Awards for the Drivers Who Flopped in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Friday was the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards Banquet in Las Vegas, where Jimmie Johnson celebrated his sixth championship, as well as drivers who won other awards for their performances during the 2013 season.
With that in mind, we thought we'd dole out a different, almost polar opposite set of awards for those who didn't do so well, those who failed—if not downright flopped—or those who as Curly of the Three Stooges would say were "a victim of circumstances" during the just completed season.
And look at the bright side:
You don't have to put up with Jay Mohr hosting this awards show, too.
"The 'Oops, I Should Have Stayed Home' Award"
Tony Stewart had a decent season going until early August. Stewart decided to borrow a few pages from Kyle Busch's playbook and tried to double the number of races he competed in during 2013 (up to about 70 or so), albeit in other series, particularly sprint car and dirt-track racing.
Unfortunately, a crash at a track in Iowa not only was the most serious wreck Stewart has ever experienced in his entire racing career, it also caused him to undergo several surgeries to repair a nasty mangled leg, as well as miss the remainder of the Sprint Cup season, as well.
Stewart is due to return for the 2014 season-opening Daytona 500. The question is whether he'll continue to indulge his need for racing fixes in other series or whether the Iowa wreck will prompt him to forego all other racing except for his regular day job.
Other contenders: Denny Hamlin (early-season crash at California)
"The What Goes Down Must Come Up (We Hope) Award"
After missing the Chase entirely in 2012, Carl Edwards came into this year's Chase with such great promise.
Unfortunately, Edwards failed big time to live up to that promise, ultimately ending the season dead last among the 13-driver Chase field.
But was it more Edwards or the equipment he got from Roush Fenway Racing? After all, Edwards finished 13th, his RFR teammate Greg Biffle finished ninth and the highest-finishing Ford driver overall in the Chase was Joey Logano in eighth.
And let's not forget how defending Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski failed to make this year's Chase to try and repeat his 2012 title (granted, he won last year in a Dodge but was powered by Ford this season).
Let's hope Edwards uses how 2013 ended up as motivation for 2014 because he can't get much lower in the Chase—unless he once again fails to make it, period.
Other contenders: Greg Biffle
"The If You Can't Beat 'Em, Leave 'Em Award"
After seven seasons of trying to cut it as a Sprint Cup driver, Juan Pablo Montoya decided he's had enough and will be heading back to the IndyCar Series in 2014.
There was great promise and expectations of success when Montoya came into the Sprint Cup Series in 2007. After all, he was not only a former CART champion, as well as a Formula One winner, he also won the 2000 Indianapolis 500.
But try as he may, Montoya just never seemed to totally get the hang of stock-car racing.
If he raced on Cup road courses like Sonoma or Watkins Glen, he typically excelled. But on most other tracks, he struggled more often than not.
How else would you explain that in five of his seven years in Cup, he finished the season 20th or lower; in a sixth year, he finished 17th.
He made the Chase just once in his career (2009, finished eighth in the final standings) and certainly did not live up to his reputation as a world-class driver.
We think the move back to the open-wheel world will be good for Montoya. Dario Franchitti tried his hand at NASCAR racing and lasted less than a half-season before running back to the IndyCar world, where he would ultimately win three championships before injuries from a brutal wreck in Texas in October forced him to unexpectedly retire a few weeks back.
"The Writing Was on the Wall Award"
Bobby Labonte's career has floundered for the last several years. Once he left Joe Gibbs Racing, where he won the 2000 Sprint Cup championship, he struggled first with Richard Petty Motorsports and then JTG Daugherty Racing.
He was on-track for another so-so season when the powers that be at JTG-D decided to bring in AJ Allmendinger to see what he could do in Labonte's car.
While the move was looked upon as nothing more than a test, Allmendinger quickly proved he could ring more out of Labonte's ride than Labonte could himself.
And just before season's end, Labonte found out he would not be back with JTG-D in 2014.
But Allmendinger would, as he'll take over full-time for Labonte in the No. 47 Toyota in 2014.
