NASCAR’s 2013 Sprint Cup Homestead goodbyes

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Several drivers will be changing teams or facing an uncertain future in the sport after Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400, the season finale for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Here’s a brief look at what they’ve accomplished in their runs with their current squads:

Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress Racing (2001-2013)

Harvick leaves the only Cup team he’s ever known. He’ll start his 466th and last race with RCR on Sunday third in the points, and seeking back-to-back wins to close out his 13-year run. He has 23 career wins and one on Sunday would tie the most he’s achieved with the team in a single season (5 in 2006). Harvick has twice finished third in the points (2010, 2011) with RCR.

Kurt Busch, Furniture Row Racing (2012-2013)

No Cinderella story in the Chase, but the fact Busch has taken the Denver-based operation to another level and raised its stature in the garage is no small accomplishment. A best finish of second in 41 starts and in 2013, his only full season with the team, has 11 top-fives and 16 top-10 finishes. He has recovered from his career wilderness.

Ryan Newman, Stewart-Haas Racing (2009-2013)

Newman will start his 180th race for SHR before both Harvick and Busch join the team in 2014. The Indiana native has three Chase berths and four wins in his tenure; he carried the team this year with Tony Stewart’s injuries costing him his season and with Danica Patrick learning the ropes in her first full-time season.

Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip Racing (2010-2013)

It’s been four methodical seasons for Truex and MWR; never great, but progressive improvements over the last two years in particular. His 144th and last start with MWR comes after one prior win (Sonoma this year) and a myriad of bad circumstances that have seemed to conspire against him in 2013.

Jeff Burton, Richard Childress Racing (2004-2013)

One of NASCAR’s all-time class acts and great quotes, Burton signs off his 10-year run at RCR with his 338th start for the team this weekend to make way for Newman’s arrival. His four wins were achieved from 2006 through 2008, the latter year of which he was a bona fide title contender before fading to sixth at year’s end.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (2006-2013)

He’ll start his 253rd and final, for now, NASCAR Sprint Cup race with EGR and the word “unfulfilled” probably the best descriptor of his NASCAR career. The open-wheel ace has never truly starred in NASCAR except for a handful of races; two road course wins and one Chase appearance all he has to show in his seven full seasons.

Mark Martin, Stewart-Haas Racing (2013)

Martin’s possible final act in Sprint Cup – it’s hard to say for sure as Martin is NASCAR’s equivalent of Brett Favre – has been a good one. Martin served as a mentor and team developer at Michael Waltrip Racing before moving to SHR to fill in for the injured Tony Stewart. He’s run partial seasons since 2005, save for three Hendrick years from 2009 through 2011. Is this finally the end?

Bobby Labonte, too, has already signed off at Phoenix. There may be others from some of the smaller teams, but this is a big list of those leaving their current seats before 2014.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”