From the drop of the flag at the Daytona 500, Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports crew set the tone as Johnson won the first race of the 2013 Sprint Cup season and set a goal of capturing a sixth championship. He made that goal a reality Sunday night when he lifted his sixth championship trophy at the end of the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Johnson didn’t win the race, but he was able to keep track position and escape danger throughout the race to end the season as the champion – 19 points ahead of rival Matt Kenseth.
Kenseth wasn’t going to go down without a fight. He had a strong No. 20 Dollar General Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing and led the most laps during the race and ended in the runner-up spot to race winner Denny Hamlin. Kevin Harvick had tied the points with Kenseth late in the race after fighting a tight condition with his race car, but Harvick would be out of the championship discussion as he finished the night in the 10th spot and 34 points behind in the championship standings for third place.
This was a race that Hamlin needed to win to gain the momentum he needed to go into the 2014 season. A back injury sidelined him for a handful of races and dropped him out of the running for a championship. Hamlin hadn’t raced well since the incident with Joey Logano at Fontana, but made a statement with his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with a win Sunday night. It was his first race win of the season and he continues his streak of winning at least one race per season since his career started in the Sprint Cup.
There weren’t many cautions through the race, but there was a scary incident on pit road which brought out a caution flag on lap 232. Paul Menard had gotten fender damage after an earlier restart which caused right rear quarter panel damage. As the laps wore on, the fender wore on the tire and it caused a spark which started a flame under the car. Menard pulled the damaged car into his pit stall and as his crew members ran to the back to put out the fire, the tire exploded into pieces and the crew members scattered. No injuries were reported and the car was towed behind the wall.
Hamlin was the big winner of the race while Kenseth finished second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Johnson, and Harvick in the top ten.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was named this year’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the Sprint Cup Series.
This was the last race for Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, Ken Schrader and Jeff Burton as they all expressed different intentions for their careers at the end of this season. Schrader stated that he will continue driving sprint cars, but will not return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Burton will be leaving Richard Childress Racing after a lengthy NASCAR career and Labonte will not return to the No. 47 next season. Juan Pablo Montoya will not race in NASCAR next year, but will return to his open wheel roots, driving for Penske Racing in the Indy Car Series.
The 2013 NASCAR season is now officially over. There are a lot of changes expected for the next season including crew chiefs and drivers moving to different teams. The 2014 season should start off strong at Daytona International Speedway. The next points race for the Sprint Cup is the biggest race of the year – the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23, 2014.