With few prospects available, it appears this could be the end of the NASCAR racing line for Labonte.
"The 'So Much for Two in a Row' Award"
Brad Keselowski came out of the Nationwide Series like a whirlwind and was able to win his first Sprint Cup championship in less than four years.
He also handed legendary team owner Roger Penske his first Cup crown after nearly 30 years of trying. What predecessors like Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and others couldn't do for Penske, Keselowski did do by winning the 2012 Sprint Cup championship.
But instead of defending his crown in 2013, Keselowski essentially became known as a "one-and-done" champion—at least until 2014, of course.
What happened to Keselowski in 2013? It's anyone's guess. He started the season strong and looked on-target to indeed defend his crown.
But as the middle-third of the season began, he began to flounder, eventually falling short of making the Chase.
Not winning any races in the run-up to the Chase didn't help, although he did manage to win a race during the Chase, which would ultimately be the only victory he'd claim on the Cup side in 2013.
That was a far cry from the five wins he had in 2012 en route to his championship.
Keselowski can take some solace in the fact that he wasn't the first Chase champion (or near-champion) to fail to make the Chase the following season.
Tony Stewart did so in 2006, missing the Chase after winning the 2005 title.
And Carl Edwards barely missed winning the 2011 championship, losing out on a tiebreaker to Stewart, only to fail to make the Chase in 2012.
Will Keselowski have a big comeback in 2014? We'll just have to wait and see.
"The Better off Elsewhere Award"
Martin Truex Jr. has always been a good soldier for the teams he's raced for.
In the final qualifying race for the Chase at Richmond in early September, Truex was minding his own business late in the event when teammate Clint Bowyer spun, bringing out the yellow caution flag.
Then, part-time Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Brian Vickers—on orders of team vice president Ty Norris, whom NASCAR subsequently suspended indefinitely, as a result—worked to try and game the outcome of the race to assure Truex would make the Chase.
What happens? Truex eventually gets disqualified from the Chase by NASCAR, primary sponsor NAPA decided that it would not be coming back for next season due to the manipulation of the Richmond finish, and Truex was ultimately left without a sponsor or a ride for 2014.
Fortunately, Truex will have both next season, but it won't be with MWR. He's since moved on to replace Kurt Busch for 2014 for Furniture Row Racing.
While it's sad Truex was essentially the unwitting fall guy for all of the MWR shenanigans, he's probably better off in the long run.
Other contenders: Ryan Newman (with the way he was unceremoniously dumped from Stewart-Haas Racing, supposedly for lack of sponsorship for 2014, only to be replaced almost immediately for next season by Kurt Busch) and Clint Bowyer (for his role—which he continues to deny—in the fall Richmond race)
"The King of the Quick Exits Award"
While this could also be called "The King of the Start-and-Parkers Award," Michael McDowell still managed to get the most out of the least this past season.
Wait, scratch that. McDowell managed to get the least out of the most this past season would be more accurate.
McDowell started 33 of 36 races, with his highest finish being a near-shocking ninth-place showing in the season-opening Daytona 500, right behind pole-sitter Danica Patrick.
But from that point on, McDowell completed just one-third (3,515 laps) of the season's 10,553 total laps, ultimately finishing the lowest of all full-time Cup drivers in 37th place. He scored just 210 points in a season that saw champion Jimmie Johnson score more than 10 times that amount (2,419).
He also recorded an unbelievable 26 DNFs—meaning, of course, he made it to the finish line just seven times in all of 2013.
His average start was 33.2, and his average finish was 37.7.
And yet he still took home nearly $2.6 million in race earnings—meaning most of us are in the wrong business.
Other contenders: Timmy Hill (believe it or not, he started 19 races this season) and David Stremme
"The Kahne but Not Very Able Award"
After finishing a very strong fourth in 2012, Kasey Kahne appeared ready to give a concerted effort for his potential first Sprint Cup championship in 2013.
Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way. Not only did Kahne barely make the Chase as a wild card (based upon two wins in the first 26 races), he was a virtual non-entity during the 10-race playoffs, eventually finishing 12th in the 13-driver field.
