The 37-year-old Tulare, Calif., competitor ended a two-year reign by 20-something champions but that hardly obscured the success of a bevy of talented newcomers. Four of the top-six finishers in the final standings are under the age of 23; two of five first-time winners had yet to celebrate their 18th birthdays.
Erik Jones won at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 8 to become the youngest winner in NASCAR national series competition at age 17 years, five months and nine days. Chase Elliott, also 17 when he captured the Sept. 1 NASCAR Camping World Truck event at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, had been the previous youngest winner.
Two NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduates scored first national series victories. Kyle Larson, an Asian-American who'll race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2014 for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, won at Rockingham, N.C. Darrell Wallace Jr. triumphed at Martinsville Speedway to become the first African-American competitor to win a national series race in nearly 50 years.
Jeb Burton, son of Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, won June's event at Texas Motor Speedway at age 20. Burton won seven poles to match the series record for an official Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate. Burton, Wallace and 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Ryan Blaney combined to set a record for most official rookie winners in a season.
Thirteen different drivers won races in 2013 led by Kyle Busch, who visited Victory Lane five times. Busch solidified his hold on the No. 2 spot on the all-time win list at 35, 16 victories behind Ron Hornaday Jr.
Matt Crafton ? Crafton won once in 2013 ? at Kansas Speedway ? in the season's fourth of 22 races. The victory gave the driver of the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota a championship lead Crafton held through the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Consistency was Crafton's ace in the hole. He opened the season with 16 consecutive top-10 finishes and ultimately completed all 3,391 laps to become the first series driver to turn in a perfect laps-completed card. Crafton finished 40 points ahead of Ty Dillon following a 21st-place finish at Homestead. He completed the season with seven top-five and 19 top-10 finishes.
Ty Dillon and James Buescher (Honorable Mention) ? Dillon and Buescher finished in a near dead heat for the runner-up position in 2013 standings. Dillon took second with Buescher third, separated by three points. They swapped the positions several times over campaign's final nine races but 37 points were as close as either got to champion-to-be Crafton. Each won two races. Buescher came up short in his bid to become the first to win consecutive series championships.
Comeback Driver of the Year
Johnny Sauter ? After top three championship finishes in 2010-11, Sauter slumped to ninth a year ago. Buoyed by back-to-back victories at Daytona International Speedway and Martinsville speedways, Sauter raced back to the top of the points table. A mid-season slump blunted the Wisconsin veteran's bid for a first NASCAR Camping World Truck championship but Sauter mounted a late charge to finish fourth in the standings with the most wins ? three ? by a series points-eligible driver.
Kyle Busch Motorsports ? The 2010 NASCAR Camping World Truck owner's championship team led the points standings just once ? after Busch won the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. KBM's No. 51 Toyota was shared by several drivers during the 2013 season with Busch winning five times and first-year competitor Erik Jones adding another victory. The team's six wins were sufficient to break a tie in the final standings with ThorSport Racing. KBM-owned trucks won seven times in 2013.
ThorSport Racing (Honorable Mention) ? ThorSport Racing has competed in a record 409 races ? 391 consecutively ? and got within a single finishing position of capturing its first NASCAR Camping World Truck owner's championship in 2013. Its No. 88 Toyota, driven by series champion Crafton, finished in a dead heat with rival Kyle Busch Motorsports only to lose the title on a most wins tie-breaker. A ThorSport-owned truck led owner points after each of the season's first 21 races. The Sandusky, Ohio-based organization won four races, second most in the series.
Top Breakthrough Performance
Darrell Wallace Jr. ? Driving the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, rookie of the year contender Wallace set high standards for himself right out of the gate. He qualified second, led 34 laps and finished fifth in the season's second race at Martinsville Speedway. The Concord, N.C. driver and former NASCAR Next member returned to the .526-mile short track in October to score his first victory and join Wendell Scott as the only African-Americans to win a NASCAR national series event. Wallace finished eighth in overall points and second in rookie standings with one pole and five top-five and 12 top-10 performances.
Jeb Burton (Honorable Mention) ? The Virginia native Burton was among the series' fastest competitors with a rookie record-matching seven poles and 11 starts among the top three. Burton led 154 laps at Martinsville Speedway in April before finishing third. He won at Texas Motor Speedway in June and added a pair of third-place finishes to claim an overall finish of fifth in the championship standings. Burton ranked third among the series' five rookie of the year contenders.
Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Speedway (July 24) ? A standing-room only crowd packed Tony Stewart's .5-mile oval to see NASCAR's first national series dirt track event to be held in more than 40 years. No one came away disappointed from the Wednesday night event which ran "Saturday night style" with starting positions determined by heat races and a slam-bang last chance event. Former NASCAR Camping World Truck champion Austin Dillon was the winner over Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman. The race's overwhelming success was instrumental in Stewart being named winner of this year's NMPA Myers Brothers Award.
Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (Sept. 1) ? Road racing disappeared from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series after the 2000 season. It returned in 2013 ? concurrently with the series' first appearance outside the United States. The Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park outside Toronto proved to be a rousing success on all levels. Attendance reached near record proportions and the action on the 10-turn, 2.459-mile circuit was intense to say the least, culminating in the final-lap dust-up in which Chase Elliott snatched the victory from Ty Dillon.
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
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- Ward Burton