Here in the U.S., Thanksgiving will be coming soon. It’s less than a week away — Nov. 28, to be exact — so I thought I’d take this time to come up with a list of what some NASCAR drivers/teams should be thankful for as 2013 gradually comes to a close. Some of these were easy and could, perhaps, even be viewed as givens. But for others, I had to be a little more creative and put a little extra thought into it. Here it goes:
Jimmie Johnson: A sixth Sprint Cup. Okay, that was pretty obvious but, really, wasn’t that latest Cup icing on the cake, so to speak? It brings him to within one Cup championship trophy of all-time leaders and NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Like him or not, Johnson’s a Hall of Fame shoe-in, probably as soon as he becomes eligible for official considereation.
Denny Hamlin: The 2013 season is OVER! This one’s about as much of a given as Johnson’s, but for negative reasons. This sentiment just pertains to Hamlin’s racing career, though, not his personal life. He became a first time dad this year with the birth of his daughter with longtime girlfriend Jordan Fish. But this is a racing blog, so I’m going to stick with that, and from a racing standpoint, 2013 was beyond lousy. Early in the year, Hamlin was sidelined after an on-track incident with former teammate Joey Logano. He did return to the seat, but only to have what maybe could have been classified as the worst season of his career.
Matt Kenseth: His ride at Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth raised some eyebrows in 2012 with the announcement that he was going to leave Roush Fenway Racing at the end of that season. Later, when he announced a move to Joe Gibbs Racing, RFR boss Jack Roush referred to it as going to the “dark side.” Kenseth’s debut season with JGR was anything but “dark.” Granted, he did fall short of claiming a second Sprint Cup, but 2013 could still be easily classified as the best year of his Cup career. He won more races than anyone on the circuit and was in the championship hunt right up until the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Joey Logano: His new ride at Penske Racing. Logano fell significantly short of the numbers Kenseth posted in his old ride at Joe Gibbs Racong, but with a move to Penske, Logano had, easily, his best season, to date, in Sprint Cup racing. He made the Chase for the first time in his career, and on top of that, in 2013, he was the top performer within in Penske’s operation — out-performing the reigning series champion. That’s a far cry from being low man on the totem pole at JGR just a season prior.
A.J. Allmendinger: Roger Penske didn’t give up on him. Allmendinger’s racing career looked to be in turmoil around mid-2012 when he was suspended by NASCAR after failing a drug test. As a result, he lost his ride with Penske Racing. But revered car owner Roger Penske didn’t give up on him. Penske didn’t return Allmendinger to the seat of one of his Cup cars upon NASCAR reinstatement, but he provided the fallen driver with an opportunity to compete in an IndyCar, in addition to a handful of starts in the Nationwide Series. He parlayed the Nationwide opportunities into two race wins that helped to catch the attention of the folks at JTG-Daugherty Racing and garner him a full-time return to Sprint Cup racing for 2014.
Furniture Row Racing: Kurt Busch. In 2013, Furniture Row Racing was the final rung on the ladder for Busch’s climb back to big-team Sprint Cup Racing after his tumultuous departure from Penske Racing. With Busch behind the wheel of FRR’s No. 78, the small team from Denver showed that it could compete with the “big boys,” making the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time.
Jeff Gordon: Michael Waltrip Racing’s screw-up. Okay, so this one may come a cross as a little twisted, but think about it. If that whole MWR/Richmond debacle attempt to get Martin Truex Jr. hadn’t have happened, the Chase field wouldn’t have been expanded to 13 teams for 2013 and Gordon wouldn’t have gotten in? Or would he? If it all hadn’t have happened, Gordon may have raced his way in. I guess that’s something that we’ll never know.
These are just a few examples of what some of NASCAR’s finest may be thankful for. When you get right down to it, I’m sure all of them could find something for which to be thankful come Thursday, whether it be personal or professional. The same goes for all us “regular folks.” Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!