NASCAR’s Top Five Most Controversial Moments of 2013

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NASCAR's Five Biggest Controversies of 2013

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

2013 was an enthralling year in NASCAR for many reasons. We had the introduction of the Gen-6, an unusually high amount of injuries, vicious crashes, spectacular finishes and Jimmie Johnson added another Sprint Cup to his rather large collection. Another thing 2013 certainly didn’t lack was controversy. In this list, I am going to countdown the five biggest controversies of 2013 and there were plenty to choose from. Incidents such as Tony Stewart and Joey Logano brawling on pit road at Auto Club Speedway and Denny Hamlin refusing to pay a fine issued to him by NASCAR weren't even good enough to make this top five but do deserve an honorable mention.

Matt Kenseth's team getting nailed with one of the biggest penalties in NASCAR history after a small miscalculation by TRD (not JGR) also deserves a nod despite not making the list. The unnecessarily harsh penalty was later reduced by the appeal committee by the way which only helped fuel the backlash towards NASCAR. Those three moments would have been No.1 in years such as 2009, but 2013 was far from subdued when it came to drama on and off the race track. It was brutal, and the heart-stopping wow moments that we all crave were plentiful. The Richmond cheating scandal was the biggest to rock the racing world in five years, and everyone from ESPN to CNN was talking about it. Who made the list and more importantly which incident was awarded the No.1 spot? Well, you'll just have to keep reading if you want to find that out.

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5. Unnecessarily Long Caution Alters Championship Outcome

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship came down to the wire at Homestead with Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon giving it all they had and then some in pursuit of the title. Hornish had the obvious advantage all night with one of the fastest cars in the field while Dillon struggled to keep his car inside the top 15. After a late-race wreck, the race proceeded at a slow pace under caution and the more laps they ran under those conditions, the better it was for Austin who had used strategy to get his ill-handling car near the front. The race ran under yellow for an unusually long amount of time (12 laps) and the restart was called off four times.

It was a very bizarre scenario, and NASCAR claimed that the lengthy caution was due to issues cleaning up all the oil. Well, that's not surprising considering that they were using four or five guys who were throwing speedy dry around by hand. Fans, announcers and drivers alike were screaming for the red flag to be displayed but it never happened. Subsequently, Austin Dillon was able to hang on to the points lead by a mere three points and win the championship. Hornish was despondent, fans were outraged and teams were somewhat confused.

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4. Kevin Harvick Calls Out His Boss' Grandson

Kevin Harvick
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Talk about a family feud! Okay, Kevin Harvick and Ty Dillon aren't technically related, but the two families have been close friends for well over a decade. So, let me lay this out for you. We have Kevin Harvick who is Richard Childress' No.1 driver in Cup battling for position in a Truck race at Martinsville with Childress' grandson Ty who is in contention for that championship. You'd expect a little give and take considering the circumstances, right? Nope. They raced hard and the result was two wrecked trucks with two very ticked off drivers. They ran into each other for half a lap under caution like they were kids driving bumper cars.

The incident escalated to dangerous levels on pit road when Harvick stopped in Ty's pit box and the crew guys all started reaching into the driver's window trying to get their hands on Kevin. As he drove off, a couple crew members attempted to tag along as officials tried to break it up. Oh, and apparently Thor works for RCR because out of nowhere a sledgehammer went flying through the air and towards the fleeing Harvick, narrowly missing his left arm. This conflict wasn't over yet, either. A disgruntled Harvick opened up on the Dillon boys in a shocking rant to a Fox Sports 1 reporter citing them as the reason why he's leaving the team and that they're just a couple rich kids who've never had to work a day in their life. He later apologized for his incensed comments, but those were some harsh words that won't soon be forgotten.

