After talking about the big stories and ranking our Top 10 drivers from the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, my colleague Tony DiZinno and I are now going to start taking a look back on how each of the 13 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders fared this past year.
Let’s get started with the newly crowned six-time Sprint Cup champion, Jimmie Johnson…
No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2013 Stats: First Place, Six Wins, 16 Top-5s, 24 Top-10s, 1,985 Laps Led
Average Start: 9.8
Average Finish: 10.7
Estrada Says: After winning the Daytona 500 and then re-taking the points lead with his April victory at Martinsville following mediocre runs at Bristol and Fontana, Johnson steadily built his championship edge to 75 points following Watkins Glen. But the final four “regular season” races were a disaster with finishes of 40th, 36th, 28th and 40th going into the Chase. After that stretch, the big question was whether or not Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team could rebound and mount a title run. That question was answered emphatically as Johnson overcame a stellar post-season start from Matt Kenseth with two wins and nine Top-10s in the final 10 races to gain a sixth Sprint Cup that has enhanced his legacy even further.
DiZinno Says: You know Johnson and the No. 48 team will be clutch in the Chase; you just don’t expect them to be struggling going into it. And while that rough one-month stretch was such a rare occurrence, the mark of a champion is the ability to double down, refocus the efforts and kick the effort into high gear come the playoffs. Put simply it was one of the most clinical Chase efforts in the format’s 10 years, because there were no imperfections, no mulligans. Add in the Daytona 500 win at the start of the year and it was a perfect way for Johnson to win his sixth title.
Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.
Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.
On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.
One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.
After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.
The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.
Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.
“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.
“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”
But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.
“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.
“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”
Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.
“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.
“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”
The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.