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Ratcliff was hit with a one-race suspension and a $200,000 fine for an illegal engine part that NASCAR discovered in Kenseth's number 20 Toyota following his win at Kansas Speedway in April, but Toyota Racing Development, which supplies engines to JGR, accepted blame. What happened when Ratcliff was away from the track during his suspension? Communicating with his crew from his home in North Carolina, he still guided Kenseth to Victory Lane on May 11 at Darlington, Kenseth's first career victory at the historic track.
Most Surprising Driver
Before this season Almirola, 29, had never finished higher than 20th in the final standings. But through a dozen races in 2013, Almirola has been a lead-pack driver. Driving the number 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, he already has as many top 10s (four) as he had all of last year and is 12th in the standings. Amirola has led only one lap—which means he remains the longest of shots to win the championship—but he is well positioned to qualify for his first Chase.
Most Disappointing Driver
Almost since the first lap of the season-opening Daytona 500, Smoke has been fuming about the uneven balance of his number 14 Chevy, insisting that he feels as if he's on the verge of losing control in every corner. As a result, the three-time champion has been as far off the pace this season as he's ever been in his 15 years on the Cup circuit. Stewart is 20th in the standings (his previous worst finish was 11th in '06), and he's had just two top 10s thus far in '13—a year after he had 12 top fives. Stewart traditionally heats up in the summer months, but this time his season may already have gone up in smoke.