There were a lot of positive surprises this season in our sport. It’s hard to narrow it down to my absolute favorite one. I will say one of the biggest had to be the success Matt Kenseth enjoyed by making the switch at the end of 2012 and moving from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing.
I know in hindsight it’s easy to say it was a great move, but consider all the factors before it happened. Matt had always driven a Ford for Jack Roush. Age-wise it wasn’t like Matt was where Kyle Larson is just getting his career started. Matt is a veteran and past champion. To me, there was a big risk at that point of his career pulling up stakes and moving to a new owner, new sponsors, new team, new crew chief, new manufacturer and, oh by the way, doing all this at the very same time NASCAR introduces a new car into our sport.
In his very first season in the No. 20 JGR Toyota, Matt racked up seven wins, 12 top-five finishes and 20 top-10 finishes in 36 events. He won the first two races of the Chase and seemed to be the car to beat. Unfortunately, it wasnât meant to be and Matt finished second this season, just 19 points short. Be that as it may, that bunch over there canât label 2013 as anything but a huge success.
My other top surprise is Kevin Harvick driving his last year for Richard Childress Racing. Think about the fact that Kevin announced before the 2012 season was over that he was leaving RCR at the end of 2013. Many folks started saying 2013 was going to be a lame-duck season for the No. 29 car. It was anything but that.
Kevin put four wins, nine top-five finishes and 21 top-10 finishes on the board in this supposed lame-duck year. If that wasnât enough to impress you, Kevin also finished third this season in the final points standings. Lame duck — I think not.
Both sides showed a lot of professionalism. Not only is Richard Childress losing Kevin, but he’s also losing some sponsors that are going with Kevin to his new home at Stewart-Haas Racing. Richard could have done just the bare minimum to get through. Kevin could have given his team and his owner just the bare minimum to get through. Both stood up and became the model of what professional athletics is all about. That was never more tested than after the Martinsville truck race when Kevin blasted one of Richard’s grandsons who also was in the truck race.
Nine out of 10 times I guarantee you that when fire rained from the sky over a driver’s comments about the owner’s grandson, the wheels would have come off the program. The driver probably wouldnât have finished the season. Thatâs not Richard Childress. He and Kevin worked out their differences. Kevin apologized and together they went and won the Phoenix race. That was phenomenal in my book, and I believe speaks volumes about both those men.