January 28, 2014 — Blog by Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — Getty Images photo —
All right, so two things here. First, in homage to my old fantasy motorsports league, I’ve hereby changed the official name of my RaceChaser blog to “The Speed Zone”! Just so you guys know.
Second, and much more important, I know the 2014 championship season for North American motorsports technically got underway with the 52nd Rolex 24 at Daytona on Saturday afternoon, but I’m of the opinion that we haven’t gotten to Speedweeks yet, so we’re still good to talk about 2013.
Right? Good. Because I want to talk 2013!
More specifically, the good, the bad, and the just plain nasty of it.
The compilation you’re about to see reflects my views on the season from across ALL genres of motorsports, so this isn’t just NASCAR guys (for those of you who were worried)! 🙂
So, before we really embark on the journey that is the 2014 motorsports season, I hereby give you the first-ever “Best (and worst) of” awards from RaceChaserOnline.com presented by Speed77 Radio!
Best Comeback: (tie) Kurt Busch, John Force
- Kurt Busch’s road over the last three years was just intricate, at times insane, and in the end remarkable to watch. The fall and subsequent return of Busch as a serious player in the world of NASCAR began at the end of 2011 when he verbally blasted Dr. Jerry Punch at Homestead-Miami, and has now ended with his signing over at the power-team of Stewart-Haas Racing. But not even I foresaw that little old Furniture Row Racing out of Denver, Colorado (yes, Colorado) would be the stop-gap along the way this year. Going to victory lane was about the only thing that Kurt Busch didn’t do in 2013, as he propelled a single-car outfit into the Chase and made us all realize that he was serious about making this second chance count. And now? Not only does he have a second chance, but he has the right attitude to make something of it. Welcome back, Kurt Busch.
- And who could have seen this coming? After the first “Comeback of the Century” in 2010, John Force switched up his team lineup…and subsequently fell off the map. Not personality-wise of course, but results-wise. Even looking at him the first half of 2013, you had to wonder if Force’s time was just about up in the NHRA. Yes, he had the one win at Bristol, but…you just didn’t see the fire. Until the Countdown started, and the Force Express came to Gateway. That event sparked a three-race juggernaut of a win streak that said, “Hey y’all, I’m STILL HERE!” John Force came back into the picture right when he needed to, and it handed him an unprecedented 16th championship.
Best Feel-Good Story: David Ragan wins at Talladega
- This was the race that left everyone either grinning like a sorry fool or going, “Wait, did that really just happen?” But how can you NOT love a true David vs. Goliath story where the little guys came out on top? David (and David) took down the greats and gave the Front Row Motorsports team that DID their first-ever Cup level triumph over the likes of Roush, Hendrick and Gibbs in the final lap. “David Ragan did what now?! Seriously? I love it!”
Best Race: Auto Club 400
- Ignoring the aftermath that left Denny Hamlin out of a ride for over a month, this was hands down the best complete race of the entire 2013 season in any series, period. 17 lead changes and five-wide racing at multiple points, including three-wide for the lead during the final ten laps? You’re crazy if you can’t appreciate that kind of on-track action. Add to that a last lap pass and a get-together that took two guys fighting for a win and left them saying, “Where did he come from?” made this in my mind the best show of the year. And people say Fontana is a boring race track. Not anymore!
Best Drive: Donny Schatz from the B-Main to the win, 53rd FVP Knoxville Nationals
- Take any top sprint car driver in the country and put them in the B-main of the Knoxville Nationals, and say, “Not only do we want you to transfer, we want you to win the race.” The driver would probably look at you like you needed to be committed. And no one had ever done it before, not even the King, Steve Kinser! That’s what made Donny Schatz’s charge to not only become the first sprint car driver in history to win the Knoxville Nationals out of the B-feature, but to also keep a streak of seven wins in the last 8 years and three straight alive, so truly incredible. The breaks may have fallen exactly how Schatz needed them to, and the track may have become exactly what he wanted to drive, but you don’t just pass a veteran sprint car racer like Brian Brown without being good at what you do. And right now, at Knoxville, Donny Schatz isn’t just good, he is the best.No matter where you put him to start the event.
Best Driver: (tie) Jimmie Johnson, Sebastian Vettel
- After two years of not winning the Sprint Cup championship, Jimmie Johnson was irritated. And ready to get back on top. And for the first time in seven years, he opened the season exactly how he closed it. With flair. Not only did Johnson win the Daytona 500 for the second time, he went on to win six times in all and complete the season sweep at Daytona, a feat that had not been accomplished since 1982 (Bobby Allison). Add to that a stunning stretch run that led Johnson to a sixth career NASCAR Sprint Cup title and moves him ever closer to that legendary tier where only Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt sit currently and a fifth Driver of the Year Award (most-all time) and how can you not put Johnson in this category? Seven next year, anyone?
