Opinion: Goodbye to Bizarre 2013
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on January 1, 2014 | 10:00 A.M. EST
The biggest black eye for the sport came at the regular season Richmond finale with the Michael Waltrip Racing manipulation scandal. (Photo: Getty Images)
There was much to remember, but more to forget about the 2013 NASCAR season.
Bizarre is the only word to describe last year.
Things started so promisingly with the long-awaited introduction of the Gen-6 Sprint Cup car. After years of suffering through the at-times hideous looikng “Car of Tomorrow,” NASCAR and the manufacturers landed on a stock car that truly captured the imagination of fans.
But after only a few weeks, the new car smell began to wear off the Gen-6. While the look of the Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry machines on track was new, the competitive product looked a lot like its predecessor. Track records in qualifying may have dropped like flies (no surprise since the car was much lighter than the COT), but that speed didn’t necessarily translate into better racing every week.
To NASCAR’s credit, an attempt to improve the racing specifically at intermediate tracks has been a major off-season initiative and the sanctioning body hopes the 2014 rules package will create better competition.
Make no mistake there were still some very exciting races in 2013 and the competition wasn’t all bad by any means. There were 17 different winners across the season’s 36 Sprint Cup Series races and some memorable moments along the way.
The Sprint Cup high water mark actually came in March at of all places Auto Club Speedway. The March 24th Auto Club 400 was the best of the season and featured everything a fan could ask for from a NASCAR race; four and five wide racing, pit strategy, tempers flaring, high emotions, drama and a thrilling finish summarized the day in southern California.
Unfortunately the sport was weighed down by far too many off-track problems and controversies that punctuated just how rare the Fontana race was in 2013.
The inexplicable fascination for the dating life of Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought TMZ-like overtones to NASCAR like never before.
NASCAR actually shot itself in the foot in only the second week of the season when Denny Hamlin was inexplicably fined $25,000 for making comments that were deemed derogatory about the Gen-6 car, when in fact he was stating what the sanctioning body itself has all but admitted – it was difficult to pass.
That incident was followed by penalties to Penske Racing at Texas and to Matt Kenseth only weeks later at Kansas that led to long, drawn out appeal processes, the second of which to Joe Gibbs Racing was greatly reduced by the panel.
Of course the biggest black eye for the sport came at the regular season Richmond finale with the Michael Waltrip Racing manipulation scandal. Before all was said and done, NASCAR’s credibility was severely challenged as was the integrity of the Chase in some minds after the decision by Brian France to add Jeff Gordon to the playoff field as a 13th driver.
It will be interesting to see how much of a mark that sordid chapter in NASCAR history leaves behind. The ramifications may not be completely felt for some time, especially in light of the “100 percent rule” that was forced to be put into play in an effort to ensure teams and drivers give their all in the future.
Hopefully, the memories of close racing, a tight Sprint Cup Series point battle, the success of bringing the Truck Series on dirt to Eldora and north of the border to Canada as well as the Nationwide Series’ triumphant debut at Mid-Ohio and the myriad of different faces in Victory Lane across all three of NASCAR’s top divisions will also be the lasting recollections of the year.
The season ahead has more than enough storylines and promise to ramp up the anticipation level.
So long 2013. Here’s to a memorable 2014 season.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.