Coming to Green: Looking ahead to the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup seasonBy Justin Tucker
As 2012 rapidly fades into our review mirrors, it is time to look ahead to next season. 2013 is bringing a lot of changes to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) as the brand new Gen6 race car makes it debut this season. While this may change throughout the season, here is an early glimpse of how the 2013 NSCS season could shape up.
Jimmie Johnson: Every year it seems as if you can pencil Jimmie Johnson in for at least four wins as well as being one of the main contenders for the championship expect 2013 to be no different. With conversion over to the Gen6 car and the resources at Hendrick Motorsports should put the No.48 team ahead of the curve in 2013. If any driver has the ability to adapt to a major change within the sport you instantly think of Johnson. Just look at how dominate he was with the COT when it was introduced.
Brad Keselowski: Yes Penske’s move from Dodge to Ford has placed a huge cloud of uncertainty over this team but all the key components on the No.2 team return. With the brilliant mind of Paul Wolfe on the pit box expect no let down from B.K. as he begins his quest for back to back championships.
Matt Kenseth: New year,new team, same old Matt Kenseth. Expect another quiet solid season out of the 2003 champion. With the resources at Joe Gibbs Racing at his disposal don’t be surprised if Kenseth scores three to four wins in his inaugural campaign with JGR. I fully expect Kenseth to be top-5 in points for a very large majority of the season.
Kyle Busch: Will 2013 be the year that Busch finally puts it all together? If the 2012 Chase is any indication then it is a good bet that Kyle will be in the championship conversation at Homestead. Busch led 864 laps over the final 10 races and was in position to win at least four of those chase races. It will be interesting to see if Kyle can carry the momentum of last season’s strong finish all the way through 2013.
Clint Bowyer: Yes I know there is supposed to be some kind of bad vibe that comes along with finishing second in points but quite honestly I don’t see that happening to Bowyer this season. Coming off a career year that saw Kansas Clint finish 2nd in points with three wins I believe it is a strong bet that Bowyer is in the championship conversation once again coming to the checkers at Homestead. Finally all the pieces are in place for Bowyer to be a perennial championship contender. Teaming once again with crew chief Brian Pattie and fast race cars out of the Michael Waltrip Racing stable could be more than enough for Bowyer to hoist the cup after Homestead.
Denny Hamlin: Look for Joe Gibbs Racing to be ultra competitive across the board in 2013. Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb proved to be a formidable combination in 2012 by winning five races and finishing 6th in points their first season together at JGR. As was the story with his teammate Kyle Busch it was bad luck that ultimately derailed Hamlin’s hopes of a championship in 2012.
Jeff Gordon: Entering his 21st season in the NSCS you would be hard pressed to find anyone that would say Jeff Gordon has lost a step. This writer sure doesn’t think that. While 2012 was an up and down year for Gordon you can never not put him on your pre-season list of contenders for the championship. Two wins and a 10th place finish in points in 2012 was far below the expectations of the No.24 team last season. Look for a possible big rebound type of season for Gordon in 2013. His hunger to win a 5th cup title maybe stronger than ever.
Kasey Kahne: In my eyes this is the driver ready to take the next step and become a championship contender year in and year out. Kahne won two races and finished fourth in points in 2012 after overcoming a horrendous start to last season after failing to record a top-10 finish in the season’s first six races. Kasey’s fans are hoping for a return to the form that saw him win six races in 2006.
Greg Biffle: Biffle may not get the lime light or the marquee like some of the drivers listed above but finishing fifth or better in points three times in his career shows he is more than deserving. The Biff won two races in 2012 and finished fifth in points. Inconsistency in the chase prevented Biffle from being a true championship contender all the way to Homestead but he did lead the points for 11 consecutive weeks in the 2012 season and that shows what Biffle and this No.16 team are capable of.
Carl Edwards: 2012 was a case of what could go wrong did go wrong for Edwards and the No.99. Edwards struggled through 2012 failing to win a race and make the chase just a year after losing the championship to Tony Stewart via tie breaker. The addition of veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig should boost Edwards and get him back in the hunt to win races in 2013.
