It is over: Johnson wins sixth championship amid bizarre year in NASCAR

After an excruciatingly long, contorted road, the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season ended with a familiar face on the championship stage.

Yes, for the sixth time in his career, Jimmie Johnson has won the championship. The only reason this wasn’t guaranteed is that both Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick were within striking distance. Harvick’s chances died along with his car’s handling. As the night went on, Kenseth captured the most laps led and did everything he had to do to keep himself alive. A glimmer of hope came when a restart caused contact between Johnson and another car, giving him cosmetic damage. A caution soon after gave the No. 48 group a chance to recover.

Unfortunately, it was a performance that came a week too late. The No. 20 ended up nineteen points behind, a miracle the only thing that could erase that gap.

We all wanted to believe an upset would happen, and it very well could have. Johnson failed to finish in the top 30 the past two trips to Homestead-Miami Speedway, a mistake that handed Brad Keselowski the trophy last year.

Johnson finished ninth, Kenseth grasped second, and Harvick salvaged tenth in the final race of the year, while Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag after a heartbreaking year. Hamlin fractured his back after a wreck at Auto Club Speedway. When he couldn’t put together decent finishes, many suggested he needed to vouch for surgery instead. Sunday night brought a rainstorm to his desert-dry spirit.

The Rookie of The Year honor went to an uncontested Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who racked up one top-five, three top-tens, and one pole. He also led 35 laps and was in the position to win a few times.

As we look back at what the Sprint Cup Series produced, it’s safe to say it may be  a bizarre one worth forgetting. A new car, the Gen-6, didn’t live up to hype or standards. The entire quality of racing was thrown into question after the fiasco at Richmond International Raceway and NASCAR’s response, i.e. adding Jeff Gordon to The Chase field after berating a team for outwardly manipulating the results (pot, meet kettle). When that happened, racing was dampened and thrown into a deep hole. That incident also highlighted the problems with The Chase; something must be changed. Another issue? All the injuries NASCAR drivers faced, from Hamlin’s back to Tony Stewart’s leg to the fatal damage the late Jason Leffler sustained. With the cars going faster than ever, the crashes seen have been breathtakingly frightening. There is NO reason any wall at a NASCAR racetrack should be without a SAFER barrier, and advancements need to be made in Sprint Car safety. Yes, there were great moments, but the flaws are undeniable.

We are witnessing the most competitive era in the sport, yet one driver continues to come out on top. That is the true badge of a champion, the sole indicator of a historic tale being written.

This season also marks the closing words to the stories of many top-tier veterans. Ken Schrader is moving on to dirt cars most likely, as is Dave Blaney. Bobby Labonte is leveling down to either NASCAR Nationwide or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Jeff Burton’s future is up in the air. Mark Martin’s time behind the wheel is done.

As Johnson celebrates a sixth championship, the magnitude of the 2013 Sprint Cup season is settling in. It is moving. It is conjuring emotions.

It is over.

Next season can’t come quick enough as we await needed changes to many things. Yet, more importantly, we await the green flag that unleashes 43 mechanical monsters.

Thank you for being a reader, and thank you for being a race fan.

Final Point Standings

1. Jimmie Johnson (–)
2. Matt Kenseth (-19)
3. Kevin Harvick (-34)
4. Kyle Busch (-55)
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-56)
6. Jeff Gordon (-82)
7. Clint Bowyer (-83)
8. Joey Logano (-96)
9. Greg Biffle (-98)
10. Kurt Busch (-110)
11. Ryan Newman (-133)
12. Kasey Kahne (-136)
13. Carl Edwards (-137)

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