Looking Ahead to the 2013 Sprint Cup Season

Thursday, November 29, 2012
Brad Keselowski finished 2012 as the Sprint Cup Series champion, but does he have enough left in the tank to repeat in 2013? He's one of the 10 top storylines to watch for next season. Photo: Getty Images

With the 2012 season officially in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead to 2013. Newly designed cars, faces in new places and a new champion set to defend his title are just some of the storylines to watch as we gear up for another exciting season of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing in 2013.

Here’s a look at 10 things to watch for next year:

It all starts at Daytona. Feb. 24, 2013. That’s when it all begins with the running of the 55th annual Daytona 500. Since 1998, only one driver (Jimmie Johnson in 2006) has won “The Great American Race” and gone on to win the championship in the same season. It has, however, provided breakout moments for the likes of Trevor Bayne (2010), Jamie McMurray (2009) and Michael Waltrip (twice).

“Gen 6” has arrived. The much-anticipated sixth-generation racecar will make its debut at February’s Daytona 500. The smaller, racier car should put control back in the driver’s hands with the hopes of providing tighter racing. Of course, there will be issues as the season wears on, but this season could come down to which teams figure things out the quickest.

NASCAR rules. Several rule changes will be implemented in 2013. For instance, the top- 35 rule will be eliminated and instead the top 36 positions will be set by qualifying speed with the remaining spots set by provisionals (car owner points rankings), including a champion’s provisional. There will also be a random draw to set the qualifying order and NASCAR will allow teams to test at four tracks – where NASCAR holds races – of its choosing for the first time since 2008. All of these changes are in the spirit of competition.

Can Bad Brad repeat as champion? Well, the simple answer is yes. He can. Will he? Well, that’s where it gets a little more complicated. The No. 2 Miller Lite (he likes that beer) Dodge was a fuel-mileage savior for Penske Racing this season, but that might change a bit in 2013. Penske is switching to Fords for 2013, which means Brad Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe will have some learning to do this offseason. But if we learned nothing else from Keselowski this past season, we know his work ethic and attention to detail is second to none.

Will the Bowyer/Gordon rivalry carryover? It’s likely this isn’t the beginning of a budding new feud that will match the likes of great NASCAR rivalries of the past. But, Clint Bowyer may feel like he owes Jeff Gordon one after what happened at Phoenix. After all, his unforgettable sprint to the No. 24 hauler was certainly entertaining, but there still might be some on-track business to be settled.

Danica watch. Right or wrong, Danica Patrick is a media darling and a fan favorite. But given her offseason off-the-track personal issues, there’s little doubt that she’s going to do everything she can to make sure the focus is back to her on-track abilities. Patrick finished a solid 10th while running full-time in the Nationwide Series this season and appears ready to take on the big boys every weekend in the Cup Series in 2013. And with Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman as teammates, it isn’t likely she’ll get pushed around too much.

Kenseth 2.0. His final days with Roush Fenway Racing were emotional for Matt Kenseth, but like a true champion he went out with dignity. Instead of packing it in, Kenseth won twice in the Chase and seemed rejuvenated over the final 10 races of the season. That’s good news for Joe Gibbs Racing, which inherits a former champion and a pilot that could show even more fire and passion with the likes of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin as teammates.

Carl vs. Kyle vs. Joey. Which non-2012 Chase driver has the best chance to make the playoff in 2013? All signs point to Kyle Busch, who finished the final 10 races with seven top-fives. But with Joey Logano moving to the now ultra-confident Penske Racing team and Carl Edwards needing desperately to erase a horrendous 2012, it’s not a stretch to believe all three will not only make the Chase, but compete for the championship next year.

Safer bet: Johnson or the Hendrick field? Dale Earnhardt Jr. has unfinished business. Kasey Kahne was a threat throughout the Chase. And Jeff Gordon showed he still has the fervor to be a champion. Then there’s Jimmie Johnson, whose once robotic, error-free team looked all too human over the final two weeks of the season. Make no mistake, Mr. Five-Time is still a threat, but his teammates might have something to say about his chances in 2013.

NASCAR returns to “The Magic Mile.” Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin will be back at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to defend their July and September titles, respectively. The New Hampshire 300 on July 14 comes one week after the series’ night return to Daytona and one race before its only stop at Indy, while the Sept. 22 race will once again be the second stop in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Will the eventual Cup champ begin his ascent at “The Magic Mile?”