Halfway Awards: 2013 Sprint Cup Season

Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway was race 18 of the 36 race Sprint Cup Series season. In other words: halfway.

It has been quite the season thus far. With great hype surrounding the new year of racing in the winter months leading to Daytona Speedweeks and the ups and downs of 2013 as a whole, it has been interesting to watch the year unfold as it has. Still, the end is nowhere in sight. There is still a long way to go.

As the NASCAR circus gears up for another half, which includes the coveted Chase for the Sprint Cup, it is a good time to review what has taken place so far. And there is no better way to do this than by handing out meaningless awards.

Best Race: Auto Club 400

With the generation-6 racecar giving people hope for better racing, fans got what they wanted on a Sunday in March at Auto Club Speedway. Typically, this two-mile speedway is not much of a thriller. Many fans have complained for years about the track even being on the schedule and attendance there has been falling. Yet, for some reason, this race on the worn-out pavement out west produced an exciting finish. Tight battling between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin in the final laps and a last lap incident between the former teammates gave Kyle Busch the victory.

While Denny Hamlin was hurt and forced to sit out of the car for about a month, which surely is never something that people want to see, there is no denying that the race provided entertainment. After 18 races, some good and some not as popular, this one takes the cake.

Worst Race: Daytona 500

Okay, so maybe this was not the worst race in terms of competition, but what gives this race the award is that it did not meet the hype.

Millions of fans – and even some not as familiar to the sport – tuned into the Great American Race in February to see what all the talk was about. With Danica Patrick winning the pole position and the gen-6 car providing great excitement within the fan base, there was a lot of anticipation.

Unfortunately, single file racing dominated the day. Not until near the end of the 500 miles did cars seem to race closer together. For many, there was a feeling of letdown.

The racing may not have been that bad in comparison to other races this season, but if you compare it to the hype, it was. But that comes with the territory of a new car. There were many unknowns with the gen-6 and one could argue many teams were not as prepared. Certainly, NASCAR and the teams know much more now.

Biggest Threat: Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth currently has the same number of wins as Jimmie Johnson after 18 races and he certainly does not have the consistency of Johnson at this stage, but Matt Kenseth has been the biggest threat so far this season.

After making the move to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2013, Kenseth hit it off quickly, winning the third race of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He went on to win three more to this point, making his total an impressive four wins by halfway.

Kenseth could have easily won more, too. Incidents, such as blowing a tire at Bristol and blowing an engine in the Daytona 500, have cost him from adding to that total.

Yes, Johnson could have won more races as well – the restarts have been costly to the five-time champ lately. However, Kenseth has been a consistent threat mostly at tracks where it seems to count the most, intermediate circuits – the most common type of racetrack on the tour.

When the Chase rolls around, Kenseth will be one of the players to beat. He has been so far. He better watch out though because that 48 car is getting stronger.

Biggest Improvement: Joey Logano

After leaving Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of last season to go to Penske Racing, many thought Joey Logano had ruined his opportunity in the Sprint Cup Series. The driver, who many termed as the greatest thing since sliced bread, had been nothing but a disappointment at Joe Gibbs Racing on the Cup Series side, winning only two races.

After resetting with Penkse Racing, Logano has proven that he can contend up front. While Penske Racing has had an off year with no wins so far, Logano has been right there with his defending champion teammate, matching Brad Keselowski’s performance and even outperforming him on several occasions. Last week, the driver was looking good for a Chase birth, even ahead of his own teammate in points. After an incident in Daytona, where the driver blew a tire, he fell to 15th, but is still within a close shot of the playoffs.

He may or may not make it into the Chase in 2013, but he has shown he is a legitimate threat to do so – it is only year one at Penske Racing.

Biggest Surprise: David Ragan Wins at Talladega

When talking about surprises, it is hard to go against the upset win by David Ragan in the spring race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Getting a push from Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland in the final laps, Ragan powered his underfunded car around the big money teams to capture his second career Sprint Cup Series win.

There seemed to be no complainers of the outcome of that race within the garage – well, except maybe Brad Keselowski on Twitter. It was truly a good story and it proved that these kinds of situations can still unfold in NASCAR, even today.

Not many had Ragan on their fantasy team, that’s for sure.

Biggest Disappointment: Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Penske Racing team was impressive last season in the Chase, going head to head with Jimmie Johnson to capture the Sprint Cup championship. This season: not so much.

For whatever reason, the defending champion has not hit a stride. Starting out strong, the champ only faded after losing his crew chief through a penalty for an inspection violation – just weeks later the team faced another inspection issue, which cost the champ more points.

After 18 races, Keselowski has no wins and is outside of the Chase in 13th place. Time is running out for the driver, whose mouth has made more noise than his performance this season – his outspoken nature is not a bad thing for NASCAR by any means though.

Brad is still within distance of jumping up into the top ten and he certainly can become a threat to win races anytime. The question is: will he do it?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com


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