Mike Neff · Monday November 18, 2013
Key Moment – For at least the second time in the Chase, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had the best car on the race track at the end of the event. With laps to go he tried to dive to the bottom of the track and pass Matt Kenseth for the second spot. When that failed he tried to pull a slide job and nearly wrecked both of them. From then on, he and Kenseth were done and watched Denny Hamlin drive off to the victory.
In a Nutshell – The green flag dropped on the race and Matt Kenseth did what he had to do. In the first 166 laps Kenseth led 144 of them, which ensured he would get a bonus point for leading a lap and a bonus point for leading the most laps. Unfortunately for Kenseth, while he never fell too far back, he never led again. From that point on the sun went down and it was Denny Hamlin’s race to lose. He led 70 of the remaining 107 laps with a sprinkling of Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr thrown in. Earnhardt looked to be coming back for a shot at the win late in the race but was unable to surpass Kenseth for second and eventually resigned himself to a third-place finish. Hamlin’s victory came in his last chance to win this season and continued his streak of winning at least one race every year since joining the series full time in 2006.
Dramatic Moment – With 34 laps to go, Paul Menard’s right rear tire caught fire. He rode around the track, came into the pits and stopped in his pit box, with a roaring fire coming out of the rear of his car. The team actually attempted to start a tire change before realizing the severity. Before a fireman reacted the right rear tire exploded on the car, leaving crewmen a little shaken up. Fortunately, everyone involved was ok.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
On a lap 193 restart, Jeff Gordon missed a shift and bottled up the entire outside line, and Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson both got out of shape and eventually made contact. Both of them were able to continue on and battle to the end of the race. Johnson received left front damage and could very easily have cut down a tire, making the race to the title much more difficult.
NASCAR has a large amount of requirements for safety on pit lane. A fireman for every pit stall is one of them. The sanctioning body might want to make it a requirement that they actually pay attention and react when a life threatening situation arises. There was no excuse for the delay in responding to the fire on Paul Menard’s car. They had warning a lap before he came into the pits and the car sat on pit lane for an extensive period of time, including an explosion, before a fireman ever came over the wall to try and put it out. Note to the firemen: The gas tank is near the rear tires. A fire can literally be a very explosive situation.
Denny Hamlin has been in the Cup Series for eight full seasons. In the previous seven, he’d won at least one race every year. Coming into Sunday’s race he was still winless in a season he’d much rather forget. In the second half of the race his car was the one to beat, and, unlike some of the other races this year where he led early only to fade, Hamlin sealed the deal and made it eight straight years with a win in the Cup series.
The Cup Series still managed to have a full field in every race this season. There were many races where no one went home after qualifying, 22 to be exact, and there wasn’t a single weekend where more than two cars went home all year. With Michael Waltrip racing shutting down a team and rumors that one or two more cars might not be fielded for the entire 2014 season, there is a very real chance that we could see a race next year without a full field of cars. The debate can be raised about whether that matters or not, but the simple fact is, the television networks don’t have to pay all of the royalty money without 43 cars on the track. It will be interesting to see how many one-off backup car rides end up hitting the track next year to ensure the TV money hits the coffers in Daytona.
Speaking of teams running the entire schedule, there were 40 teams that attempted to run all 36 races on the Cup schedule this year with 39 of them making all of the events. Compared to the Nationwide Series, where only 31 teams attempted the full 33 race schedule or the Truck Series where 26 teams attempted the full 22 race schedule. There have already been announcements that some teams are not coming back for the support series which means even fewer teams competing for the starting lineups in both series. The Nationwide Series had two races this year without full fields while the Truck Series had six races that were not full fields (not including Eldora which had a smaller starting lineup by rule). The long term health of the sport is in serious trouble and the folks in Daytona really need to look long and hard about what they’re doing in the support series to encourage team ownership and fan interest.
NASCAR continues to battle the integrity issue and this weekend they didn’t do themselves any favors. The Cup race had at least two debris cautions that were questionable at best. The first, when Harvick was struggling and getting close to going a lap down, looked like it was an effort to keep him relevant to the title hunt. The second was when Johnson was debating about coming in for an unscheduled pit stop. While Menard was smoking and possibly dropping debris, it was not shown on television and smelled of race manipulation. If the folks that run the show want the fans to believe they give a rat’s about integrity, they really need to work on coordinating their debris cautions with the race broadcast so that the fans don’t have a shadow of a doubt about the legitimacy of the call.
The integrity question was raised even more vociferously on Saturday night when the final caution of the night flew for the flaming wreck of Regan Smith and Jeremy Clements on the front straight. There was obviously a huge amount of oil left on the front straight and the cleanup process was destined to take an extensive amount of time. Austin Dillon was in a situation where he was going to be hard pressed to hold off drivers behind him with fresher tires. The caution drug on for 12 laps, leaving only five competition laps to settle the race and the season points battle. In the end, Sam Hornish was unable to advance his position far from Dillon and the point at least seemed to be moot, but once again the integrity issue reared a very ugly head. NASCAR really needs to look at instituting a rule that any time a caution extends beyond five laps they automatically red flag the race or quit counting laps. That will eliminate the appearance that they are favoring one driver over another based on whatever call they are making.
Speaking of the Nationwide Series, Austin Dillon won the title without winning a single race during the season. NASCAR changed the Cup points when Matt Kenseth won in 2003 with only one victory. Let’s all light a candle and say a prayer that the words Nationwide and Chase are never mentioned in the same breath this off-season.
For those of you who don’t understand starting and parking. Josh Wise, and Joe Nemechek each earned over $2,790,000 while posting DNFs in almost half of the races they ran.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Whenever the word explosion and race car are used in the same sentence it cannot be good. Paul Menard’s day ended early thanks to a fire and ultimate tire failure. Menard was in the to 10 for most of the first two-thirds of the race before the incident. In a season marked by quite a few crazy luck moments, it seemed only fitting that Menard’s day would end with a ball of flame and a tire erupting into a cloud of black smoke on pit road.
