2013 Road to the Sprint Cup: Part 5
By: John Singler - @JohnSingler2 on December 23, 2013 | 9:51 A.M. EST
Johnson's final margin was 19 points over Kenseth. (Photo: Getty Images)
This is the last of a five-part series recapping the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, in which Jimmie Johnson would claim his sixth championship.
Everybody was ready to just go racing in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speedway, but "Mother Nature" had other ideas just before the halfway point of the GEICO 400.
Persistent rain stopped the race for about five hours. When it resumed, Joey Logano found misfortune - losing an engine after running up front most of the day. Dale Earnhardt Jr. would soon suffer a similar fate ... leaving them with finishes of 37th and 35th, respectively.
With 22 laps to go, No. 1 seed Matt Kenseth passed teammate Kyle Busch and sailed away to his sixth win of the season. Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson filled out the top five.
There were a Chicagoland record 25 lead changes among 16 drivers. Kenseth remained atop the standings, by eight points.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway produced another Joe Gibbs Racing duel as Kenseth again outran teammate Kyle Busch for the victory, giving JGR its first-ever sweep of the top two spots in the first two Chase races.
Kenseth left "The Magic Mile" with a 14-point lead over Busch and an 18-point edge over Johnson.
Johnson rolled into Dover International Speedway tied with Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison as the track's all-time win leader with seven victories and saw the race as an opportunity to close the gap on Kenseth ... which he did.
Johnson had a dominant car at "The Monster Mile," leading 165 of the final 170 laps. A late caution brought the leaders to pit road at Lap 371. Johnson took two tires and kept the lead, posting his fifth win of the season and trimming 10 points from his deficit.
Earnhardt, Logano, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch completed the top five. Kenseth finished seventh in his bid for a third straight victory. Johnson moved past Busch and into second place in the standings. Kevin Harvick finished sixth and took over fourth place in the Chase.
The combination of cooler temperatures, relatively new asphalt and Goodyear's new multi-zone tire made for a challenging day at Kansas Speedway. Nobody felt that more than Busch. He freely admitted to struggling at the track and the Hollywood Casino 400 was no different. After starting at the rear in a back-up car, Busch had several issues before his day ended early with an accident.
Chase Wild Card Ryan Newman also crashed out early on a day that saw a race-record 15 caution flags.
Pole sitter Harvick got mired in traffic after one of those cautions came during an early pit sequence. But changing track conditions and adjustments through the day got the No. 29 team back into the fight and into Victory Lane for Harvick's 22nd career win, which lifted him to third in the standings.
Kenseth finished 11th to hold the Chase lead. Johnson's sixth-place finish pulled him to within three points of the top spot.
Brad Keselowski had a disappointing 2013 season, failing to make the Chase in defense of his 2012 title. But at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he showed that his No. 2 Penske Racing team could still get the job done.
Keselowski drove to victory in the Bank of America 500, providing a big dose of momentum looking ahead to 2014.
Kasey Kahne finished second as Hendrick Motorsports cars led 313 of the 334 laps. But a late caution bumped Johnson from the lead on pit road and he couldn't recover from a bad restart - finishing fourth.
Kenseth came home third, adding one point to his Chase lead.
Most drivers describe Talladega Superspeedway as the "wild card" race in the Chase since events there often spin out of control. Despite 52 lead changes in the first 174 laps, nobody wanted to make a move too soon at the end - leaving Jamie McMurray in charge down the stretch.
The Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver led the final 15 laps, breaking a 108-race winless streak.
Johnson finished 13th to take the points lead from Kenseth, who finished only 20th.
Jeff Gordon was a last-minute addition to the post-season Chase but quietly crept into contention and arrived at Martinsville Speedway fifth in the standings, just 34 points out of the lead.
He'd already won seven times before on the Virginia half-mile and knew a win would keep him in the hunt. The race was a typical rough-and-tumble short-track scrap with a season-high 17 cautions.
Near the end, Kenseth was in the lead and looking for his first Martinsville win. But Gordon tracked him down with 20 laps to go and collected his eighth grandfather clock.
The victory lifted Gordon to third in the standings, 27 points behind Kenseth and Johnson - who exited the weekend tied for the Chase lead.
Johnson had tested at Texas Motor Speedway and felt more than ready for the AAA Texas 500. He led a race-high 255 laps to get his sixth win of the season and take sole possession of the points lead after a pit road speeding penalty forced Kenseth to scramble for his fourth-place finish.
Gordon's late-season charge toward the top of the standings ended with a blown tire and a crash on Lap 73. Harvick finished eighth to reclaim third place in the standings entering the final two weeks of the season.
Carl Edwards won the season's first race at Phoenix International Raceway and went into the second one looking for momentum to carry into 2014. Edwards worked his way to the front and looked to be heading for victory when he ran out of fuel less than two laps from the finish.
Harvick assumed the lead, claiming his fourth win of the season and second of the Chase. Edwards wound up 21st. Kenseth struggled with an ill-handling racecar and issues on pit road that saddled him with a 23rd-place finish.
Johnson started from the pole and finished third, taking a commanding 28-point lead into Ford Championship Weekend. The Phoenix win drew Harvick within 34 points of Johnson.
Johnson, Kenseth and Harvick went into the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 as the only three drivers with a shot at winning the championship.
Harvick struggled with handling issues early in the day and would finish 10th. Johnson and Kenseth tangled near the mid-point of the race, but not seriously enough to force either off the pace.
The race belonged to an unlikely victor as Denny Hamlin overcame a season of injury and disappointment to close with a win. Kenseth finished second, but it wasn't enough to close the gap on Johnson.
A ninth-place finish was enough to make the five-time champion a six-time champion. Johnson's final margin was 19 points over Kenseth.
Six titles in eight for Johnson put him within reach of the seven championships all-time leaders Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt have. It also was team owner Rick Hendrick's 11th Cup Series title, breaking a tie for the top spot with Petty Enterprises.