Welcome to NASCAR Champion's Week, the stock car racing equivalent to Hollywood's awards season. This is that time of year when your favorite and not-so-favorite racers go to Vegas to walk the red carpet and be awarded trophies that both you've heard of and haven't the foggiest idea what they are or how they were earned.
You likely already know about the gleaming silver Sprint Cup and Goodyear's custom-made gold-plated race car sculpture, both awarded to the season's champion, in this case Jimmie Johnson. Again. And surely you are familiar with the high-profile Coors Light Pole Award, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year and the NMPA Most Popular Driver Award.
But do you know of the USG Improving The Finish Award, given to the driver who improved the most positions from starting spot to finishing position? Or are you aware of the Moog Steering & Suspension Problem Solver of the Year Award, earned by a crew chief for winning the most weekly Moog Problem Solver trophies, which he earned by fielding the car that posted the largest increase in average lap speed from the first half to the second half of the race while finishing on the lead lap?
Believe it or not, we here at ESPN.com don't believe that this year's roster of nearly 20 sponsor-splashed keepsakes is enough. So we spent Thanksgiving out recruiting corporations to back our newly proposed prizes for those 2013 achievements we believe were so outstanding that they demand official mementos.
So without further ado … adieu … ahem … we present the 2013 NASCAR Postseason Awards That Should Be Given Out (But Aren't).
The Outback Steakhouse Broken Boomerang Award
Winner: Brad Keselowski
One year ago Bad Brad was the king of Vegas, being handed trophies at every breakfast, lunch and dinner that the newly crowned champion and newly hungover dared to attend. One year later this is the only award he'll be winning, having not only failed to defend his title, but missing the Chase altogether. All season long we kept waiting on the champ to make a comeback, but it just never happened.
The Pilgrim's Pride Making Chicken Salad Award
Winner: Kurt Busch
In 2012, The Outlaw's career was left for dead. But in 2013, he made the Chase field and with a little luck (not to mention a few more decent pit stops) could have won three or four races. And he did it all while driving for Furniture Row Racing, which, like Pilgrim's Pride, is both Colorado-based and largely held together with chicken wire.
The Timex Cleaning His Clock Award presented by Everlast Gloves
Winner: Kelly Heaphy
Prior to the Sept. 1 Truck series race at Mosport you'd likely never heard of Miss Heaphy. Nor had you heard of her boyfriend, driver Mike Skeen. But after Skeen had a run-in with road racing ace Max Papis at the close of the wild event, Heaphy attacked Papis on live national television and slapped his chiseled Italian jaw like Natalie Portman jacking up the God of Thunder in "Thor: The Dark World." Because of that moment, you'll likely never hear from Heaphy again. NASCAR immediately banned her from the racetrack.
The Auburn University War Eagle Honorary Alumni Award
Winner: Jamie McMurray
Before Auburn's Immaculate Deflection against Georgia and its Iron Bowl Miracle versus Alabama, the Tigers' interlocked AU logo had already experienced a last-minute miracle nowhere near a football field. On Oct. 20, McMurray was leading at Talladega and seemingly destined to be overrun by the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-led field off the final turn. But a late caution preserved his lead and the win. Just 24 hours earlier the Tigers had pulled off an upset at then-seventh-ranked Texas A&M, the first in a series of late-game heroics that now has Auburn in position to possibly play for a national championship. If that happens, it could be argued that McMurray deserves an assist for helping its winning mojo. Then again, Jamie Mac is from Missouri … who just happens to be Auburn's opponent in Saturday's SEC championship game.
The Ricky Bobby If You Ain't First You're Last Award, presented by the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association and Ruag Hand Grenades
Winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The Artist Formerly Known as Little E saw his winless streak extended to 55 races, though anyone who actually paid attention to his season knows that the 88 car is far from heartbroken, racing light years ahead of where it was just three years ago. However, the greatest indicator of that improvement is also the most painful reality for Earnhardt's fans, as he finished second five times, including three times in the 10-race Chase. As the cliche says, close only counts in two areas. Just ask the sponsors of this award.
The Union Pacific Caboose If You're Last You're Just Last Award
Winner: Michael McDowell
When McDowell finished 43rd in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway due to "brakes," he tied the all-time record for single-season last-place finishes with eight. Remarkably, it was McDriver's 27th career last-place finish, which (according to my man Brock Beard's LASTCAR blog) ranks him second all time. Even more remarkable when you realize that he's reached that mark in just 147 career Cup starts. The record to "beat" is 32, shared by the late J.D. McDuffie and Joe Nemechek, whose two shotgun-to-the-field finishes this season moved him into a tie atop the list.
The Whirlpool Spin Cycle Award
Winner: Clint Bowyer
This was the hardest sales job for our sponsorship sales team. Why? Most of the washing machine manufacturers kept pointing out that Bowyer's spin cycle at Richmond didn't do much cleaning. If anything, it got everyone dirtier.
The Hoveround Takes Me Where I Want To Go Where Will It Send Me Award
Thanks for the memories, fellas. We look forward to seeing what aftermarket upgrades you do to your new rides.