NASCAR: Ten Victories From 2013 That No One Saw Coming
Ten Wins That No One Saw Coming in 2013
2013 was a year that saw 17 different drivers visit victory lane. We had the usual suspects such as Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch taking most of the trophies, but we did see a few surprises mixed in there as well. We also enjoyed multiple races where the winner seemed to come out of nowhere at the end of the race to steal the victory.
This list goes through the ten wins from 2013 that I felt were the most surprising. As the title suggests, nobody saw these wins coming. There are all sorts of reasons why nobody suspected these winners would take the race and there are all sorts of drivers on this list.
This list includes winners that we haven't seen hoisting the hardware in a while. There are also some drivers who are very familiar with winning but managed to capture the checkered flag under surprising circumstances. From drivers who are lucky to be alive to the biggest underdog victory ever, and everything in between, enjoy these top 10 surprising wins!
Nick DeGroot is a staff writer for Rant Sports NASCAR. Connect with him on Twitter @ndegroot89
No. 10 Matt Kenseth - Darlington
It was never a surprise when Matt Kenseth won this past year and he did it more than anyone else. His triumph in the Southern 500 at Darlington though was one of those classic Kenseth races where he's just waiting in the wings, ready to pounce should those in front of him falter. Matt's teammate, Kyle Busch dominated the race and led an astonishing 265 laps but failed to close the deal.
With about 30 laps remaining, Kyle Busch was locked into a fierce battle for the win with Kasey Kahne. Kyle got into Kasey's left rear and in an instant, the No. 5 slammed the wall and his dreams to win the Southern 500 were destroyed. After the incident, Busch's car was never the same and he dropped like a rock. With Kahne damaged and Busch off the pace, Matt Kenseth took advantage and roared by his teammate with just 12 laps left in the race. It was Kenseth's first victory in 20 starts at Darlington and stands as the least amount of laps he led on his way to a win since the 2009 Daytona 500.
No. 9 Jamie McMurray - Talladega
Jamie McMurray went into the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway with a winless streak that dates back to 2010. He is known for being very strong in plate races where four of his seven Sprint Cup victories have come. At Talladega, we are supposed to expect drivers to come out of nowhere and steal the win and last fall's race was no different. For much of the event, three drivers led the way. They were Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who together, led over 60 percent of the race.
Jamie was never a a serious factor until the very end. As drivers in the pack scrambled for an ideal position with the checkered flag nearing, McMurray made a three-wide pass for the lead and never relinquished the top spot. On the final lap, Dale Jr. prepared to make a move that would most likely hand the victory over to him but before he could do anything with McMurray, the caution flew for Austin Dillon's airborne accident and the race was over.
No. 8 Martin Truex Jr. - Sonoma
Martin Truex Jr. has been so close to victory on numerous occasions since his first win way back in 2007. No matter how fast he went or how perfect the team's strategy was though, a second win eluded him. He rode a 218 race winless streak this past summer going into Sonoma Raceway, which is a track that has never been too kind to Truex. MTJ has never been known as much of a road racer and wasn't even part of the discussion going into NASCAR's first road course event of the year.
He qualified outside the top ten but Sonoma is rarely about the man with the fastest car; it's the perfect fuel strategy that wins this race. Martin's team had the perfect strategy this year. After being pursued by Juan Pablo Montoya and then Jeff Gordon, Truex was able to hold on a secure the win for his NAPA sponsored car in a place that is ironically called, NAPA Valley.
No. 7 Kevin Harvick - Richmond
NASCAR's first trip to Richmond International Raceway was one of those races where you just don't know who's going to win it all until the very end. Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer traded the lead multiple times for the first half of the race before the Busch brothers took control Both Kyle and Kurt Busch took turns leading before Juan Pablo Montoya emerged as a threat. Juan took the lead with 70 laps to go and drove away from the rest of the field. He had the win in the bag and the media began writing their stories about Montoya's first win at an oval but with less than four miles left in this 300 mile race, a wreck prompted a caution and everything changed.
Nearly every lead lap car pitted but a handful did make the risky decision to stay out. Most of the drivers who pitted took four tires but a few did decide to take two and the running order was turned upside down. Jeff Burton and Jamie McMurray led the field to the green flag but the guys on fresher tires quickly overwhelmed them. Kevin Harvick lived up to his nickname (The Closer) and rocketed by his teammate Jeff Burton for the lead as the white flag flew. Montoya tried desperately to run him down but to no avail as Harvick claimed the win after leading just three laps the entire night.
No. 6 Ryan Newman - Indianapolis
The Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the most prestigious races in NASCAR and is one every driver dreams of winning. Ryan Newman is known for being one of the best at flat tracks but his stats at Indy aren't that great. If that wasn't enough for everyone to want to bet against Ryan, he was coming off a string of poor finishes and his team had just informed him that he was out of a job after 2013. The odds were against him but sometimes people actually do their best when the pressure's on. Ryan kicked off the weekend by doing what he does best; winning poles.
He led the early portion of the race but four-time and defending Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson ran him down and took control. Johnson was the man to beat and as usual, no one could touch him. Late in the race, Newman's team opted for two tires on their final stop which was under green flag conditions while Johnson took four. Shockingly, Jimmie Johnson was never able to catch the No. 39. The benefit of clean air and the obvious fact that Ryan was driving the wheels off it is what probably allowed him to maintain a sizable lead over the blistering fast Johnson. In his 13th attempt, native Hooiser Ryan Newman collected his first victory at the historic speedway in what would be his last win driving for fellow Indiana native, car owner and friend, Tony Stewart.
