Jimmie Johnson, as you would expect, dominated NASCAR’s Sprint Cup banquet this past weekend as he was honored for his sixth series championship. Johnson, always the gentlemen, thanked all of those who had a hand in his success and was highly complementary of the competition that made the 2013 Chase one of the best ever in the sport.
Johnson and his owner Rick Hendrick along with crew chief Chad Knaus were back at their usual banquet seats at the head table after a two-year absence and, as you would expect, took home the lion’s share of the honors that were given out. Johnson in addition to his championship title also was awarded the Duralast Brakes “Brake in the Race” award, Goodyear Tire Award and the Sunoco Diamond Performance Award.
The banquet finishes what NASCAR likes to call its Champions Week activities in Las Vegas that also features the awarding of several other honors besides those that are reserved for the top 10. One of the most anticipated awards given during the week is the Most Popular Driver Award that gives the fans the final say on just who walks away with this award.
This year’s winner once again comes as no surprise as Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his 11th consecutive award. This year’s win breaks a tie with Bill Elliott for most consecutive awards received, but Elliott’s total of 16 is still the most of any driver. Following Earnhardt Jr. in the voting were Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Danica Patrick, who at one time was expected to really challenge Earnhardt Jr. for the award, finished a distant fifth.
Tony Stewart, even though he missed a large portion of the season with a broken leg suffered while racing his Sprint car, also took home one of the major awards given during the week. Stewart was the 2013 NMPA Myers Brothers Award winner. This award is given each year by the National Motor Sports Press Association to someone who really gives back to the sport.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the recipient of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award that is awarded by totaling a rookie driver’s finish in all 36 races on the schedule. Ironically, much of the competition for this honor came from his girlfriend and fellow driver, Danica Patrick.
Matt Kenseth, even though he finished second to Johnson in the final point standings, also took home several other awards. He received the 3M Lap Leader Award for leading the most laps during the season and was honored as the Mobil 1 Driver of the Year.
The awards and honors are not just for the drivers either as the sport does recognize those individuals that make the drivers successful on the track. Scott Fox, engine builder for Jimmie Johnson, won the MAHLE Clevite Engine Builder of the year Award. Matt Borland, crew chief for Ryan Newman, was awarded the MOOG Steering & Suspension Problem Solver of the Year Award. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s pit crew walked away with the Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew Award.
The banquet was the official end to the 2013 racing year as the sport begins to focus on next season. Testing took place on Monday of this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway with about 25 teams as the sanctioning body continues to look at ways to improve the new Gen-6 car, especially on the intermediate speedways.
This will be the second test at Charlotte held for the purpose of tweaking the aero package for next season and NASCAR plans to run four different configurations in an attempt to come up with a package that will reduce the aerodynamic disadvantage of trailing cars. NASCAR will also test tapered spacers during the test to measure the effects that reduced horsepower will have on the cars at the mile and a half tracks.
NASCAR is expected to announce the changes it will make to the cars for next season as soon as possible to give teams ample time to fabricate the parts that they may need. The Gen-6 is good enough that there should not have to be any major changes made to it to get the desired results.