three surgeries to repair the injury since the crash, and it forced Stewart-Haas Racing to find another driver to finish the 2013 season in the No. 14.
Mark Martin, Max Papis and Austin Dillon filled that role, and Stewart is expecting to return for the 2014 Daytona 500.
1. NASCAR's Richmond Chase Scandal
Easily the sport’s most controversial issue in years, the final race of the NASCAR regular season at Richmond International Raceway launched the sport into a mess that fans won’t soon forget.
It all began when Clint Bowyer spun in a suspicious manner with fewer than 10 laps to go while Ryan Newman led and teammate Martin Truex Jr. looked to be on the outside of the Chase.
The caution was followed by Newman losing the lead, Bowyer taking unnecessary time on pit road and MWR’s third car of Brian Vickers being told to pit and drive slower than normal.
Fans and other competitors fumed.
By the end of the next week, Truex Jr. had been dropped from the Chase, Bowyer had lost points, MWR was fined a hefty $300,000 and both Newman and Jeff Gordon were added back to the Chase in executive maneuvering by NASCAR CEO Brian France.
The cost grew for MWR when it lost NAPA Auto Parts as a sponsor, forcing Truex Jr. to leave the team in 2014.