No. 5 Denny Hamlin - Homestead
2013 was a year that Denny Hamlin wants to forget as soon as possible except for one race and that was the season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway. Hamlin's season started with he and NASCAR butting heads over a fine issued to him for derogatory comments regarding the Gen-6. Then a feud erupted between he and former teammate Joey Logano. The rivalry climaxed on the final lap of the Auto Club 400 with the two wrecking as they battled for the win. In the accident, Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his lower back that sidelined him for over a month.
When he returned to the track, he ran poorly for the most part. When he wasn't having a rough day in 20th though, he seemed to always be involved in violent wrecks at tracks ranging from Daytona to Bristol. Arriving at Homestead was a relief for the beaten and battered Hamlin as he could see an end to this nightmare of a season. After an enthralling late-race duel for the win with Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hamlin captured the checkered flag and ended his year celebrating in victory lane. It was an ironic and unlikely end to the worst season of Hamlin's career.
No. 4 Brad Keselowski - Charlotte
The fall race at Charlotte was dominated by the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, and Jimmie Johnson was the strongest of the bunch. He didn't really make his presence known though until the halfway point but once he did, he checked out. With about 25 laps to go, Jimmie's fun came to a screeching halt when a debris caution helped jumble up the running order. Jimmie was pushed back to third after teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne opted for just two tires.
It wasn't going to be a difficult task to retake the lead considering how fast he was but a bobble on the restart left him vulnerable to the pack of cars directly behind him and he lost multiple positions. Kasey Kahne now led the way but he would be challenged by Brad Keselowski who wasn't even inside the top five on the final restart. He charged through the field and engaged in an epic fight for the win with Kahne. The two put on a heck of a show in the closing laps with Keselowski prevailing when it was all said and done. It was the 2012 Sprint Cup champion's first and only victory in 2013.
No. 3 Tony Stewart - Dover
This race was similar to the fall event at Charlotte in a couple ways. First of all, Jimmie Johnson dominated the race before a late-race caution took the win away. He didn't lose this one on pit strategy but rather, driver error. Yes, it's very rare that we use the term, "driver error" when describing something Jimmie Johnson did on a race track. On the final restart, NASCAR deemed that he jumped it and was subsequently penalized.
Juan Pablo Montoya was the beneficiary and proceeded to drive off with the win in hand but a three-time champion would have something to say about that. Tony Stewart and Dover are two things that just don't mix. As of late, it's been a track that he just can't get a handle on and this race seemed to be following that odd pattern. He qualified 22nd and failed to be a contender throughout the event but with the checkered flag in sight, Smoke managed to sneak into the picture. He ran down Montoya and before anyone could figure out where the heck he came from, he took the lead and stole the victory. He led just three laps the entire race.
No. 2 Brian Vickers - New Hampshire
Brian Vickers is lucky to even be alive after blood clots formed in his chest and forced him to sit out most of the 2010 season. When he returned, he was notified that his team was going under and he was going to be without a job. His frustration showed in his driving and he was involved in multiple confrontations over the course of the year. He was a blacklisted driver and few teams wanted anything to do with him. Michael Waltrip Racing was a team that recognized his talent though and decided to give him another shot.
Now he's returned the favor. Brian's niche has always been large, banked ovals but apparently, someone forgot to tell him that at New Hampshire earlier this year. Brian Vickers only led 16 laps all day but they were the final 16 laps. On a Green/White/Checker, he was put on the high side of a three wide situation but held his ground and somehow held on to the lead off the corner. It was a move rarely seen at the flat, one mile oval and I doubt we will see it done again any time soon. The win marked his first since 2009 and helped solidify his place at MWR who later announced Brian as the full-time driver for that car in 2014.
No. 1 David Ragan - Talladega
This race is one that has gone down in history as one of the biggest underdog upsets in recent memory and is the obvious choice for the No. 1 spot on this list. With just a handful of laps remaining, Front Row Motorsports teammates David Gilliland and David Ragan dodged the flipping No. 78 of Kurt Busch by taking their cars to the apron as the spinning car of Jeff Gordon threw mud and grass all over their windshield. The race became a two lap scramble to the finish as darkness crept over the light-less track.
Ragan restarted 10th, Gilliland 11th and they were ready for a fight. The two David’s took the snarling pack head-on as they cut their way through the center of it, never lifting. They passed champions such as Gordon, Kenseth and Johnson as they charged to the front of the field. With the titans of NASCAR all around them, this little duo did not back down and fought their way to second and third with half a lap to go. Fellow Ford driver Carl Edwards was the only person that stood in their way and in a heart-stopping moment, Ragan got sideways at 190 mph and just about put it in the fence but thankfully, kept it pointed in the right direction. Unshaken, he dove underneath Edwards with the pedal through the floor and the No. 38 followed.
Gilliland shoved Ragan as hard as he possibly could through the final corner and Edwards made contact with the right rear of Ragan in a failed attempt to slow them down. David Ragan weaved erratically across the track as he tried to block the wall of cars hell bent on taking the victory away from him. He hugged the yellow line through the tri-oval and began to throw sparks as his No.34 scraped the track with the left side. As cars slammed into each other behind him, David Ragan stunned the racing community and won the race! David Gilliland brought home second as the everyone looked on in utter shock and amazement at this spectacular showing by Front Row Motorsports. It was the ultimate David vs. Goliath story and ironically, actually involved a couple of Davids. It's a triumph that Ragan told me meant more to him than his very first win.