A wise man once said… the waiting is the hardest part.
As a NASCAR fanatic the winter months seem to drag on forever, and I’m itching to hear the two part harmony between the melodic roar of the engines and those glorious words: Gentleman, start your engines!
We’re less than a month away from Daytona and in an attempt to make these agonizing last few weeks roll by quickly, I’m basking in the anticipation of what promises to be another captivating Sprint Cup season chock full of intense competition, narratives and subplots that will keep us buzzing all the way through the Chase in November.
Here’s ten storylines for the 2013 season that I’m eagerly awaiting in the days before the green flag flies and the tires start spinning at Daytona on February 24.
Following a meteoric two-year rise from a rank-and-file driver to a contender and then a champion, Brad Keselowski will be looking to hoist another Sprint Cup title in 2013, but to do so he’ll have to adapt to a new engine as the #2 Miller Lite and the rest of the Penske Racing team has left Dodge in the rearview mirror and will now be racing with a Ford engine under the hood.
How Brad adapts to the change early in the in the 2013 season may give us an early indication if he is destined to become more of a Johnson/Stewart multiple championship winner or a Bobby Labonte one-and-done champion.
My hunch is that Keselowski will be much more like the former than the latter. The kid’s legit and has the swagger and confidence that racing legends are made of.
Two perennial Cup contenders had horrendously disappointing seasons in 2012, and Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch will be looking to wipe the proverbial egg of their face with a bounce-back 2013 campaign. It was only a year and a half ago that “Shrub” and “Cuz” were the toast of the NASCAR world, winning multiple races in 2011 and being considered Cup frontrunners. Busch fell flat on his face early in the ’11 chase, and Edwards had one of the most heartbreaking collapses in NASCAR history when he was edged out of the title spot by Tony Stewart in the final race of the year.
The hangover continued for both in the 2012 season as both failed to make the Chase, though Busch did finish strong by stringing together several top 10 finishes to close the year. Edwards was an enigma all season, and now will head into 2013 with a new crew chief and strong desire to put his hideous 2012 in the rearview mirror.
My guess is that both of these guys rebound and work their way back into the Chase this year; whether or not either can fulfill their promise and hoist a trophy is a much more difficult question.
After winning five straight championships, Jimmy Johnson’s two year title drought must have felt like an eternity for the #48’s many fans. And Tony Stewart was less than pleased to have given his rooters a 9th place finish as an encore to his 2011 championship.
Will these two top guns be in the mix for yet another title this year? I certainly wouldn’t bet against either.
Dale and Jeff
Two of the NASCAR’s most popular drivers seem to be heading in different directions as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. turned in one of his best seasons in years in 2012 and appears poised to be a contender again in 2013. Meanwhile, Jeff Gordon snuck into the Chase last year by the hair on his chinny-chin-chin, only to become a non-factor in the championship contest. Does the aging Gordon have what it takes to still be one of the dominant racers, or is he past his prime?
I’ll go out on a limb and predict the latter, as Gordon will fail to win a race or make the Chase in 2013 (flame away, #24 fans!).
The latest NASCAR car that will be unveiled in 2013 – the Gen6 – has been getting rave reviews for the way it looks. Drivers and fans alike are thrilled with the carbon fiber decklids and hoods have proven popular for their increasing resemblance to production cars.
What remains to be seen is which manufacturers can best take advantage of the newer car’s potential for improving downforce and mechanical grip.
Despite test runs having already gotten underway – including one that ended in a 12-car pileup – nobody will be quite certain which teams have made the most of the transition until the engines fire up at Daytona next month.
By Jack Payton, NASCAR commentator and automotive writer whose work appears on behalf of online tires retailer tires-easy.com