Danny Peters · Tuesday November 19, 2013
ONE: What a Strange Season:
What a strange season 2013 was. Sure, it ended in usual fashion with Jimmie Johnson picking up yet another title – his sixth – but from the drop of the green flag in the Daytona 500, and the launch of the new Gen-6 cars, it’s felt like a weird old year.
The zenith of the absurdity came after the Richmond pre-Chase race shenanigans; events that led to us having 13 drivers in the Chase and a serious career derailment for the one driver, Martin Truex, Jr., who was just about the one guy that did nothing wrong in that whole fiasco.
That the season finished with a race that included an exploding tire from Paul Menard’s Chevy, just about summed it up.
Then you had the serious injuries to both Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart, not to mention Bobby Labonte, plus the tragic death of Jason Leffler. And with Labonte, Kenny Schrader and Mark Martin retiring, Jeff Burton only likely to run a partial (still unannounced) schedule, and Juan Pablo Montoya returning to open wheel racing for Team Penkse, the field will certainly have a different look next season. For now, though, we have a few months off before the madness begins anew in 2014.
TWO: Onwards and Upwards for Austin Dillon
In the end, just three points separated Nationwide Series champion Austin Dillon from runner-up Sam Hornish, Jr. in the standings after what was a tense and gripping finale at Homestead-Miami last Saturday. For Dillon, who moves up to Sprint Cup next year, racing the iconic No. 3 car for team-owner and grandfather Richard Childress, it was a second championship to add to his Camping World Truck Series crown from 2011. It’s a feat only Greg Biffle and Johnny Benson can match. And to date no driver has ever won all three titles, but if anyone can, in time, Dillon might just be that man.
“It was ugly the way that we did it,” Dillon said of the final race and winning the championship. “We showed we have heart, and we’re not going to give up and it paid off in the end. … I just held on to the wheel and it worked out for us.”
That being said, don’t expect Dillon to come blazing out of the gate in 2014, the learning curve is steep as evidenced by 2012 Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s experience this year, not to mention the added pressure of driving the most famous number in NASCAR.
THREE: Good Job, Matt Crafton
Matt Crafton’s first championship in 13 years and 316 races of trying was one of the most genuine feel good stories of 2013. Crafton was a model of consistency all year long, finishing the year with one win, seven top-5’s and a metronomic 19 top-10’s in 22 races, good for an average finish of 7.9.
“It’s awesome. Every one of these guys who work on this car are a blessing,” said Crafton. “Each and every year we’ve gotten better and better.”
Unfortunately for the new champion it was not a clean sweep, with Kyle Busch Motorsports picking up the honors for Owner of the Year by way of the “more wins” tiebreaker after the two teams finished level on points. That, though, is a mere blemish on what was a career year for the veteran driver.
“It’s an honor,” said Crafton. “To be able to do it for Duke and Rhonda Thorson [his owners] that have been doing this for 18 years and give them their first championship.”
Crafton will be back next year to defend his title and to extend his record streak of 316 consecutive races alongside teammate Johnny Sauter, who finished fourth overall with three wins to his credit. After waiting so long for a first championship, there’s every chance Crafton could go back to back in 2014.
FOUR: Dario Franchitti Calls It a Career
Since we’ve been discussing retirement, it would be remiss of me not to mention Dario Franchitti, who called it a career based on the advice of his doctors following a terrible wreck at Reliant Park in Houston in the second last race of the 2013 IndyCar Series season. Franchitti won 32 races in 265 attempts to go along with his 91 podium finishes and 33 poles. All told, he finished up with four series championships (2007, 2009-2011) to go along with three Indy 500 victories (2007, 2009 and 2012).
“Racing has been my life for over 30 years, and it’s really tough to think that the driving side is now over,” said Franchitti. “I was really looking forward to the 2014 season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, with a goal of winning a fourth Indianapolis 500 and a fifth IndyCar Series championship.”
Fellow Scot, racing legend, and three time Formula One champion Jackie Stewart paid tribute to Franchitti this past weekend.
“There’s not much more he could achieve in American motor racing,” said Stewart. “I think he’s one of the real players in the business. He’s got a strong future in front of him because of the success he’s achieved in racing. Sad for motor racing because he’s a great asset to us. A great looking guy, very eloquent and he’s very fast.”
Enjoy your retirement, Dario.
FIVE: Next Up: 2014 Daytona 500
There are 96 days until the 2014 Daytona 500. Just a little over three months and already we’ve seen the commercials promoting the race. And yet before we know it, after the holidays, they’ll be back testing at Daytona in Pre-Season Thunder and ready to get the 10-month circus back up and running. I’m looking forward to it already.
And finally, before I finish for the year and since I enjoy very much being married, I have to mention my wife eviscerating me in our NASCAR Fantasy League this year. She finished 2,500th in the country while I ended up in 57,596th place. Had I not mentioned it, I might have found myself sleeping on the street this evening.
Enjoy the off season all and thanks to everyone who’s read and commented on my columns this year.
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