The 2013 Sprint Cup season will offer a new landscape in an assortment of ways.
First and foremost, there is the new car and the mystery it brings. The primary idea behind the Gen-Six racer is improved racing, particularly at the circuit’s 1.5-mile tracks. To use a frequently employed NASCAR phrase, it’s likely to be a work in progress.
How drivers and team adapt to the new car is likely to set the tone for the season and determine which drivers ride the elevator up the standings – and which ones fall short of expectations.
Here’s a look at five drivers likely to make significant forward moves this year:
1. CARL EDWARDS – Although Edwards almost won the championship in 2011, he has won only one race the past two seasons. Most strikingly, he finished a mediocre 15th in points last year. If he doesn’t make a large move forward this year, there will be many questions to answer.
2. MATT KENSETH – Kenseth had a very successful final season at Roush Fenway Racing, winning three times and finishing seventh in points. In only a few weeks of testing and adjustment at his new team, Joe Gibbs Racing, he has shown the smarts of a veteran and figures to be in the championship hunt this year.
3. KYLE BUSCH – No Chase? Only one win? Four DNFs? These are not Kyle Busch numbers. But they appeared beside his name last season. Look for the fire to return this year.
4. DALE EARNHARDT JR. – The winless streak, a major albatross, finally ended for Junior. Now he and crew chief Steve Letarte expect to jump to the next level – multiple wins and a shot at the title.
5. TONY STEWART – Stewart was mostly silent last year in his quest to repeat the 2011 championship. His history indicates he isn’t quiet for long periods.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.