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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Biggest Surprise And Biggest Dissapointment Of 2013

With every coming season, pundits and fans alike have their preconceptions about how the season will go.  Who will be strong?  Who will be looking for a ride at the end of the year?  And will any newcomers stake out their place at the table?

This year had many story lines, and as I included in my previous post, some of them were not so good for NASCAR as a whole.  One definite story line throughout the season was the constant ups and downs of the Penske Racing Miller Lite team and their driver Brad Keselowski. 

In 2012, the 2 team won 5 races, 2 of which came in the Chase.  They never fell below 12th in the points after the Talladega spring race, which began their gradual climb to the top.  And finally, the Miller Lite team had no DNF's after the first race of the year.  As a whole, the team was consistent, communicated efficiently, and was constantly a threat to win.

After all the banquets, parties, and appearances on late night talk shows, Keselowski and Penske Racing began the process of changing over to Ford from the departing Dodge Racing.  All seemed well as the season began: Keselowski opened up with 4 straight top 4 finishes and 7 top 10's out of the first 8 races. 

Then came Richmond.

Keselowski finished the 3/4 mile track 8 laps down and in 33rd position.  All seemed fine from the outside, but problems adjusting to the new Ford front for the Gen 6 car and other engineering changes for Ford power plants no doubt added to bad luck.  Over the next few races and then during the summer run up to the Chase, the 2 team had 3 top 5 finishes and 4 top 10's in 17 races.  In 2012 they had 2 wins, 8 top 5's, and 11 top 10's over the same stretch.

The frustration was clear.  Team radio chatter showed a break down in communication almost on a weekly basis.  Despite their best efforts, the Miller Lite team came up shy of the Chase cutoff and could not defend their championship, earning them the "Biggest Disappointment" title for 2013.

Entering speedweeks in 2013, most people took for granted that the dominant teams of the season would be, as always, the Hendrick, Roush, Penske, Gibbs, Stewart-Haas and Childress teams, perhaps adding some success by Michael Waltrip Racing.  Although many people in and out of the garage had and will have respect for the driving abilities of Kurt Busch, successfully driving a single car team to the Chase was not thought of as a probability.

2013 would prove interesting for the Furniture Row Racing team.  Their new driver, fresh off season a season of aggravation driving for Phoenix Racing, was coming into the season with the knowledge that if he did not succeed with the 78, and did not do so without controversial on or off track events, he may well be finished.  That is, at least, for the top tier teams.

This season saw some of the brash older Busch, but never crossing the line, always careful to stay away from the press when he couldn't control his tongue.  On track, Busch was back to his old form.  He didn't quite pull off a win for FRR, but a Chase berth for a single car team is just shy of a championship.  After 1 top 5 finish and 5 top 10's for Phoenix Racing, Busch posted 11 top 5's and 16 top 10's in the 78, including 3 top 5's in the Chase.

Although he has gone winless for two straight seasons now, Busch did win a ride for a top tier team, Stewart Haas Racing, and along with it, the "Biggest Surprise" title for the 2013 season.

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