AUGUSTA, GA (WFXG) - With the 2013 NASCAR season over, I thought it would be a good time to make some observations on how things turned out and preview what you can expect from Victory Lane during the off season.
Let's start with the observations. There were many expectations on the behalf of most teams about their performance in the 2013 season. Some lived up to their expectations while others fell short. In any case, I've compiled a list of a few that I found most interesting.
In the Biggest Highlight department, I placed Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 team at the top. His Sixth Cup Series Championship puts him in a category all alone only one championship behind NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. He will certainly be chasing history next season and appears to be up for the challenge.
"I've worked so hard and long to get to this point," said Johnson on his accomplishments. "I'm finally on top of my game. I've worked a lifetime to get here."
In the Biggest Comeback department, I've got to look toward Jeff Gordon. After a tumultuous first three quarters of a season, the No. 24 team found a way to rebound in the last few races to get themselves into the Chase. Although their arrival in the post season came under some controversy, Gordon wasted no time in proving that his team still has what it takes to contend for Championships.
"That's what we're going to take out of this year's Chase," commented Gordon on his team's battle to get respect in the Chase. "Depending on how many changes happen for 2014, that we have a team that can fight, that can find a way to get where we need to be by the end of the season. I'm hoping that next year we can get it a little sooner in the season."
In the Biggest Surprise department, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets my vote. A lot has been said about Jr.'s desire to win and ability to compete at NASCAR's top level. Those doubts were finally put to rest as he proved that he can be a Championship contender by gaining the most points in the post season than any other driver. Had it not been for a lack of bonus points for wins entering the Chase, Earnhardt Jr. could be your 2013 champion.
"This has been one of the best years I've had, certainly the best year I've had working with Hendrick," observed Jr. on his season. "Steve Letarte, my engineers, did just an amazing job providing these good cars every week. Hoping next year we continue that trend and that trajectory and get a shot at winning a championship. I think we can do it."
As these three drivers basked in the aftermath of good seasons, several drivers have to be wondering what happened.
In the Biggest Disappointment department, Carl Edwards went from a season previewed as a comeback year to one that fell well short of expectations. When he missed the Championship two years ago in a battle to the end with Tony Stewart, many felt that the young driver was poised to capture the crown in 2012. As that picture took a turn for the worse, the hype in February was that 2013 would be Edwards year. It came up very short but Carl still is not letting it get him down.
"It is very difficult to win a championship," declared Edwards on his lack of performance in 2013. "That is my No. 1 goal. That's my mission. I mean, that's what I want to do in this sport. We've been very close."
Certainly new expectations will be set for all of the teams in the off season. As for the Victory Lane crew, we will still be here sharing the news of NASCAR as it comes out. However, with a few months before anything substantial starts happening again, I have a plan.
Many of you have asked me about stories from the road during my 23 years as a NASCAR reporter. Since I have some time to reflect now, I will be sharing some of my more entertaining stories during the off season.
So, be looking in each week to see what comes out of the memory vault about your favorite driver, track, or fan experience.