The more things change, the more they stay the same. That is a saying that is true for many aspects, and in the end, that is what the lasting image will be from this NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
There can only be one champion at the end of the year, one that won the title in the last 10 races, but this season it can be said that the champion was also one of the dominant drivers from the opening weekend. On the opening weekend of this year, Jimmie Johnson was the one that made the run to the front of the field and won the Daytona 500. The last time that occurred was in 2006, the first year he won a championship.
It was also the last full season of the generation-4 race car. He would win four championships the following four years in the generation-5.
Now, the new Generation-6 car debuts and the first race out, his team does the job. It would be one of many to come, and when it came down to it, the No. 48 team was ready for the task. Sure, his competition started the Chase ahead of him, but in true fashion he would not go away, and battled back. Martinsville saw the title picture be a tie at the top, then a victory at Texas gave him the lead by a slim margin. Phoenix extended the gap, giving a cushion for points heading into the finale.
It was a familiar position for this team, one they knew all too well they could win, and in the end, that was what happened.
After two years of being out of the spotlight, this year, Jimmie Johnson would take his spot once again at the top, claiming the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, his sixth in the last eight years. This year marked the 10th year of the Chase for the Cup, which began in 2004 when Nextel took over as title sponsor, and changed in 2006 when Sprint merged with Nextel. Kurt Busch won the first Chase, then Tony Stewart won the second in 2005 and another in 2011, one that came down to a tie-breaker. Brad Keselowski won the title last year in the Chase.
Every other Chase in existence, all six, have been won by the Lowe’s team. That is dominance, something that NASCAR has not seen since the days of Jeff Gordon, when he won three titles in four years and was winning 10 races a year for three consecutive years.
There is no better team than the Johnson gang, not just this year, but in the last 12 years. This team is the gold standard in the sport, there is no question. The only record remaining, championship-wise, is one that is held by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, who each have seven titles.
Even Petty feels Johnson can’t win seven…because he thinks he will win eight, or more.
Only time will tell that, but at the end of the day, a familiar champion is back on top of the NASCAR world, one that has shown that until you can beat him, he will remain the new king of the sport.
Next week’s column will be a year-in-review, as I look back on the season that was in NASCAR, both highs and lows, controversial incidents and intense moments. Strap in for a look in the rear-view mirror, it will be one spectacular review.
RESULTS: 1-Hamlin 2-Kenseth 3-Earnhardt Jr. 4-Truex Jr. 5-Bowyer 6-Keselowski 7-Kyle Busch 8-Logano 9-Johnson 10-Harvick
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Gordon 12-Edwards 13-Kahne 17-Newman 20-Patrick 21-Kurt Busch 24-Biffle
CAUTIONS: 8 for 37 laps. Lap 12-14 (#93 accident-T3/4), 24-27 (#93 accident-T4), 69-72 (debris-T3), 91-94 (#7 spin-T2), 153-157 (debris-BS), 190-193 (debris-T3), 207-211 (fluid on track), 232-239 (debris/#27 on fire).
LEAD CHANGES: 22 among 8 drivers. Kenseth 1-11, Hamlin 12-13, Kenseth 14, Harvick 15, Kenseth 16-25, Ragan 26, Harvick 27, Kurt Busch 28-31, Kenseth 32-91, Larson 92, Kenseth 93-139, Earnhardt Jr. 140, Kenseth 141-142, Earnhardt Jr. 143-153, Kenseth 154-166, Hamlin 167-207, Harvick 208-213, Keselowski 214-222, Hamlin 223, Earnhardt Jr 224-235, Hamlin 236-239, Earnhardt Jr. 240-243, Hamlin 244-267.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 3 Mins, 52 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 130.693 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.799 Seconds
CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP: 1. Johnson, 2419 points; 2. Kenseth, -19; 3. Harvick, -34; 4. Kyle Busch, -55; 5. Earnhardt Jr, -56; 6. Gordon, -82; 7. Bowyer, -83; 8. Logano, -96; 9. Biffle, -98; 10. Kurt Busch, -110; 11. Newman, -133; 12. Kahne, -136; 13. Edwards, -137.