The Defining Moment of the 2013 Season for NASCAR's Top Stars

Michael Guadalupe@The_GuadaFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2013

The Defining Moment of the 2013 Season for NASCAR's Top Stars

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    The 2013 NASCAR season is over, and the sport’s top stars have had defining moments throughout the year.

    NASCAR fans saw Jimmie Johnson win his sixth title and come even closer to greatness, which helped define his 2013 season. Johnson and the 48 team were great throughout the season, and in the end, they were rewarded.

    What about the other top stars in NASCAR?

    What moment helped define Danica Patrick’s 2013 season?

    This year has been filled with ups and downs for all of NASCAR’s top stars, but these moments are the ones that defined them in 2013.

15. Brad Keselowski Wins at Charlotte

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    Brad Keselowski didn't make the Chase in 2013.

    And while it was a huge blow to the defending Sprint Cup champion, he was dealing with another issue:

    He hadn't won a single race before the Chase started.

    Keselowski praised the Gen-6 car before the season began, but of the three manufacturers in the sport, Ford seemed to struggle the most with the new car.

    He finally found himself in victory lane during the Charlotte race of the Chase.

    It wasn't a simple win, either; Keselowski battled Kasey Kahne hard for the lead during the end of the race, and the two drivers put on one of the best finishes all season.

    He had struggled throughout the season, and getting back in Victory Lane was his defining moment as he proved he could still win and played spoiler to the Chase drivers.

14. Jeff Gordon and His Chase Performance

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    Jeff Gordon's defining moment in the 2013 season comes over the course of several races.

    He made the Chase after all the controversy at Richmond, and Gordon had been struggling through the regular season.

    Would he come back in the Chase and be able to pull off an upset? It seemed unlikely, but as the Chase moved forward, Gordon started to come alive.

    No longer were we looking at a two-man battle between Johnson and Matt Kenseth. Gordon won at Martinsville, and we had a third contender for the title.

    Until he struggled at Texas and was basically eliminated from contention.

    Gordon's highs and lows during the Chase were a good reflection on his 2013 season. NASCAR fans thought they might see the veteran win another championship, but his inconsistency cost him.

    If Gordon is going to be remembered for anything in the 2013 season, it's going to be how close he came to the title, only to stumble and miss out on the championship once again.

13. Tony Stewart Breaks His Leg

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    Not every driver on this list will have a happy moment they can reflect on now that the 2013 season is finished.

    Tony Stewart is one of those drivers.

    Smoke started off the season weak, and besides his scuffle with Joey Logano and one win at Dover, Smoke was quiet for most of the season.

    Stewart-Haas Racing struggled early on during the year, and as Smoke was struggling to hold onto a Chase spot, he was also racing outside his normal Sprint Cup Series races and ended up crashing during a night sprint car race at Southern Iowa Speedway.

    Smoke broke his leg and had to sit out the rest of the season.

    His Chase hopes disappeared, and he's had three surgeries on his broken leg, along with plenty of rehab.

    Should Stewart continue racing outside his main Sprint Cup Series races? Will he be able to come back and compete at 100 percent next season?

    Smoke's defining moment was breaking his leg in 2013, and it's only led to questions about his season next year.

12. Joey Logano Doesn't Back Down

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    Logano was joined Penske Racing at the beginning of the 2013 season, and it was a big opportunity for the young driver to move away from his lackluster time at Joe Gibbs Racing.

    Nobody knew what to expect for Logano, though he was paired with a Sprint Cup champion and it was easy to imagine that his career would begin to improve.

    He made the Chase for the first time in 2013, but his defining moments came from his scuffles with Stewart and Denny Hamlin.

    Hamlin and Logano had issues on and off the track, which eventually boiled over when Logano refused to let Hamlin pass him during the regular-season race at Fontana.

    Hamlin ended up in the wall, and fractured his back.

    Logano also ended up fighting with Stewart at the end of the race, as Smoke went charging after him for blocking him on a restart.

    What does all this mean for the driver of the 22? When you think about what Logano has done in 2013, his defining moments come from the fights he had this season, and how he refused to back down.

