With a new Gen-6 car, different rules and a whole new set of manufacturer, driver, and crew chief combinations NASCAR is hoping for a bounceback year in 2013. Will it happen, and will the ever-elusive parity of more than just Hendrick, Roush Fenway, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Penske come along with it? Can new faces …
*2013 Ride:* No. 5 Farmer’s Insurance Chevrolet (Hendrick Motorsports)
*Season With Team:* 2nd
*Crew Chief:* Kenny Francis
*Burning Question:* Can Kahne win a championship where he’s at?
In his first year at Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne finally found what he’d been lacking in his previous eight seasons in Sprint Cup — consistency. Would you believe that Kahne, considered one of the most talented young drivers in the sport, had only two points finishes in the top 10 before last season? And they were eighth and 10th.
Today’s Season Preview Topic: The Nationwide and Truck Series have become rich with young talent once again. Give us the one driver from within those two series you’re watching in 2013, and why.
P. Huston Ladner, Senior Writer: Nelson Piquet Jr., in Trucks, and Travis Pastrana in Nationwide. Piquet has started to show that he is a worthwhile talent in oval racing, after spending the past few years converting his abilities from F1. His win last year shows this maturation and the possibility for more. This year, he’ll again be driving the same equipment as the Truck’s reigning champions, James Buescher, and he should be a contender for the title. A foreign-born driver taking the title would be a big splash for the series and might be the kind of factor to help it maintain its existence and grow.
Today’s Season Preview Topic: Bruton Smith has said this January start-and-parking is detrimental to the sport and must be stopped. Do you agree with that statement, and if so, jump in Bruton’s shoes and give us an idea to stop it.
Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: I think start-and-parking has been a problem for years, done in part to make a profit and in part because teams feel hopeless. If you’re no better than a 35th-place car, and the difference between that and 34th in the purse won’t get you an extra set of tires then why finish the race?
I think that mentality was partially addressed by NASCAR through redistributing the purse. But cutting money for 39th through 43rd by $4,000 isn’t enough.
*2013 Ride:* No. 24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont Chevrolet (Hendrick Motorsports)
*Season With Team:* 21st
*Crew Chief:* Alan Gustafson
*Burning Question:* Will Gordon ever win another title?
It’s hard to believe that Gordon hasn’t won a Cup title in 12 years, but it’s true. The only driver to go that long between championships was his former teammate at Hendrick, Terry Labonte, who won his first in 1984 and beat out Gordon for his second in 1996. Gordon put up strong bids to win his fifth championship in 2004 — the first year of The Chase — then three years later, setting a modern-era record for top-10 finishes (30) to go along with ten wins but fell short to others on both occasions.
*2013 Ride:* No. 99 AFLAC/Fastenal Ford (Roush Fenway Racing)
*Season With Team:* 10th (ninth full season)
*Crew Chief:* Jimmy Fennig
*Burning Question:* Is Jimmy Fennig the solution?
After Matt Kenseth struggled a little at the start of the 2010 season, Jack Roush replaced Todd Parrott atop the pit box with the veteran Fennig. It proved to be a successful partnership as Kenseth had points finishes of fifth, fourth and seventh in the last three seasons with Fennig calling the shots.
Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: I feel a bit more positive on this issue than I did two weeks ago. There has been a sudden jump in announcements as of late for the smaller teams, from Tommy Baldwin’s two-car organization to Swan Racing’s No. 30 that makes me think new deals with companies are still possible.
The problem to me, in a nutshell is Hendrick’s attitude towards the No. 88 car. The owner is claiming companies are lining up in droves to back Earnhardt but he just hasn’t found the right fit, pushing him to the point he’ll even fund the ride out of pocket if necessary. That leaves us with two realities. One, Hendrick is full of you-know-what and the car, which at one time I’ve been told had $40 million in cash getting pumped to it has priced itself out of the market.
Today’s Season Preview Topic: Jimmie Johnson has now gone two years without a championship after winning five in a row. Does the team need to change anything for 2013 or is it simply a case of bad luck catching up with them?
Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: I’m sure many NASCAR-ites are reading this question and groaning. There’s no question Johnson, outside of his rabid fan base has become Public Enemy No. 1 for the old school crowd’s complaints about everything from the sport becoming too politically correct to a potential double standard amongst crew chiefs. But for Johnson, 2013 is a crucial year if he’s looking to inch closer to that iconic mark of seven titles. If you look at the careers of the men he’s chasing, Petty and Earnhardt once they hit their prime there were never huge gaps in between first place…
*2013 Ride:* No. 43 Smithfield Foods Ford (Richard Petty Motorsports)
*Season With Team:* 2nd
*Crew Chief:* Todd Parrott
*Burning Question:* Can Almirola get it done in Sprint Cup?
Richard Petty Motorsports’ selection of Almirola before the start of 2012 was a bit of a head-scratcher. Almirola had just come off of a mediocre season in the Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports, in which he failed to win a race (or really even come close). Drivers such as Brian Vickers, Trevor Bayne and maybe even Ricky Stenhouse were available as quality alternatives.
Today’s Season Preview Topic: There’s only a handful of drivers in new rides this season, but they all have big names attached to them. Which driver within that group has the most to prove entering the 2013 season, and why?
Brett Poirier, Senior Writer: Easily Joey Logano. Joe Gibbs Racing gave up on him as a Sprint Cup driver, but he’s been given a second chance with Penske. He’s entering his fifth full season in Cup and has little to show for his time — two wins and no points finish inside the top 15. Logano has more potential than any young driver I can think of, and he’s only 22. Kyle Busch was 22 when he left Hendrick for Gibbs in 2008 and became a star. Logano needs to prove he is capable of doing the same. While he is still very young, if he does fail with Penske, then what would be next? It would be highly improbable for Logano to land another ride with a top-tier team if this one doesn’t work out. The pressure is on to perform now.
Today’s Season Preview Topic: All we’ve heard about this offseason is the Gen-6, Gen-6, Gen-6 and how it’s ready to fix NASCAR’s problems. Based on what you’ve seen in testing, heard from teams or through your sources will the car be as competitive as we’re being told? Also, will we see some of the underdogs break through, creating parity versus the upper-class teams or will the Hendricks, Roushs, etc. have the edge?
Mike Neff, Short Track Editor: The Gen-6 car is definitely an upgrade from the CoT. It appears as though there is more downforce on the front of the car along with greater mechanical grip. Crew chiefs are telling us that the increased downforce will make it easier to get close to a car and actually pull out and pass. That would seem counterintuitive, though because increased downforce would seem to require more air on the nose. The one thing that does seem to be true is that the car is harder to drive. That means it will put a greater emphasis on driver ability and a good driver will be able to do things with the car to make it respond.