HUNTERSVILLE – One point decided the NASCAR Nationwide Series owners’ championship. It went in favor of Penske Racing.
Nineteen points separated the Sprint Cup Series drivers’ and owners’ champions – Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports – from second place.
Joe Gibbs Racing couldn’t have come much closer to hoisting a handful of trophies at the end of the season. Its No. 54 Nationwide team – driven by Kyle Busch, Drew Herring and Joey Coulter – missed the owners’ title when Busch finished third Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
JGR nearly hoisted its first Sprint Cup since it moved from Chevy to Toyota in 2008, but Johnson thwarted Matt Kenseth’s bid for a title.
“I think when you look at our season overall, when I talk about it being the best season of my career, we didn't come up with the championship,” Kenseth said in the post-race press conference after the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 on Nov. 17. “The championship is the ultimate goal. You always want that, but from a competitive standpoint, it's been by far the best season of my career.”
Kenseth wasn’t exaggerating. He won the 2003 title, the final year before NASCAR instituted a 10-race playoff to decide the champion of its premier series. But he only won one race that year. He won a series-high seven races in 2013, no small feat considering it was Kenseth’s first year at JGR. He spent the first 13 years of his career at Roush-Fenway Racing.
“The final 10 races, I didn't get more points than Jimmie,” he admitted. “We still ran good the final 10. We didn't have any huge disasters. We just didn't run good enough to beat him.”
Busch and the No. 54 team’s bid for a drivers’ championship in Nationwide had no chance, because he didn’t attempt every race. An owners’ title was within grasp until the final lap of the season, however.
Busch said his team was the series’ best for much of the year, but it couldn’t deliver in the season finale.
“We ran third, we just didn't have enough speed or enough turn in the race car to get through the corners,” he said in the post-race press conference. “The Penske cars certainly had that.”
They also had the owners’ championship, with the No. 22 Ford, which saw Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney all win races behind the wheel.
“Unfortunately, a lot of mistakes were made this year,” Busch said. “A lot of my mistakes I made this year made us lose points throughout the season. Ultimately we missed it by two. It's frustrating. I hate it for everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, for Monster Energy. They deserved a championship this year.”
Busch’s Nationwide car won 12 races. Kenseth’s Sprint Cup team won seven, Busch added four, and Gibbs’ other Sprint Cup driver, Denny Hamlin, won at Homestead-Miami.
Busch said he was thrilled with the season, but didn’t forget how close they came to a title.
“Those were the hands we were dealt,” he said. “All in all, I’m just proud of the team and everyone for the way they worked this year.”