11. Danica Patrick Starts the Daytona 500 from the Pole

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    Patrick had a rough rookie year in the Sprint Cup Series.

    She finished 27th in points, and while fans may argue about if she should have stayed in the Nationwide Series a little longer, the rookie driver did walk away from the 2013 year with a major accomplishment:

    She won the 2013 Daytona 500 pole.

    Patrick became the first female driver to pull off the feat, and she had a solid showing at the Daytona 500 to back it up.

    She was able to run in the top 10 for the majority of the race and finished in eighth.

    Danica is quickly emerging as one of NASCAR's most polarizing stars.

    Whether you love her or you hate her, though, you can’t deny that her performance at the Daytona 500 was fantastic for a rookie driver.

10. Ryan Newman Moves On

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    Ryan Newman was going to win the race at Richmond, and make the Chase, until Clint Bowyer spun and Newman went in to pit.

    NASCAR, though, didn’t like the events that took place at Richmond and helped bump Newman into the Chase. Newman didn’t stand out in the postseason, but he had a solid last run for Stewart-Haas Racing, which announced this season that it will not sign Newman for the 2014 year and beyond.

    With nowhere to go, Newman knew his time at Stewart-Haas Racing was up and still continued to race at a competitive level.

    He won at Indianapolis in the regular season, and eventually landed a ride with Richard Childress Racing for 2014.

    He’s had a rough season, but his defining moment comes through his perseverance we’ve seen from the Rocket throughout the season.

    From winning at Indy, to making it into the Chase, Newman had a good last season at SHR.

9. Martin Truex Says Goodbye

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    With everything that has happened at Michael Waltrip Racing, Martin Truex Jr.'s defining moment is his decision to leave the organization.

    It's hard to decide if Truex had any involvement with what happened at Richmond, or if he was just a bystander who ended up taking the fall.

    With NAPA leaving MWR, Truex didn't have the sponsorship he needed moving forward into the 2014 season, and he chose to leave the organization to join the Furniture Row Racing Team.

    It's a huge move, especially since Truex seemed likely to stay with MWR for quite a while.

    After everything that happened, though, Truex will be remembered for what happened to him during the 2013 season and his career at MWR coming to an early end.

8. Matt Kenseth Wins Seven Races

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    Kenseth couldn't win the championship this season, but he did manage to win seven races.

    Who would have imagined that Kenseth would make the move to a brand-new organization and win five races during the regular season?

    He and the 20 team emerged as huge favorites for the 2013 championship, and when they went on to win the first two Chase races, they were clearly the team on top.

    However, they couldn't stop Johnson and the 48, and they will have to settle for a second-place finish to the season.

    Still, winning seven races and finishing runner-up in the standings on a brand-new racing team is a huge accomplishment, and it should only help in making the 20 team look like top competitors in NASCAR heading into 2014.

7. Kevin Harvick Vents

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    Kevin Harvick's defining moment came when he feuded with Ty Dillon at Martinsville during a Camping World Series truck race.

    With Harvick open earlier in the season about his departure from Richard Childress Racing, there was always of question of why the driver was leaving.

    Childress clearly didn't want him to leave, but Harvick was ready to leave and head over to Stewart-Haas Racing.

    Things seemed quiet at Richard Childress Racing, until the truck race at Martinsville.

    Harvick said, via Nate Ryan of USA Today:

    (Dillon) just dumped me. Exactly the reason why I'm leaving RCR because you've got those kids coming up, and they've got no respect for what they do in this sport and they've had everything fed to them with a spoon.

    So I cut him slack all day, and he just dive-bombs me in there, dumps me. It's a shame you've got to get taken out by some rich kid like that.

    While he eventually apologized for what he said, Harvick seems to be leaving Richard Childress partly because of RCR eventually bringing Austin and Ty Dillon to the Sprint Cup Series.

    Harvick's defining moment of the 2013 season came when he vented his frustration about RCR. Is Harvick right, though? We'll have to wait until Austin and Ty make it up to the Sprint Cup Series to find out.

6. Kurt Busch Makes the Chase

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    Kurt Busch has overcome a lot since being dropped by Penske Racing.

    He's had his highs and lows since then, but the 2013 season for Busch showed just how much the driver has improved his attitude.

