NASCAR awards 2013: Best driver, best and worst races, biggest underachiever and more

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

A look back at the 2013 NASCAR season with awards handed out in a variety of categories.

The best, the worst, the overachievers, the underachievers and everything in between are all here. So without further ado, let's take a look back the 2013 NASCAR season by handing out some hardware and recognizing who did what.

Driver of the Year

The best driver in a given year doesn't always win the championship and the champion isn't always the best driver. This season, however, Jimmie Johnson was both.

En route to a sixth series title, Johnson earned six victories and could have easily had more were it not for mistakes at Dover, Kentucky, Indianapolis and Charlotte. Nevertheless, his dominance was omnipresent. He led all drivers in top-10s (24), laps led (1,985), average finish (10.7) and tied Kyle Busch for most top-fives (16).

Others deserving mention: Kenseth; Kevin Harvick; Kurt Busch

Story of the Year

The year began with the announcement that the two contenders for Rookie of the Year were dating then concluded with Johnson further cementing his place among NASCAR immortality.

More than anything, though, 2013 will be remembered for the events which transpired at and followed the regular season finale at Richmond. As the decision by Michael Waltrip Racing to manipulate the running order had far-reaching consequences.

The immediate aftermath saw NASCAR impose record fines, and take the unprecedented step of excluding Martin Truex Jr. from the Chase and inserting, first, Ryan Newman and then later, Gordon. It also caused NASCAR CEO Brian France to issue a decree that henceforth all drivers must give 100 percent at all times, with the sanctioning body taking steps to curb team orders.

The fallout lingered for weeks. Longtime sponsor NAPA withdrew its support of MWR, putting the future of the team in doubt. And when it was all said and done, the team was forced to contract from three full-time cars to two, with a seemingly permanent black cloud now hovering over the entire organization.

Others deserving mention: Johnson wins sixth championship; Danica Patrick embarks on rookie campaign; Injuries sidelines Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart; Kenseth thrives in first season with new team; Generation-6 car

Best Race

Martinsville was supposed to be where Kenseth stubbed his toe, and where Johnson asserted control of the championship. Instead, the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 represented a seismic shift in the opposite direction, as Kenseth took it to Johnson on his best track. Kenseth led the most laps and finished second, with Johnson being scored in fifth. The result placed the two into a deadlock atop the standings with just three races to go.

And more than just the jousting between the two contenders, Martinsville also featured a classic short track duel. In the closing laps Gordon hunted down Kenseth, and after a terrific side-by-side battle, Gordon worked his way into the lead and went on to win his first race of the season.

Others deserving mention: Toyota Owners 400 (Richmond); Auto Club 400 (Fontana); Irwin Tools Night Race (Bristol); Aaron's 499 (Talladega)

Worst Race

Devoid of much passing and hampered by a Goodyear tire that proved problematic, the AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is a race few will look back on with fondness. It didn't help that the winner was never in doubt, as Johnson smacked down the competition leading 76 percent of all laps and winning by a 4.3-second margin.

Others deserving mention: Hollywood Casino 400 (Kansas); Party in the Poconos 400 (Pocono); Brickyard 400 (Indianapolis)

Biggest Overachiever

In an era of big-buck, multi-car organizations driving for a single-car team is supposed to be a disadvantage. But if there is one thing Kurt Busch proved in 2013, it's that a determined, talented wheelman can prosper with a small, underfunded team. No, he didn't win a race, but Busch came close several times. More importantly, he became the first driver to ever make the Chase without a teammate. It was an inspired effort from all involved.

Others deserving mention: David Ragan

Biggest Underachiever

Heading into the season it was unfair to expect Brad Keselowski to repeat as champion. But it wasn't unreasonable to think the reigning Cup would easily qualify for the Chase and win his share of races. And on this account he did neither.

Others deserving mention: Hamlin; Danica Patrick; Marcos Ambrose; Clint Bowyer

Crew Chief of the Year

Although Kenseth gets the bulk of the accolades for transforming the 20 team from an also-ran to contender status, don't overlook the contributions of his crew chief, Jason Ratcliff. Paired together in Kenseth's first season at Joe Gibbs Racing, Ratcliff guided his driver to a series-best seven victories and nearly the Cup championship.

His efforts were most noticeable at New Hampshire and Martinsville, two tracks where Kenseth had long struggled before joining JGR. For the first time in 28 career starts Kenseth went to Victory Lane at New Hampshire. Five weeks later at Martinsville he led a race-high 202 laps en route to a second-place finish. Both races were paramount to Kenseth keeping pace with Johnson, and underscores why the unheralded Ratcliff is deserving of this honor.

Others deserving mention: Chad Knaus; Gil Martin

More from SB Nation:

Is Jimmie Johnson the greatest NASCAR driver of all time?

Jordan Bianchi: Grading NASCAR's top teams

NASCAR offseason storylines worth watching

The good times, hard life and shocking death of Dick Trickle

How to drive sideways: The Amateur goes to rally car school

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