- I’m going to keep this one brief, because the statistics say it all. Discount all the controversy of Multi-21. Sebastian Vettel had 13 wins on the year, nine of them consecutive to end the season. Nine poles. A championship clinched with four races to go. And a fourth straight Driver’s championship. If anyone besides Jimmie Johnson had a season to rival all, it was Vettel, and while I’m not putting him over Johnson for this award, I do see the two as the most dominant drivers of their branches of motorsports right now, period.
Best Moment: Tony Kanaan wins the Indianapolis 500
- Is there a nicer guy in American motorsports than Tony Kanaan? The man is a class act, who won the IndyCar title in 2004 and has paid his dues time and time again to the sport he has the utmost love for. And yet, for all his striving and all the close calls and good karma, Tony Kanaan had never won at the Indianapolis 500, a race he desperately wanted to claim. His attitude infectious, Kanaan has always been a fan favorite, and that’s why it was no surprise to see every attendee rise as one on the final lap to cheer one of their perennial favorites home to Victory Lane. For IndyCar racing, this win was almost as beloved as Dale Earnhardt’s triumph in the Daytona 500 after 20 years of trying. For Tony Kanaan, the tears flowed in Victory Lane because it meant his “ugly mug” would finally be on the Borg-Warner next to his two longtime friends, Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon. And for the racing world, it was a fan favorite’s dream realized. And in my mind, there was nothing that topped that in 2013.
Worst Downfall: McLaren Mercedes
- If there’s one word to describe the crash-and-burn that was the McLaren F1 team, it’s simply “Ouch”. How does a championship-winning outfit go from the championship podium with 7 victories in 2012 to not even a podium finish in 2013? Ask Sergio Perez and Jenson Button. This wasn’t just a downfall, this was a team implosion in 2013 and it hurt to watch.
Worst Crash: Into the Catchfence, Daytona International Speedway
- We all held our collective breaths at the end of the Daytona Speedweeks Nationwide event after the chaos that unfolded. Kyle Larson’s engine went through the catchfence, numerous fans were injured by flying debris, 15 cars or more were demolished; suddenly, it didn’t matter that Tony Stewart had won his record-tying seventh Nationwide Series race. The carnage was more important to tend to. Luckily, no lives were lost and remarkably, no serious injuries reported, but it looked bad, and it could have been so much worse.
Worst Bonehead Move: Danica Patrick tries to wreck Landon Cassill, Hollywood Casino 400
- You know when you have those moments where you go, “Did that really just happen?” Well this category pays homage to those moments, and the biggest one of them all was Danica Patrick’s attempt at retaliation in Kansas last October. After Cassill dove in to make a pass (which he completed) on Patrick in Turn Three, Patrick came back on Cassill in 1 and 2 the following lap and hooked Cassill’s left rear, sending the No. 83 for a slide. Unfortunately, the ill-fated tap did not damage Cassill’s car, and when Patrick could not save her own slide, she hammered the Turn Two wall hard, ending her day. As Cassill said over the radio after the incident, “Rule Number One of stock car racing: If you’re gonna wreck somebody, make sure you do it without wrecking yourself.”
- Honorable Mention: Tony Stewart calling Steve Kinser out at Eldora Speedway – Yeah, so this one has to be up there in the category too. I mean, yeah, it is Tony Stewart we’re talking about, BUT….even I didn’t expect Stewart to come right out and call King Kinser an “a-hole” of a teammate. I mean…really? You don’t do that to the King, Tony. You just don’t. I guess Steve worked things out with the boss pretty quickly because he’s back for his “Salute to the King” this year with TSR. Or…Tony apologized? Nah. It has to be the first one.
Worst Controversy: Federated Auto Parts 400
- Is there any other nominee for this award? Yeah, okay, Multi-21, but really. This was just a disaster from the time Clint Bowyer began his long lazy slide with seven laps to go in the regular season finale to the time that Brian France announced (to no one’s surprise) that Jeff Gordon was going to be added as a thirteenth Chase competitor. Between Ty Norris’ indefinite suspension (and subsequent reinstatement last week), Martin Truex’s lost Chase berth and NAPA’s withdrawal from MWR, this one had fans talking for months after the fact, and this year is going to tell us exactly how far, if at all, Michael Waltrip’s organization has recovered from the Richmond debacle. They say that controversy is what keeps the water cooler talk rumbling on Monday mornings. Well this time it wasn’t just rumbling, it was roaring.