    His defining moment came when he managed to make the Chase and became the first driver of a single-car team to make NASCAR's new postseason playoff system.

    He didn't win a race all season, but Busch put on a solid effort with the lesser-known Furniture Row Racing team.

    He'll be heading to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, but Busch made history this season. He pushed himself and his team to a new level, and their hard work showed by finishing the season in 10th place.

5. Dale Jr. Has a Solid Season, but Doesn't Get a Win

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    Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t win a race in 2013, but the driver did have a solid season.

    In fact, if Jr. had won a race or two in the Chase, he could have been a real title contender.

    It’s hard to pick a single moment that defines Jr.’s 2013 year, because as a driver he continued to remain consistence, but he didn’t do anything to stand out above other drivers.

    He remains one of the most consistent drivers but still struggles to win a race.

    It’s what keeps him away from the title, even though he continues to make the Chase.

    His defining moment, then, comes at the end of the season when Jr. and the 88 team finished the year in fifth place.

    His consistency paid off, especially since he ran into car troubles during the Chicagoland race in the Chase. With a fifth-place finish, the 88 team needs to continue focusing on getting into Victory Lane. If they can next year, expect Jr. to be a title contender.

4. Carl Edwards Gets Back in Victory Lane

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    Carl Edwards had a horrible 2012 season.

    He couldn't win a race, and he didn't make the Chase.

    He was given a new crew chief in 2013, and with his help, Edwards found himself back in Victory Lane not once, but twice during the 2013 season.

    It was clearly Edwards' most defining moment, as it helped reassure the driver that he had overcome his struggles in 2012.

    What makes his victories even more impressive is that he was the only driver of a Ford manufactured stock car to get two wins this season.

    Edwards almost won the championship in 2011, but he took a major stumble backward the next year.

    Now, with 2013 behind him, Edwards has emerged as a top driver yet again, thanks to his two victories and solid performance during the regular season.

3. Clint Bowyer and the Richmond Controversy

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    Bowyer didn't win a single race in 2013. 

    And aside from his consistent finishes, Bowyer had a relatively quiet year.

    Except for the incident at Richmond.

    By now, if you've been watching NASCAR this season you know about what happened at Richmond and how it transformed the Chase from 12 spots to 13.

    What we don't know, though, is if Bowyer spun on purpose to bring out the caution flag late in the race to help his teammate make the postseason.

    Either way he was unsuccessful, as NASCAR removed Truex from the Chase scene by docking him points which knocked him out of the top 12.

    Bowyer didn't accomplish much in 2013, and his defining moment came when he voluntarily, or involuntarily, tried to change the Chase lineup.

2. Kyle Busch Still Can't Handle Kansas

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    Kyle Busch was a top driver throughout the regular season.

    When he entered the Chase, it looked like he had a good chance to finally win his first Sprint Cup title.

    Then Kansas happened.

    He has been one of the worst drivers in the Chase, and every time the 18 team seems strong heading into the postseason, they eventually fall apart.

    Kansas is Busch's Kryptonite, and even though he was strong throughout the regular season, he couldn't overcome Kansas.

    A crash took him out of the race, and his Chase hopes went with it.

    Busch is one of NASCAR's top drivers, but until he learns how to handle Kansas Motor Speedway, he may never win a championship.

    Even though he had a lot of momentum heading into the Chase, Busch's defining moment in 2013 was failing to live up to expectations in the postseason yet again.

1. Jimmie Johnson Wins His Sixth Title

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    Johnson's defining moment of the 2013 season is easily his sixth championship win.

    It holds more importance than his Daytona 500 victory, or the six races he won this year. It combines everything he and the 48 team put into the 2013 season and makes him one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history.

    Johnson's season started with his win at Daytona, and it ended with him hoisting the championship trophy over his head.

    In a season where drivers were given new cars, and had no idea how successful they would be with the new technology, Johnson and the 48 group were able to adjust to the Gen-6 and were one of the top teams during the early part of the regular season.

    They lost momentum heading into the Chase, and many people wondered if Johnson could still win the championship.

    He put the doubters to rest at Homestead and added another championship to his fantastic career.