This weekend starts the real NASCAR season, after fans got a preview with the Sprint Unlimited last weekend. All three NASCAR national touring series have their first points event this weekend at the Daytona International Speedway.
There are so many stories entering this 2013 season, many of them involving the Sprint Cup Series. 2013 is the first year using the ‘Gen-6’ car, Danica-mania reaches the Sprint Cup Series full-time, and television coverage negotiations will take place.
The new ‘Gen-6’ car is designed to take NASCAR back to its roots. While continuing an emphasis on safety, the new car is designed to look more like the show room model at any car dealership in the country. Fans and casual viewers should be able to identify a cars make, just by looking at it. The hope is that it is a return to what wins on Sunday, sells on Monday.
The unknown is how well this car will race and affect the overall on-track product. While it is tough to tell at Daytona, the next few weeks will be critical in seeing what the racing looks like.
After running the full Nationwide Series schedule and a part-time Cup schedule in 2012, Danica Patrick moves to the Sprint Cup Series full-time in 2013. While people differ on how well she will do, there is little doubt that she can drive a race car. The only question, can she compete?
What she does allow is for the media to jump on this topic as a regular discussion. The reason: people want to hear about this, and it makes for a good story. This is no more evident than her winning the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500. People want to know about Danica.
Now, people also want to look into her personal life. Just before the season began, the relationship between Patrick and fellow Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Candidate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went public. This has now created the dynamic of how they will race each other and what happens if they break up. This is an interesting topic, because this has never come up before (that we know of).
The final big topic in 2013 is the upcoming television negotiations. The current deal runs through the 2014 season. FOX has already re-signed long-term for coverage of the first part of the Cup schedule and the Camping World Truck Series. ESPN and TNT have not.
That is one of the reasons this season is so critical. Ratings are not good, race attendance is not good. These networks want to make sure they are getting a return on their investment. It’s one of the reasons, whether you love it or hate it, the Danica Patrick story will stick around.
Depending on who you talk to, you get a different story on where the negotiations are, and who is all involved. NBC and CBS could also jump into the negotiations for the rest of the Sprint Cup schedule and Nationwide Series.
Now for predictions in each series:
2013 Sprint Cup Series
Champion: Denny Hamlin
Don’t be surprised though if: Jeff Gordon
Breakthrough Driver: Joey Logano
You would kind of think it’s weird to have Jeff Gordon in the underdog category, but it has been a struggle some for the four-time champion. There have been flashes of THE old Jeff Gordon, but there have also been times of AN old Jeff Gordon. There is no denying that he knows how to win races, but it has been awhile since he’s put an entire, consistent season together.
Denny Hamlin is in a position to finally grab what has been eluding him. He has been so close, and more importantly, he’s learned how to lose a championship. Ever since his then-Busch Series (now-Nationwide) debut at Darlington several years ago, where he finished in the top-10, I’ve known that this guy would be successful. He finally gets the job done.
Former Gibbs-teammate Joey Logano moves to Penske Racing and is now a teammate of defending champion Brad Keselowski. Logano is finally out from the shadow of replacing Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing, and should break-out in 2013. Again, there is no denying that Logano can drive a race car.
2013 Nationwide Series
Champion: Austin Dillon
Don’t be surprised though if: Brian Vickers
Breakthrough Driver: Michael Annett
If Austin Dillon’s career path tells us anything, it is that his second full season in a series, is usually the one he wins it all. Dillon was a contender for the championship in 2012 down until the end. The grandson of legendary car owner Richard Childress should be able to take his experience of losing a championship last year, to win it this year.
Brian Vickers returns to the Nationwide Series in 2013, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Many people forget the Vickers is a past series champion, winning it ten years ago when he was just 20-years old. Vickers was extremely competitive in a limited schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing in the Cup Series last year, making expectations high for the veteran driver. He will again run a limited schedule for Waltrip, in the car primarily driven by Mark Martin.
Michael Annett went to Daytona last year with a team that formed in the days before the season started. As the season went on, the Richard Petty Motorsports team and driver continued to get stronger and run more consistently. Don’t be surprised if Annett wins a race or two, and is contending for the 2013 championship.
2013 Camping World Truck Series
Champion: Ty Dillon
Don’t be surprised though if: James Buescher
Breakthrough Driver: Joey Coulter
Ty Dillon, Austin’s younger brother, might actually be the better brother. He is entering his second season in the Truck Series, and learned last year how to lose a championship. Now that he has the experience, it could be a big year for Ty.
It does seem weird to put the defending series champion, James Buescher, in the dark horse category. However, one of the hardest things to do is to win back-to-back championships. Surprisingly, Buescher announced he would run a full schedule again in NASCAR’s third tier series, despite winning the championship. Based on some past drivers, it doesn’t hurt to be well seasoned, before making a leap to the next series.
It’s kind of hard to get a fair deal when you are a driver on a team who also has the owner’s grandson on it. That is the situation where Joey Coulter found himself. This year he moves over to Kyle Busch Motorsports to run its flagship No. 18. Coulter showed flashes of his talent last season, and now being the leading driver, and not in the shadow of Ty Dillon, it should be a great season for Coulter.
There you have it, predictions on all three series, before the first green flag of a points event drops in 2013.