It might be hard to believe — has it really been nine months? — but the NASCAR Nationwide Series wraps up its 2013 season this weekend with one final race at Homestead.
It’s been a long season, though not one that may resonate in many fans’ memories down the line as one that had much of a memorable slant. Though it certainly had its moments, the Nationwide Series hit one of its lower points in terms of buzz despite a young crop of talented drivers like Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson competing in its ranks.
Still, there are some things to take away from 2013 — and what better way to do so than hand out end-of-the-year awards? OK, maybe there are better courses of action, but (almost) everyone likes a list. Look at Buzzfeed.
So without any further ado, here’s a few awards for the 2013 season, as voted by the esteemed writer of this column.
Most Valuable Driver: Austin Dillon
Entering Homestead, Austin Dillon has zero wins in his final Nationwide Series season before stepping up to the Sprint Cup Series. However, when it comes to a full-time series driver any team would want as their driver, Dillon’s No. 1. He’s been an example of consistency this year, with an average finish of 8.7. Not gonna front — he was better last year. But best is best, and all things considered there was no one better than the Richard Childress Racing driver in 2013.
Honorable Mention: Sam Hornish Jr.
Best Race: Kentucky 300
Nothing quite matched the magic of a rising star becomng a first-time winner. Ryan Blaney didn’t get a lot of chances in the Nationwide Series this year — just three, in fact — but when the series found itself rid of Cup regulars at Kentucky in late September, he capitalized in the best possible way, leading 96 laps en route to his first Nationwide Series victory. It wasn’t easy; late-race cautions nearly caused Blaney to lose the lead after a charge from Austin Dillon and Matt Crafton. But in the end, the 19-year-old prevailed, creating a memorable scene in victory lane.
Honorable Mention: DRIVE4COPD 300
Biggest Surprise: AJ Allmendinger
AJ Allmendinger only ran two Nationwide races this season, but if you had told me he’d win both of them, I’d‘ve had thought you MAD, mad I say! Then again, it makes sense. Allmendinger has proven to be a superb road racer over the years, and he was driving one of the series’ best cars in Penske Racing’s No. 22. Still, with no wins in his NASCAR career so far, he was an underdog even in that equipment — not to mention that so many didn’t even expect the guy back in a Penske stock car after last season’s woes. Road America and Mid-Ohio changed the perception of him, and he’ll undoubtedly be a favorite at the road courses moving forward.
Honorable Mention: Alex Bowman
Biggest Disappointment: Travis Pastrana
This may be a case of not having lowered expectations, but I think anyone can agree that Travis Pastrana has not performed even near the level many expected of him in his first full NASCAR season. The equipment was certainly there with Roush Fenway Racing and he showed flashes of talent — especially in qualifying, where he gained a pole, a second-place and a fourth-place start at the restrictor plate tracks — and has completed 93 percent of the laps this season entering Homestead. But an average finish of 21.8, with six DNFs due to crashes, have effectively killed his season — and earlier this week, Pastrana announced he’s leaving the sport after Homestead. The driver brought a lot of new fans to the sport, so it’s sad to see him go, but stock cars may just have not been his thing.
Honorable Mention: Michael Annett
Best Driver from Another Series: Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski may not have won as much as Kyle Busch in the Nationwide Series this season, but his thrilling run toward season’s end is certainly worthy of recognition. Keselowski ran 15 of 33 races this season in Penske’s No. 22, and all of his wins came in his last nine races. What sets him above Busch? Besides running the series less, he’s also a bit more likable when he does win; yeah, the series would arguably be better off without him running as much as he does, but it could be worse.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Busch
Most Deserving of Full-Time Ride: Cole Whitt
Cole Whitt once ran full-time for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, but he began 2013 without a ride at all — a definite fall from grace from his previous employment. He finally debuted at Dover in June, piloting Tri-Star Motorsports’ No. 44 to a 16th-place finish. In 14 total races before Homestead, he finished in the top 10 three times, besting even the full-time drivers on the team with that stat while driving a car that had less funding than his previous ride. Who knows if he’ll ever get back in a top ride, but at the very least, he deserves something in this series.
Honorable Mention: Chris Buescher
2014 Title Favorite: Regan Smith
With Austin Dillon moving on to Cup and Sam Hornish Jr. potentially without a ride, Regan Smith is the next in line for the title. Gearing up for his second full season with JR Motorsports, Smith will undoubtedly have a better shot at victory at the series’ tracks the second time around, and he’ll have a leg up on Dillon’s brother Ty and whoever — if anyone — replaces Hornish. In terms of competing for wins and running consistently near the front, no one returning to the series in 2014 has been better than Smith, and barring some major improvements from others in the series, he’ll be at the top in 2014.
Honorable Mention: Ty Dillon
Looking Ahead: Homestead
Stats (entered drivers):
Most Wins: Joe Nemechek (3)
Most Top Fives: Joe Nemechek (5)
Most Top 10s: Joe Nemechek, Matt Kenseth (8)
Most Poles: Jeff Green, Joey Logano (2)
Entered Past Winners: Joe Nemechek, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Regan Smith, Brad Keselowski
Top Average Finish: Austin Dillon (5.0, 1 race), Trevor Bayne (8.0, 2), Kyle Busch (8.3, 6), Joey Logano (9.4, 5), Brian Scott (11.3, 3)
Homestead Nationwide Debuts: Landon Cassill, Corey LaJoie, Ryan Reed, Drew Herring, Ryan Ellis, Kyle Larson, Ty Dillon, TJ Bell, Jamie Dick, Travis Pastrana, Carl Long, Bryan Silas, Alex Bowman
Season Debuts: Corey LaJoie
Series Debuts: Corey LaJoie
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