What went wrong with Kahne? Why was he the lowest-finishing of the four Cup drivers in the Hendrick Motorsports stable?
Those are answers we wish we had.
Following his second win of the season, Aug. 4 in the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway, Kahne would manage just three top-five and one other top-10 finish in the subsequent 15 races.
Will Kahne bounce back in 2014? We—and he—can only hope.
"The 'I Just Had to Say at Least One Stupid Thing This Season, Didn't I?' Award"
To his credit, Kyle Busch had an outstanding season on the race track. He finished a career-best fourth in the Sprint Cup standings, winning four races. In addition, he won a record 12 races while moonlighting in the Nationwide Series and five others in the Camping World Truck Series.
Everything was going so great for Busch. He stayed out of trouble, didn't draw any media ire or consternation, and even fans who normally booed him began cheering him.
And then came the July 15 race at New Hampshire. Speaking first before knowing all the facts—which obviously isn't the first time in the younger Busch brother's career—Kyle publicly criticized Ryan Newman for being involved in a wreck with older brother Kurt.
Only one problem with that: Newman did not cause the wreck. He was caught up in it, just like Kurt Busch was.
Still, even without waiting to see a replay, Kyle let loose on Newman, calling him "the biggest stupid idiot out there," as well as "a big ogre."
But the most contentious comment was also the lowest of low blows anyone can give someone else, essentially kicking a guy when he was down: Busch said he was "glad (Newman's) out of a job" shortly after it became known that Newman would not have his contract renewed by Stewart-Haas Racing at season's end.
Busch then tried to "clarify" his end-of-race comments a few days later by claiming he was talking about two different things at the same time, and somehow—surprise, surprise, surprise—his answers came out together as one.
Talk about piling on one mistake after another.
To his credit, Busch did apologize in his own unique way (but probably only after being told to do so by team owner Joe Gibbs): "I'm not sorry for how I feel in those moments, but could have expressed it better and certainly my comments about someone's livelihood went too far."
Newman, who will race next season for Richard Childress Racing, being replaced at SHR—ironically enough—by Kurt Busch, could have pounded Kyle into a pulp and probably would have drawn high praise from many.
But instead, Newman took the high road—and being the college graduate that Kyle is not—proved more eloquent in his thoughts about Busch's comments.
“I’m just afraid that if I rearrange his face, I might fix it,” Newman said of Busch during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
You know, given that Newman has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue, maybe he could do some post-graduate study in plastic surgery—both disciplines include fixing body work of different types—and help out KyBusch with that face one day.
Other contenders: Brad Keselowski (for several criticisms he made this year, including other teams stealing Penske Motorsports employees, as well as concussions) and Kevin Harvick (for his comments about team owner Richard Childress' grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon)
"The Judge Me for My Racing, Not My Boyfriend Award"
No 2013 awards story would be complete without an honor for Danica Patrick.
First off, seriously, Patrick is to be commended for what she did in 2013. While she did finish 27th and managed just one top-10 finish the entire season (eighth in the Daytona 500, for which she won the pole), she amassed a significant amount of seat time that should serve her well going forward.
Unfortunately, Patrick just kind of stopped showing forward movement in the second half of the season. Following her 14th-place finish at the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in early July, her best effort the rest of the way was a 17th-place finish at Martinsville in the fall, one of just five overall top-20 showings in the entire season.
But what really drew attention to Patrick—and not in a good way—was the early-season revelation that she was dating fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who would go on to win this season's Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Award with a 19th-place finish.
The media and fans were so awe-struck with the Patrick-Stenhouse romance that the attention seemed to have a detrimental influence on both at times. But by midseason, the shine of the relationship grew dull to reporters and fans, and Patrick and "Richard" (as she likes to call him) became just another couple trying to navigate their way through the world of love—and Sprint Cup, as well.
We predicted before the season that Patrick would be ready to qualify for the Chase within three to five years of her full-time debut on the Sprint Cup series. While we're still holding to that, she'll have to show much more progress in 2014.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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