HUNTERSVILLE – Matt Kenseth was just 20 points from being the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion in 2013.
The veteran driver still finished his first season at Joe Gibbs Racing with a series- and career-high seven wins, including the first two races in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Kenseth, however, wasn’t the only area driver to make a splash in NASCAR’s regular season and its version of the playoffs.
Here’s a look at the area’s Chase drivers, how their seasons fared and a look at their chances when next season starts in February:
• Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota
Second in points
Three poles, seven wins, 12 top-fives, 20 top-10s, 1,783 laps led
2013 review: Kenseth was fast from the first race of the season to the last. In between, he won more races than any other driver and firmly re-established himself as one of the sport’s championship contenders. Kenseth hasn’t won a title since 2003 – the last season before the Chase was instituted – but he came close in 2013.
2014 outlook: Kenseth out-shone his teammates, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, in his first year at Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch and Hamlin will be tough to beat again, but Kenseth’s got the speed, the experience and the confidence to be a title contender again.
• Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota
Fourth in points
Three poles, four wins, 16 top-fives, 22 top-10s, 1,227 laps led
2013 review: Busch entered the Chase as one of the odds-on favorites to win the title after a strong regular season. He came close, having his best Chase run ever, but the No. 18 team was unable to win a Chase race or outrun Kenseth on the team’s best day.
2014 outlook: Busch has finally given credence to those who think he’s capable of winning a championship. Having Kenseth in the same shop is a good motivator, but Busch isn’t one who needs much motivation. He’ll be tough to beat on his own accord.
• Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota
Seventh in points
Zero poles, zero wins, 10 top-fives, 19 top-10s, 354 laps led
2013 review: Bowyer dropped off a bit from his runner-up finish in the 2012 standings. His Michael Waltrip Racing outfit won just one race – with Martin Truex Jr. at Sonoma in June – but Bowyer was competitive enough in the Chase. He just didn’t have the speed to win races.
2014 outlook: Expect a bounce-back year from Bowyer next year. His team’s got the ability to win, as it proved in 2012. All it takes is some consistency.
• Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford
Eighth in points
Two poles, one win, 11 top-fives, 19 top-10s, 323 laps led
2013 review: Logano had the best season of his five-year career. In his first season at Penske Racing, the former JGR driver won the third race of his career and made his first Chase. He was also the only Penske driver to make NASCAR’s playoff, as defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski missed the 13-driver field.
2014 outlook: Next season could be a big year for Logano. It seems like he’s been around a long time, but he’s still just 23 years old and maturing. The positive momentum on which he finished 2013 could help the No. 22 team win more races next season.