2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series Season Review

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Is this the start of something special?

It’s the one question you come back to when you think about how Chase Elliott came away with the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. The 18-year-old son of former Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott won three times, then pulled away from JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith in the second half of the year before clinching the title with one race to go.

Time will tell if he will achieve superstar status in the top-level Cup Series one day. But in Elliott’s case, it certainly feels like it’s going to happen. With the guidance of his father and the resources of Hendrick Motorsports (whose owner, Rick Hendrick, co-owns JR Motorsports with Dale Earnhardt Jr.) behind him, the potential is enormous.

We saw some of that in 2014. After claiming his first series win at Texas in April, he followed that one week later with a jaw-dropping run from sixth to first in the final two laps to win at Darlington, perhaps the toughest track in all of NASCAR.

A third victory at Chicagoland later on in July put him atop the NNS standings. From there, a superb run of consistency all the way to the penultimate race in Phoenix (eight Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in that 14-race stretch) enabled him to stay there. The run finally snapped with a 17th-place finish in the season-finale at Homestead, but with the championship already in the bag, it hardly mattered.

With this much success at this young an age, it wouldn’t have been unexpected to have seen Elliott develop an air of cockiness about him. But instead, we saw a down-to-earth and noticeably self-critical figure as he methodically marched to the title.

From his perspective, that wasn’t so much being humble as it was being honest about how a career can ebb and flow.

“I know things can go south a heck of a lot faster than they can go good for you, and just because you had a good run on Tuesday, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be any good on Wednesday,” he explained at Homestead. “You’re happy right now, you might be mad in an hour.

“So everything can change and go the other way so fast…I’m sure things are not going to get any easier in the sport. Things are always changing, and you have to be — you just have to, I guess, kind of learn to deal with the ups and downs, and I just try to be honest with it is kind of the way I go about it.”

If we’re being honest, Elliott effectively locked up the championship at Kansas in October with a 10th-place finish while his closest pursuer, Smith, suffered mechanical woes and finished 22nd. The points gap between Elliott and Smith ballooned to 38, and Smith was left to hang on to second.

But Smith still had a tremendous season that saw him rack up 26 Top-10 finishes (tied with Elliott for a series-high total) and take a win in the season-opening race at Daytona. Winning at Daytona is special for any stock car driver, but after being involved in a bad crash that took place at the end of the 2013 opener (whose debris ended up injuring more than two dozen fans), it certainly meant even more for the former Sprint Cup pilot.

There were other great moments as well. Among the veterans: Brendan Gaughan scored his first career Nationwide win at Road America and then followed that up with a late rally and triumph later in the year at Kentucky. Elliott Sadler got his first NNS victory in almost two years at Talladega. And future Richard Petty Motorsports Sprint Cup driver Sam Hornish Jr. made the most of his part-time opportunity in the series with Joe Gibbs Racing, which included a win at Iowa.

The young bucks also had their days. Ryan Blaney stepped up again for Team Penske at Bristol, while Ty Dillon notched his inaugural NNS win on the biggest stage in the sport: Indianapolis. And let’s not forget about Chris Buescher’s own breakthrough at Mid-Ohio for Roush Fenway Racing.

But make no mistake: Cup stars continued to have a deep impact on the series.

Kyle Busch was a “Monster” once again in NNS competition with seven wins, but Brad Keselowski’s five wins (along with Blaney’s Bristol win) helped power the No. 22 Team Penske Ford to another owner’s championship. Eventual 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick chipped in four wins for JR Motorsports, and Kasey Kahne also won for that team in the Daytona summer race. Cup rookie phenom Kyle Larson was successful too, with a pair of wins in the early season.

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”