Predictions for the 2013 NASCAR seasonBy Kelly Crandall
The strike of the clock of Midnight, January 1st means a new year is upon us. Goodbye to 2012 and hello to the fresh and innocent 2013.
The turning of the calendar signals the beginning of a new NASCAR season. Testing for the upcoming year begins at Daytona in mere days. Some Sprint Cup teams getting their first chance to explore the new car, the G6, they’ll be working with moving forward. Others – having participated in a test at Charlotte last month – will now have notes from a mile-and-a-half track and a superspeedway.
A new season also means new predictions. It will be hard pressed to try and think of anything that might outdo last season. With history taking place in all three National Series with new champions, a record number of first-time winners in the Camping World Truck Series, and plenty of races that left of on the edge of our seats.
But we’re certainly going to try. Here are few things to watch for in the 2013 NASCAR season.
The 2013 race of the CWTS season = Eldora
This might not be that strong of a prediction or even one at all. When the trucks hit the dirt at Tony Stewart’s piece of heaven in Ohio, it will be one memorable night. For so long many have called for NASCAR to return to the dirt and let the drivers flex their muscle and show their skill.
The time has come. Stewart and NASCAR made it happen and the anticipation is already through the roof. Being a half-mile it’s the perfect place for the trucks to race and put on a show, and for feelings to get hurt. A short track means short tempers, maybe some more than others depending how well they adapt to the dirt.
Plus, there’s little doubt the race will draw in big stars from not just around NASCAR but the racing world.
Big Names Become Big Winners
Johnny Sauter is hungry to win a championship. Timothy Peters wants to finish one position better than 2012. And Brendan Gaughan has unfinished championship business.
These three will be the CWTS big winners in the upcoming season. Sauter has been the championship favorite the last few seasons, finishing second in 2011 but getting bitten by the bad luck bug this past year. If that carries over into a new season, he’ll have a steep hill to climb.
Peters however, is coming into his own at Red Horse Racing. While his 2013 plans have not yet been announced, it would be hard to imagine he won’t be back behind the wheel of the No. 17 considering his success and with RHR going to just two teams. John Wes Townley has signed on with Zaxby’s and Todd Bodine has confirmed he’s the odd man out because of sponsorship.
So, Peters becomes one of the favorites for the championship and a multiple race winner, even though champion James Buescher is remaining in the series to try and grab another title. He’ll be tough competition, but there’s a reason there hasn’t been a back-to-back champion in the CWTS, yet.
For Gaughan, who will return with Richard Childress Racing and run the full season, he’s going to break through for a few victories of his own. Running select races in 2012 with RCR, Gaughan showed why he was nearly a champion just a few seasons ago. Now he gets the chance to put it all together with a company that’s been in the same position the last few years. Yet, for as strong as Gaughan will be, not sold enough that he’ll be the strongest.
Camping World Truck Series Champion Prediction: Timothy Peters
The Nationwide Series ‘Big Three’
There will be a lot of old faces in new faces when it comes to the 2013 NNS season. Elliott Sadler, who has finished second the last two years in points, is now driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Perhaps now with the team that can finally get him the championship that’s been eluding him.
In order to so however, he’ll have to beat new teammate Brian Vickers. In 2003 it was Vickers who hoisted the big trophy and he’s now back to try and do it again. Since he doesn’t have a full-time Cup ride – he’ll again share time in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 – he’s got a great opportunity ahead of him.
The right team and attitude puts Vickers as the driver to watch. He has a lot of experience and hunger to get his career back on track and return to top form in the Cup Series. He and Sadler will most likely dominate the series driving JGR Toyotas, which have been the class of the field since their debut.
The third driver to be in championship contention is the most recent race winner. Regan Smith has a new home with JR Motorsports and will be running for the championship with the No. 7 team led by Greg Ives, a former engineer for Jimmie Johnson.
Of course we can’t overlook Austin Dillon, who will be back for his grandfather’s team and a sophomore season. Dillon won two races and finished third in points in 2012 and while he certainly will be a factor in the upcoming year, time will tell if Dillon and RCR have what it takes with the strength of Gibbs and the determination of Smith and JRM.
Nationwide Champion Prediction: Brian Vickers
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the Cup Series New Star
Coming off back-to-back NNS championships Stenhouse finally gets his chance to shine in the big time. He remains with Roush Fenway Racing and will be driving for another championship team, now led by Scott Graves. And he keeps the familiarity of having spotter Mike Calinoff in his ear.
Stenhouse has limited Cup experience, except came in the older style racecar. But he’s proven he can drive the wheels off of anything and the new car might throw him for a little loop at first, but he’s going to win this year. Quite possibly win more than once.
And he’ll take home Rookie of the Year honors. Of course that’s because he doesn’t have any competition in the category. Though even if he did, doubt it would be much of a fight.
Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon Part II
This feud is far from over. At least for Bowyer if his comments in Las Vegas during the awards banquet were any indication, stating that he wasn’t settling anything with Gordon. There are two sides to the story, Gordon saying that Bowyer got into him one too many times during 2012 and that he finally had had enough. Bowyer surprised that Gordon was upset for the little contact that they made and taking it harder because it ended any chance he had at the championship.
When the series returns to Phoenix in the second week of the season, everyone will be ready to ramp up the talk and the highlights of the two from last November. And Bowyer, even though he wants revenge, will find a way to not play into it. He’d probably do more harm than good if he were to take his shot while everyone, including NASCAR, was watching.
Nope, these two will meet again at a later date. That would be the first short track race of the season at Bristol. It’s the perfect place for feelings to get hurt and Bowyer to get one back at Gordon.
Tony Finally Does It
It’s something Stewart fans have longed to hear, he will finally win the Daytona 500. Or at least, one prediction says so. In years past this is one that has been shied away from, obviously because Stewart is 0-for in the big race. This coming February will be his 15th attempt.
But have no fear, because No. 14 will be lucky in race No. 15 at Daytona. He’s already won everything else there is to win at the speedway, multiple times. This past July he again won the summer classic, but noted he would trade them all for a Daytona 500 win.
Stewart won’t have to. This coming year there will be a few things in his favor. Not just that he’s an excellent plate racer, or that the Chevy’s are always fast, or even that he’s the man to beat when it comes to Daytona. This year Stewart’s going to have another wingman when it comes to the draft.
Danica Patrick joins SHR full-time this year and she too, has become a quick study of the plate tracks. She won the pole at Daytona last year for the NNS race and she led late in the July race – with the help of Stewart – in 2011. If the two can find each and make the same thing happen this coming February, it’ll be awfully tough to beat them.
A Chase to Remember for Hamlin
We’re still waiting for the day that Hamlin said his team was going to be champions. Something he confidently said at the end of the 2009 season. As we enter 2013 there have been two seasons in the past that Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs team could have made that happen.
Last year, perhaps the most heartbreaking of them all, he had the best cars but not the best reliability. That won’t be a problem in the New Year as Hamlin is going to put it all together. There’s no better motivation for a team or company than losing the championship because they weren’t strong enough.
JGR is going to fix that and all three of their Camry’s will make the 2013 Chase: Hamlin, Kyle Busch and newest member Matt Kenseth. And it’s going to be Kenseth who plays a big role in both JGR and Hamlin’s success. His experience and leadership will go a long way in racing for a championship.
Hamlin and Kenseth have already gotten close during the offseason and worked well together during the Charlotte test last month. Should Hamlin continue to work well with his new teammate and use Kenseth to make himself better, he’ll have his most successful season in Cup.
Sprint Cup Series Champion Prediction: Denny Hamlin