2013 Nationwide Series: Hard to top Kyle Busch, Penske Racing

jutter@charlotteobserver.comDecember 26, 2013 

Here’s our take on the best and biggest moments in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series in 2013:

Driver of the year

Generally, the series championship garnishes this honor, but Kyle Busch’s performance was just on a different level. After going winless in the series in 2012, Busch made a wild about-face, finishing with a series-high 12 victories and 22 top-10 finishes in 26 starts.

Runner-up driver of the year

Austin Dillon’s championship season lacked a victory but was a model of consistency. He finished outside the top 20 only twice in 33 races, and he wrapped up the season with an 11-race streak of top-12 finishes, including seconds at Kentucky and Charlotte.

Team of the year

Everybody who drove for Penske Racing in the Nationwide Series won at least one race; an organization doesn’t get much better. Four drivers took turns in the No. 22 – Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney – and each went to Victory Lane. The No. 22 ended up with 13 victories. Sam Hornish Jr., driving the No. 12, also earned one win.

Race of the year

Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway doesn’t have lights but that didn’t keep the spring Nationwide Series race from ending with night fast approaching. A three-hour rain delay and seven cautions extended the race into the early evening and a last-lap wreck and NASCAR review of the finish left a surprised Regan Smith in Victory Lane.

Runner-up race of the year

The March 16 race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway produced the first of what likely will be many battles during the coming years – Kyle vs. Kyle. Upstart Kyle Larson battled Sprint Cup Series star Kyle Busch over the final laps, with the two crossing the finish line side-by-side and Busch earning the victory.

Newcomer of the year

Larson won the rookie of the year award by 82 points over Alex Bowman, becoming the first NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduate and first Asian-American to earn the distinction in a national series. He finished eighth in the final series standings behind nine top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, including four runner-up performances.

Quote of the year

“He’s a dirty driver; there’s no other way of putting it. He’s cool with that. I’ve raced him real cool over the last year to try to be respectful to him and trying to repair our relationship. I’ve watched him wreck my trucks, cost me from winning races, put me in the fence at Chicago in the truck race.” – Brad Keselowski after Kyle Busch wrecked him in the Oct. 5 race at Kansas.

Best tweet

“Finally thank u to all my family, friends and fans for all the texts and tweets. It makes me feel so good. Makes all the struggles worth it.” – Allmendinger after winning at Elkart Lake, Wis., while driving for Penske Racing. Allmendinger lost his Penske Racing Cup ride in 2012 after failing a NASCAR drug test.

Biggest OMG moment

The season opener at Daytona ended in a wild, last-lap crash that sent Larson’s car careening into the frontstretch catch fence, tearing a hole in it and sending debris into the grandstands. Twenty-four fans were treated for injuries, including 12 taken to local hospitals.

Most improved driver

In his fourth full season in the series, Brian Scott failed to visit Victory Lane but registered his most consistent season. He improved his stats across the board – top-fives (three), top-10s (13) and final position in the series standings (seventh).

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.

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