Daytona and Charlotte testing just finished up and the Daytona 500 is still over a month away. As I look forward to this season, here are 13 topics to keep a close eye on in 2013.
1. Clint Bowyer
The end of the 2012 season was a roller coaster for Clint Bowyer. In Phoenix, he was taken out of the run for the championship and it seemed like a 2nd place was miles away too. But with Jimmie Johnson's woes came Clint Bowyer’s opportunity. He ended up finishing second in the points! Will he have the dreaded 2nd place curse like Denny Hamlin in 2011 and Carl Edwards in 2012? Only time will tell.
2. The Gen 6 Car
The new season brings a new car for the Sprint Cup Series and there are tons of questions surrounding it! How will it handle in packs? How will it react at restrictor plate tracks? Short tracks? Road courses? Will the car feel a lot different from the Car of Tomorrow? Will some of the data from the COT apply to the Gen 6? Or will teams have to restart their books? Tune in throughout the season to find out!
3. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski. 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. Has it sunk in yet? It's a new year and the 2 team has a lot to learn. Along with the Gen 6 cars came a switch of manufacturers for Brad Keselowski-from Dodge to Ford. Will Keselowski be able to hold on to his title with so many changes?
4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr
Ricky Stenhouse Jr replaced Matt Kenseth at Roush Fenway Racing. I found this news pretty surprising last year! Sure he's won 2 Nationwide championships, but replacing Matt Kenseth, a Sprint Cup Champion who had been with Roush for 12 years? He sure has some big shoes to fill, but watch out for this young driver this season...I have a feeling he's going to make a big impression!
5. Kyle Busch
Unlucky 13? For Kyle Busch, it was unlucky 12. The year 2012 brought many misfortunes for this driver. He had 10 finishes outside the top 20, only one win, and he didn’t even make the Chase! Love him or love to hate him, you have to hope Kyle Busch’s 2013 results show off his talent better than his 2012 finishes did!
6. Michael Waltrip Racing
Michael Waltrip Racing was a HUGE surprise in 2012. Nobody expected them to accomplish so much! They won 3 races and all 3 cars had solid finishs most races. They even had 2 cars in the chase! Will their good run continue into this year?
7. Matt Kenseth
It's Matt Kenseth’s first year at Joe Gibbs racing. Two of the best guys in business-Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch-are now his teammates. He's still in some of the best equipment and still has some of the best crew members. Will Matt Kenseth soar with his new team in 2013?
8. Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards was hit with the 2nd place curse last year after finishing 2nd to Tony Stewart in the championship in 2011. He didn't make much noise in 2012. He didn't even win a race or make the Chase! I think Carl Edwards will make a comeback in 2013!
9. Joey Logano
Joey Logano left Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2012 season and is now teammates with Brad Keselowski. Fords aren’t only new to Keselowski, they are new to Joey Logano too, who raced Toyotas with Joe Gibbs Racing. Joey Logano will be one to watch this season with the company just coming off a triumphant season with Brad Keselowski.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr had his most successful season in a long time during the 2012 season. He had 18 top-10 finishes, he made the Chase, and he ended a four year winless streak! He finished 11th in the standings because he had to sit out 2 races in the Chase due to a concussion suffered at Talladega. Dale Jr will be a fierce competitor again in 2013.
11. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson came so close to winning another championship last year, but just got unlucky in the last few races. He finished 3rd in the points, which many teams would see as a huge accomplishment, but 5-Time sees this as the 2nd year in a row his team has lost the championship. Is Jimmie Johnson losing some of his steam? Maybe the horseshoe has found a new home in another team’s shop.
12. Jeff Gordon vs. Clint Bowyer
We’ve all seen the video replayed countless times and the media has worn out this topic but this is one feud that you can’t help but wonder about. How will it play out in 2013? Will the drivers trade some paint on the track or will they just let the dust settle and focus on other things? This is definitely something to keep an eye on in 2013!
13. Phoenix Racing
Phoenix Racing got rid of Kurt Busch and hired two promising drivers, AJ Allmendinger and Regan Smith. We’ve seen Regan Smith’s potential when he filled in for Dale Earnhardt Jr at Charlotte and Kansas. In Charlotte, he had a top-ten car but the engine gave up on him. In Kansas he managed to get a top-ten finish proving he has what it takes when he’s in good equipment. AJ Allmendinger was suspended for substance abuse in 2012, but was reinstated in the sport late last season. These two young drivers might be able to pull off a pretty good season!
While no one can ever predict what a season will bring (like a jet dryer blowing up!), these 13 promise to be a part of an exciting 2013!
Until the next flag drops...