By Kelly Crandall – The 2013 Nationwide Series had some of the best talent in NASCAR today and it was on display every weekend.
There were 11 different winners and two first time winners in AJ Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney. From horrifying crashes to incredible finishes, the NNS had a little bit of everything. And the championship battle was one of the closest in history.
In the end Austin Dillon won his first NNS title without a win, the first driver in history to accomplish the feat. He heads for the Sprint Cup Series next year while his championship rival, Sam Hornish Jr., is looking for a ride.
They were apart of some of the most memorable moments of the 33 races this past season.
Daytona: “I tried to throw a block – it’s Daytona, you want to go for the win here. I don’t know how you can play it any different other than concede second place, and I wasn’t willing to do that today,” Regan Smith
The finishes of the last few races at Daytona have been ones for the highlight reel. This year Smith was just yards from the finish line before a massive crash broke out behind him, starting after he threw a block on Brad Keselowski. The end result was Kyle Larson airborne, injured fans and a massive hole in the catchfence.
Phoenix: “I was almost nervous, feeling like it was my first win even though it was, I think, No. 52 in the series. It’s nice to be back,” Kyle Busch
A year after going winless while driving his own equipment, Busch was back in a Joe Gibbs Racing prepared car. Phoenix was the first of what would be 12 wins throughout the season, adding to his ever-growing win total.
Las Vegas: “I think I used more energy celebrating than I did actually driving the car today,” Sam Hornish Jr.
Drivers say very rarely do they get a car that is flawless but Hornish found himself with one in Vegas. He took full advantage of it for his second career win. Passing Kyle Busch to do so wasn’t too shabby either.
Bristol: “I didn’t want to move him or anything like that, I wanted to try to outrace him,” Kyle Larson on Kyle Busch
He’s been tagged as one of the most talented drivers to come along in recent years and he’s quickly moving through the NASCAR ranks. Larson is fearless and a quick study, which came in handy at Bristol when he tried to beat the track master. He came up just inches short.
California: “I just need to be careful. I want to win the championship as much as winning races,” Sam Hornish Jr.
The 2013 season had plenty of ‘what ifs’ for Hornish, including, ‘what if there weren’t Cup drivers in the series, how many wins would he have?’ Hornish consistently ran up front but fell short to his Penske teammates or Kyle Busch, such as in California. He was hunting the 54 down before scraping the wall, but he still managed a second place finish.
Texas: “You put an elite driver in an elite car and he should get elite results and that’s what you’re seeing,” Brad Keselowski on Kyle Busch
Busch ran wild on the NNS, again, in 2013 along with Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Busch however, always seemed to take the blunt of the negativity for winning too much. For Keselowski, it wasn’t all that surprising what Busch was able to do.
Richmond: “I went to talk to him, I was a little heated and the camera probably shows it, but he kicks me right below the belt, which I think is a below-the-belt type of shot,” Brian Scott on Nelson Piquet Jr.
It was one of the craziest moments of the season. After a run-in during the event, including after the checkered flag, both Scott and Piquet came together on pit road where Scott approached Piquet for his side of the story. That’s when cameras caught the two shoving each other and Piquet kicking Scott, well, below the belt.
Talladega: “I was having flashbacks, sitting on pit road – I’m not going to lie – when they were making the decision,” Regan Smith
The finish at Talladega was one that NASCAR fans hope for: three drivers crossing the line in a photo finish. NASCAR however, was left to then determine the winner and it was a decision that didn’t come quickly. The drivers were already back on pit road and waiting, giving Smith flashbacks to Talladega in 2008 when he thought he had beat Tony Stewart before NASCAR reviewed the tape and took the win away.
Darlington: “It’s kind of deceiving when you’re driving the stuff just exactly how good it is and how smart these guys are,” Kyle Busch on JGR equipment
With the amount of time that he wins, Busch has started to make it look easy. Especially coming off a year when he went winless in his own equipment. Giving him greater appreciation for the cars that JGR prepares for him.