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3. Rivalry Between Former Teammates Ends With One on a Stretcher

Denny Hamlin
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

This rivalry reared its head as early as the Daytona 500 this year. Following the race, Denny Hamlin took to Twitter to bash his ex-teammate Joey Logano who he claimed screwed the inside line out of any chance to make a run at the leaders because he wouldn't stay single file. Bristol in March was the next time these two clashed. Joey was running strong in second when an inpatient Hamlin decided to bump him out of the way. Joey lost control and spun into the outside wall, ruining his day. After the race, the teams went at it as the pugnacious Logano approached Hamlin's car, but Denny delivered the final blow of the weekend in a post-race interview saying "he said he was coming for me. I usually don’t see him though so he’s usually not a factor.” That's a statement he would later regret.

No one would even entertain the notion of retaliation the following weekend because of the dangerously high speeds they run at Auto Club Speedway. As the laps clicked away, though, it became an epic battle for the win between Denny Hamlin and his newest rival, Joey Logano. The two raced with no fear of what could potentially happen and nearly wrecked with about five to go. Neither would let up and the place was going nuts as the white flag flew, and with it the intensity of this riveting battle went up another notch or two. Hamlin gave Logano a shot in the rear as the pair drag raced down into turn one and slammed fenders on the backstretch at speeds upwards of 190 mph.

In the final corner Hamlin seemed to have the advantage, but a second place result would not suffice for Logano who was still seething over the Bristol incident. He mashed the gas and implemented the philosophy, “eight tires are better than four” in a desperate final attempt to steal the win. The result: Logano slammed the outside wall as Hamlin spun head-on into a part of the inside wall that was not protected by safer barriers. Over the radio, he screamed in agony; “My back! My back!” He was loaded onto a stretcher as Logano drove down pit road, flipped the bird to the horrified crew and said in a post-race interview, “that’s what he gets.” To be fair, though, he had no clue at the time that Denny suffered a compression fracture in his lower back. Don't be surprised if this feud reignites again in 2014 with a fully healthy Hamlin back at the top of his game.

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2. Jeff Gordon Added to Chase in Unprecedented Move by NASCAR

Jeff Gordon
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

We thought the fallout from the Richmond cheating scandal couldn't get any more bizarre after the allegations against Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing surfaced, but we were dead wrong. NASCAR stunned the racing community by altering the Chase on the Friday before the first postseason race. They expanded the chase field to 13 cars and welcomed four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon to the lineup. The drivers that made up the 2013 Chase changed three times in six days in a wild and unprecedented turn of events that made NASCAR the top sports story all around the country.

The decision had two very strong reactions from fans, media and teams. Some were satisfied saying that NASCAR repaired the damage the best they could while the other contingent claimed it's wrong to change the playoff system in the middle of the season just to include someone who got screwed over (for lack of a better term). The debate was heated, and with Gordon rocketing towards the top of the standings during the Chase that talk didn't subside for a couple months. This controversy may be huge, but it's only the byproduct of the even bigger controversy that took the No. 1 spot.

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1. SpinGate Scandal

Clint Bowyer
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

There was some strange radio chatter followed by a lazy spin and ended with two Michael Waltrip Racing drivers dawdling on pit road for no apparent reason. The chain of events that ensued afterwords was unprecedented, and MWR suffered dearly for their transgressions. What did they do that was so wrong? The team purposely gave up spots and caused a race-altering caution in order to keep their driver, Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase. NASCAR slammed them with a huge penalty that knocked Truex out of the postseason discussion.

The backlash from countless fans as well as their own sponsors was hard to deal with, too and I imagine contributed to Clint Bowyer's rather poor performance in the Chase. Their biggest sponsor, NAPA cut ties with the team after a 12-year partnership with Waltrip. As a result, they were forced to terminate their third car. Multiple crew members were laid off, and Martin Truex Jr. lost his ride with the organization despite being the only innocent one in the whole deal.

They weren't the only team that partook in such chicaneries behavior, though. While MWR was doing all they could to help Truex into the chase, Penske Racing was making a deal with Front Row Motorsports in order to help Joey Logano make it in. David Gilliland's crew chief can be heard over the radio saying "it better pay big" implying that there was some bribery going on. Brian France was infuriated, and NASCAR later implemented the 100 percent rule in an effort to stop anything like this from ever happening again.