Outstanding Lame Duck Award: Kevin Harvick
- Now we get into the first of my “a la carte” awards; the awards that ought to have been given out this year but weren’t, and now I’m giving them because I CAN. And this one is easy. Lame ducks aren’t supposed to contend for championships. They’re supposed to be like the flightless dodo, useless, pointless, and dead. Not so for the man we call “Happy”. Instead, he racked up four wins, including a wild triumph at Phoenix to remain alive heading to the championship finale in Homestead-Miami, and three third-place championship points finishes in the last four years. Harvick departed Richard Childress Racing with a legacy befit of the driver tapped to replace Dale Earnhardt in 2001. The only thing that was missing was a championship. But boy did he come close.
“No Really, we aren’t Villains!” Award: (tie) Michael Waltrip Racing, Sebastian Vettel
- Every once in a while, you come across those who really try hard to be good guys, but make a mistake and get branded with the black mark on their foreheads forever and ever and ever. Or at least till the end of the year. Such was the case for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2013. After “Spingate”, combined with MWR’s past history of less-than-stellar limelights (the 2007 Daytona fuel controversy comes to mind), Michael Waltrip Racing just had a dark pall over it for the remainder of 2013 and really became the villains of the Chase without true proof of the wrongdoing (yes, I’m not taking a stance here). The organization is looking for a restructure to clean the slate in 2014 by bringing in Jeff Burton and adding Brian Vickers (pending doctors’ approval) full-time to the operation. On a side note, I added Sebastian Vettel to this category because the whole “Multi-21” affair really left a foul taste in the mouths of the open wheel crowd as well, when Vettel deliberately disobeyed team orders and passed Mark Webber for the win in Malaysia. If there were an award for best facial expression of the year, Mark Webber glaring daggers at Vettel on the podium after that one would take top honors, hands down!
Race Chaser Lifetime Achievement Award: Mark Martin
- This award is going to be placed annually in the hands of a driver who either is in the twilight of their career or retires at the end of the season and has made a lasting impact on the sport of stock car racing. This year, the driver who stuck out to me as the “lifetimer” was Mark Martin. Yes, I know he didn’t put up any spectacular numbers in his final season and I know he didn’t win a race, but look at what he’s done over the past 30+ years. Five runner-up points finishes. 40 career Cup Series wins. Wins in all three national touring series. A bonafide Hall of Fame career. And so much work off-track for the sport that he loves so dearly that it’s hard to imagine this year’s Daytona 500 without Mark Martin in it. But he won’t be gone from the race track. Mark Martin is a man who loves the sport too much to ever completely leave it behind, but he did want to leave on his own terms. And this time, he did just that. My hat goes off to you, sir, on an outstanding career that should be an example for years to come for the young up-and-coming drivers of this sport. In the words of Tony Stewart, “Mark Martin, you are my hero today.”
“Gone but Never Forgotten” Legacy Cup: Jason Leffler, Kramer Williamson, Josh Burton, Allan Simonsen and Sean Edwards
- This final category is not an award, but rather a tribute to the drivers we lost this season that their losses shook us to our cores as motorsports fans. While there were many more than just these five, these five were the ones who touched my heart in the biggest way when I learned of their passing this year. Jason Leffler, killed in a sprint car accident and who was the example of a father that everyone should strive to be like. Kramer Williamson, killed in a URC sprint tour heat race accident and who I was supposed to meet last October when the URC tour came down to race at the Carolina Speedway in North Carolina. Josh Burton, a young open wheel talent who was the first major casualty in sprint car racing this year, who when you looked at him you got the feeling he had so much more to do in his young career. Allan Simonsen, killed in the world’s most prestigious endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, last summer just three laps in to the endurance classic. And Sean Edwards, who was just one race away from clinching the Porsche SuperCup Series championship when he was killed in a testing accident in October. Each, a driver with their own unique story. Each, taken doing what they loved to do. And each leaving behind a legacy that will touch all of us for years to come. Godspeed gentlemen. And godspeed to all those who we lost last year. Their memories will never be forgotten.
With 2013 now behind us, and the first look at the excitement of the 2014 season already whetting our appetites with the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona in the books, I think I can speak for everyone when I say that as a race fan, I’m pumped up at the potential this year has. If 2013 was good, then I feel 2014 has the potential to be downright awesome. And guess what race fans?
Daytona Speedweeks is only 18 days away.
Keep it off the wall, until we meet again.
The above opinions reflect solely the opinions of the author and do not in any way reflect the views of any of the aforementioned organizations, RaceChaserOnline.com, Speed77 Radio, or any of the other writers involved in the Team Full Throttle family of companies.