Charlotte: “You’re always going to have these detractors and everybody saying that I don’t need to be in the Nationwide Series, but until all the rest of the Cup guys aren’t there, I’m going to be there. So, if I’m the only one that wins all the Nationwide races because the other Cup guys aren’t beating me, that’s their problem,” Kyle Busch
And because he wins so much, Busch hears about how he’s just beating up on the little guys. His Charlotte win was the sixth of the season and seventh at the speedway.
Dover: “I wanted to beat them really bad,” Joey Logano on Joe Gibbs Racing
A year ago Logano was in Dover’s Victory Lane with JGR. But this season he snapped the streak that he help create by beating the dominant Kyle Busch and other JGR drivers Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth.
Iowa: “I should have gotten married a long time ago,” Trevor Bayne
Expectations were high for Bayne as he took over the seat of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who won back-to-back Nationwide titles before moving to Sprint Cup. Bayne however, got off to a rocky start with just four top 10s in the first 10 races. Things started to level though both professional and personal for Bayne. He got married the week leading up to Iowa and then went out and scored his second career win.
Michigan: “Our hearts are with Jason Leffler’s family. We are going to donate a good proportion of our winnings to his son’s (trust fund). Jason is in a better place and is looking down on us today,” Regan Smith
NASCAR lost one of its stars this year when Jason Leffler lost his life in a sprint car accident in New Jersey. That upcoming weekend he was honored by his friends and racing family, including Smith who won at Michigan for his second win of the season. Smith climbed out of his car at the finish line and tapped then kissed the Leffler decal on his car.
Road America: “I wouldn’t have thought twice if he would have just kind of wrote it off and not called and went on,” AJ Allmendinger on Roger Penske
When NASCAR suspended Allmendinger for violating the substance abuse policy in July of 2012, his team owner never wavered in his support. So when NASCAR reinstated Allmendinger it was Penske who gave him a ride in the No. 22 for two races. Both came at road courses and Allmendinger made the best of his opportunity by winning.
Kentucky: “This is the type of car you get once a year if you are lucky. Driving this car I feel like Jimmie Johnson, this is a rocket,” Brad Keselowski
Between Keselowski and Kyle Busch, they could be the Jimmie Johnson of the NNS. They’re consistent winners and Keselowski was running away with his second win of the season before the assistance of a nasty rain shower forced NASCAR officials to call the race early and sealed the deal.
Daytona: “It’s fun to come back here and race again. It’s been a while and it’s always special to win at Daytona,” Matt Kenseth
For all the success that Kenseth was enjoying in the Cup Series, he added a NNS win in July at Daytona. He led 16 laps and was pushed by James Buescher to the win under a green-white-checkered finish. It was his 27th career NNS win.
New Hampshire: “You will not win this championship, mark my word,” Elliott Sadler to Regan Smith
After Smith turned Sadler on the final restart, as he was running third, Sadler took his anger to the garage. Approaching Smith he angrily yelled at the driver to watch his back. Sadler would never retaliate against Smith.
Chicagoland: “We’re here to win the championship, period, and I honestly think as good as we’ve been running the last month or so, I don’t think he’s going to run good enough to run with us anyway,” Elliott Sadler on Regan Smith
A week later Sadler still wasn’t happy about the incident and continued to talk to the talk. Neither would go on to win the championship as Smith finished third in points and Sadler fourth.
Indianapolis: “Whatever records are left – let me know and I’m going to try to put my name on them,” Kyle Busch
In just a short amount of time Kyle Busch has made himself one of the best drivers to ever sit in a NNS car. He’s broken nearly every record there is and has become the winningest driver in the series. With his eighth win of the season he broke the record for the most wins after starting from the pole.
Iowa: “I’ll tell you what, it’s been a hell of a day,” Brad Keselowski
He flew in from Pocono to be the only Cup driver in the field then battled back from overheating and a pit road penalty to score his third win of the season. It also came just hours after Ryan Blaney won the CWTS race in Keselowski’s truck.
Watkins Glen: “I was driving the crap out of the car trying to pressure Brad into making a mistake,” Sam Hornish Jr.