Trevor Bayne’s week went from bad to worse. The week started with the announcement that he has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It ended with an unceremonious end to his season when his engine failed on his car 44 laps from the finish of the race.
The race on Sunday started off in less than successful fashion for Travis Kvapil. Within the first 27 laps of the race Kvapil brought out two caution flags. After that he was frequently on television as the leaders put him more laps down. In the end, he finished the event 19 laps down.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Jimmie Johnson was 74 laps from his sixth championship when it almost all fell apart on a restart. Jeff Gordon bobbled when he got on the throttle, and the resultant scramble caused damage to the left front fender on Johnson’s car. He was about to come in for an unscheduled pit stop when a debris caution flew. While his car ultimately was fine, and his tire was fully inflated, the fact that a major problem was averted on the initial contact was a very fine fortune.
Danica Patrick has been much maligned by fans throughout the 2013 season, and her race was not progressing much better than most of the rest of her season during the first half. Fortunately for Patrick, she received the Lucky Dog on back-to-back cautions which put her back on the lead lap with 110 laps to go. When the checkered flag flew she was in 20th place and she earned the Rookie of the Race honors. Patrick finished in the top 20 in 25% of the races this season, including four of the final 10. Her average finish this season was four spots higher than her average starting position.
Kevin Harvick came into the race at Homestead mathematically alive for the title. For much of the first half of the race, he was completely out to lunch and was getting close to going a lap down when the caution flew on lap 153. Harvick and his crew chief, Gil Martin, kept plugging away and ended up securing a 10th-place finish. In a truly professional effort for the entire season, Harvick and his team raced as hard as they could and came withing 34 points of winning a title with a driver who knew he was leaving the organization long before the checkered flag flew at Homestead.
Jimmie Johnson won his sixth title in his 12th season in the Cup series. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt won their sixth titles in their 15th seasons.
Johnson is 38 years and 61 days old. He and Richard Petty both won their sixth titles at the age of 38, although Johnson is 83 days younger than Petty. Earnhardt was 42 when he won his sixth title.
Chad Knaus has led the No. 48 team to all six of their Sprint Cup titles. He is second all-time in Cup Series championships by a crew chief. NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Dale Inman spearheaded eight Cup Series titles.
Denny Hamlin’s victory is his 23rd of his Sprint Cup career. It is his second victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway and only win in 2013.
The win was Hamlin’s fourth top 5 of the season and his eighth top 10.
Matt Kenseth’s runner-up finish was his second of the season and his ninth top-2 finish of 2013.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s third-place finish was his seventh podium finish of the year and his 10th top 5 of 2013. For the second year in a row, Earnhardt scored 10 top 5 finishes.
Danica Patrick was the Rookie of the Race. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was declared the 2013 Rookie of the Year.
Austin Dillon is the 2013 Nationwide Series Champion. He is the third driver to win a Truck and Nationwide Series title (Johnny Benson and Greg Biffle).
Kyle Larson is the 2013 Rookie of the Year in the Nationwide Series.
Matt Crafton is the 2013 Camping World Truck Series Champion.
Ryan Blaney is the 2013 Rookie of the Year in the Camping World Truck Series.
Top 10 by Manufacturer –
Toyota – 5
Chevrolet – 3
Ford – 2
What’s the Points
The points are over and done. Jimmie Johnson is your 2013 Sprint Cup Series Champion, besting Matt Kenseth by 19 points. Kenseth scored the most bonus points for the season with 56. Kevin Harvick came home in third, 34 points behind Jimmie Johnson. Kyle Busch came home seventh on Sunday and held onto fourth in points by a single marker over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Busch and Earnhardt ended the year 55 and 56 points out of the lead, respectively.
The second half of the top 10 saw Mr. Asterisk, Jeff Gordon, finish sixth in points, 82 behind Johnson. He ended the year one point ahead of Clint Bowyer, who managed to make the Chase and run respectably in the face of the runner-up jinx from 2012. Speaking of the jinx, Jimmie Johnson’s efforts at Homestead in 2012 obviously paid off handsomely with him ending the year in third so as to avoid the runner-up jinx and ultimately win the 2013 title. Joey Logano moved up to eighth in the point standings with his eighth-place finish at Homestead, while Greg Biffle’s 24th place finish dropped him to ninth in the final season tally. Kurt Busch had a long day at Homestead, but fortunately had enough of a lead over Ryan Newman going into the final race to secure his place as the last driver going to Vegas.
The rest of your Chasers were Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards. Edwards and Kahne finished the race 12th and 13th, respectively on Sunday, and they ended the season 13th and 12th. Brad Keselowski did manage to hang onto the best of the rest thanks to his sixth-place finish at Homestead. He ended up 34 points ahead of Jamie McMurray.
Overall Rating(On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – The track at Homestead is aging gracefully and has really begun to wear tires. Fortunately, Goodyear brought a tire to the track that actually wore out and made tires a benefit. The end result was on track passes for the lead along with multiple lanes of racing. Cars were able to make time on the bottom of the track, but it was more abusive to tires. Cars that rode at the top were able to save tires and gain ground at the end of runs. The end result was a race with quite a bit of passing, including on-track passes for the lead. While the race wasn’t a barn burner and the championship battle was never really in doubt, it was still a great race from a competition standpoint. We’ll give it three frosty Amber Bocks before we head off to a much needed Winter break.
The Sprint Unlimited is 85 days away. February 15th the first race of the 2014 season, albeit a non-points race, will be contested at Daytona International Speedway. It will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 and MRN.
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