Contenders With Some Questions.
Tony Stewart: After two wins in the first five races in 2012 it looked like Smoke was going to be a major threat to defend his championship but something went amiss with Stewart and the No.14 team in the second half of the season and was never a threat in the chase. There is no doubt about the ability of Stewart. He can drive anything at anytime but if he gets off to a rocky start in 2013 it will lead to questions about the future of his crew chief Steve Addington.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior showed incredible consistency throughout 2012 and re energized the sport by snapping his 143 race win less streak at Michigan in June. A concussion at Talladega side lined Junior for two races in the chase and relegated him to a 12th place finish in points. His finish in points does not indicate how good he was in 2012. Junior needs to lead more laps, earn more bonus points and win races more frequently in order to be in the mix at Homestead.
Martin Truex Jr. : 2012 was a very consistent year for Truex Jr. as he secured a chase berth and finished 11th in points. Just missed wins at Kansas and Atlanta. In order for Truex Jr. to contend for the championship in 2013 it all boils down to winning. Something he hasn’t done since Dover in June 2007 some 203 races ago.
2013 Sleeper Pick
Kurt Busch: This is a perfect scenario for Kurt Busch. Likely a one year deal with Furniture Row Racing and will be afforded fast cars and chances to win races in 2013. While winning the championship isn’t likely there is absolutely no reason why Kurt can’t put the No.78 car in the chase.
Other Interesting 2013 Stories
Kevin Harvick: With the impending move to Stewart Haas Racing in 2014 it will be most interesting to see how Harvick and Richard Childress co exist in 2013. Each week could be very interesting for the No.29 team. I just see too many distractions in order for this team to be any kind of threat this season.
Ryan Newman: Newman is in need a of a HUGE 2013. Working on a one year deal with Stewart Haas Racing and with the possibility SHR expanding to four cars in 2014. 2013 is a make or break year for Newman. The question has to be right now with rumors swirling about on who else is coming to SHR is Newman the odd man out after 2013?
Danica Patrick: 2013 marks her first full season in Sprint Cup. While showing steady improvement over the course of last season and with addition of Tony Gibson as her crew chief still expect to see some growing pains over the course of 2013. But with that said she does have the guidance of one Tony Stewart and that could pay big dividends down the road. She showed flashes of brilliance at Bristol and Phoenix last season.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse will try to fill the huge shoes left by Matt Kenseth at Roush Fenway Racing this season. While the two time Nationwide Series champion does have some experience running in the NSCS it will take some time to get used to the rigors of a full NSCS schedule. But I think he will adapt more quickly than others who have made the transition.
Joey Logano: New year and new beginning at Penske Racing. Logano picked up his 2nd career win at Pocono in June last season. Now on the same team as defending NSCS champion Brad Keselowski and with the confidence of car owner Roger Penske it will be interesting to see if Logano can live up to the billing that was placed up him upon his debut in the NSCS. Expect a huge improvement out of Logano this season. Wouldn’t be surprised to see multiple wins.
Drivers On The Hot Seat:
Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray: After two consecutive horrendous seasons. 2013 can be best summed up as now or never for the two drivers out of the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing stable. Only five combined top-10 finishes between JPM and McMurray last season. EGR will make the switch to Hendrick engines for 2013 it will be interesting to see if that helps improve the performance of this race team that desperately needs a boost.
Jeff Burton: Coming in on the heels of a 149 race win less streak there is no doubt Burton needs to find victory lane in 2013 but has RCR improved enough in order to do so. Time will tell.
Marcos Ambrose: Without question the series best road racer but needs to start winning on ovals. Has shown the ability to run well on the ovals but still hasn’t cashed in yet.
Paul Menard: Still lacking the consistency to be competitive on a week in and week out basis but runs well in spurts. The question is with Menard as it is with Jeff Burton has RCR improved enough to improve their performances and the answer again is time will tell.