A week later Keselowski scored his fourth win of the season. And again his teammate finished second as bonus points towards the championship again slipped away.
Mid-Ohio: “I think I might be done, I’m one hundred percent for you guys,” AJ Allmendinger
Allmendinger was given two races in 2013 by team owner Roger Penske. He went out and won both of them.
Bristol: “Whether you’re booing or cheering, glad you’re here. Hope you’re booing more tomorrow when we take home another trophy,” Kyle Busch
No matter how many wins Busch has at Bristol, it’s still not a very friendly environment for him. After winning his second race of the weekend, ninth of the season, he addressed the crowd over the PA system about a possible clean sweep of the weekend.
Atlanta: “Kyle Busch isn’t my favorite person, but I enjoy racing him,” Kevin Harvick
They’ve had drag out, knock down fights in the past. But they’ve also had clean hard racing. Atlanta was a great example of that, as Harvick charged past Busch for his first and only win of the season.
Richmond: “He went up there and stole it and, unfortunately, there was no consequences for breaking the rule this time,” Brian Scott on Brad Keselowski
For 239 laps Scott was perfect at Richmond and seemed to be heading towards his first career win. Until he said Keselowski jumped a restart to take the lead and the win.
Chicago: “Obviously a third’s not quite as good as we wanted to do but when you’re running for a championship you gotta take days like this,” Sam Hornish Jr.
If there was a statistic for the driver who finished the most behind Sprint Cup drivers, Hornish was probably at the top of that list. While he continually lost valuable points and wins, the upside was that Hornish was consistently giving them a run for their money.
Kentucky: “What he lacks in size he makes up for in being a big idiot each week. He’s fallen down the ride spectrum and it makes sense, it’s how he races,” Parker Kligerman on Cole Whitt
Racing hard in the closing laps for a top five finish, Kligerman was denied the chance to finish there when Whitt stuck his nose in the battle to make it three wide. Contact sent Kligerman into the wall and to a DNF, which he didn’t take kindly to.
Dover: “We had a fast race car. I don’t know what else I need to say,” Joey Logano
With a car as strong as Logano’s, there isn’t much to say. He won his fourth straight race at Dover after leading 106 of 200 laps. It was his third win of the season.
Kansas: “I got wrecked by a dirty driver. There’s no other way of putting it,” Brad Keselowski on Kyle Busch
The two are familiar with each other and have had problems in the past. When Busch appeared to intentionally spin Keselowski out, the driver quickly hopped from his machine and ran across the infield grass towards the 54 crew. Gesturing while he did so and later saying he would get his revenge.
Charlotte: “It’s very frustrating to be leading with 10 laps to go and pulling away from the 54 car, and not be able to win,” Sam Hornish Jr.
It appeared that Hornish was on his way to his second win of the season as well as ending the Kyle Busch stranglehold on Charlotte Motor Speedway. But then his car went away and Busch flew by for another win.
Texas: “The pressure is on him, obviously he keeps making mistakes,” Austin Dillon on Sam Hornish Jr.
As the championship battle continued to heat up, with less than 10 points separating the two, Hornish found himself repeatedly battling back. At Texas he fought for a third place finish after going a lap down after being busted for speeding on pit road.
Phoenix: “Once I got to the front it was sort of time to say goodnight,” Kyle Busch
That would be an understatement. Busch dominated Phoenix in a very uneventful race by leading 169 of 200 laps for his 12th win of the season.
Homestead: “This is pretty unacceptable,” Sam Hornish Jr. team radio
It was the moment that changed the complexion of the NNS championship. For much of the event Hornish was in control of his destiny as he ran ahead of point leader Dillon. But when a crash broke out with less than 20 laps to go, NASCAR decided not to red flag the race.
As they ran 12 laps under caution, outraged ensued. Including on Hornish’s radio, as they tried to come to grasps with the championship slipping away. The race was restarted with five laps to go with Dillon going on to claim the series title.
It was an unbelievable finish to a season that started the same way.
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