To me, much of the buzz over the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup season centers on the new cars, of course, and those drivers who will most likely contend for the 2013 championship.
Now, as to the 2013 cars, – which have gained almost universal fan support because, by golly, they look much more like what’s in the family garage – we’ll learn a great deal about their performance capabilities after the conclusion of testing at Daytona.
As for the championship contenders, well, it doesn’t take a genius to make predictions. I mean, who can deny that five-time champ Jimmie Johnson is going to be in the middle of the mix in 2013?
Brad Keselowski, the 2012 champ, may have snuck up on us over the last three years, but he’ll be in plain sight this season. A contender? Certainly and, for a change, that won’t surprise anyone.
There’s no real reason to think Clint Bowyer won’t figure in the hunt. He had his best year in 2012 – his first with Michael Waltrip Racing – and momentum has to count for something.
When it comes to title contention, pundits and fans alike always toss out the expected names – like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin, for example.
But, as we have seen so many times in the past, some drivers trumpeted as certain championship combatants instead take a direct shot to the chin. The result? They suffer a season of unanticipated mediocrity. They don’t come close to a title.
I think there is a sizable handful of drivers who have to consider their 2013 seasons as opportunities for redemption.
A title would be nice, of course, but what is more important is to perform well enough to regain the spotlight; to restore lost luster – and in some cases, even to hold onto a job.
Let’s use the old cliché. For some drivers, 2013 has to be the ol’ “comeback” season.
Carl Edwards could use one.
Edwards certainly was in the spotlight in 2011. He was part of NASCAR history. In the closest battle for a championship in the sanctioning body’s history, Edwards and Stewart were tied in the final point standings, each with 2,403.
For the first time ever, a tiebreaker was used and it gave Stewart the title by virtue of his five wins to just one for Edwards.
Even so, Edwards, the Roush Fenway Racing driver, entered 2012 as a sure bet to either win the championship or be firmly in the center of the scrap.
Instead he wasn’t the center of anything other than reports on how the mighty can fall.
Edwards didn’t win a race in 2012. He had only three top-five finishes (he had 19 in 2011). He was woefully out of the Chase and in 15th place by season’s end.
That Edwards followed up a stellar season with a real dud isn’t anything new for him. In 2008 he finished second in points to Johnson with a season-high nine victories.
Again a rousing followup campaign was anticipated. But in 2009 Edwards ended up in11th place and, remarkably, did not win a single race.
If this trend continues, 2013 should be an “up” year for Edwards. He’ll have veteran Jimmy Fennig as his crew chief – Fennig worked with Matt Kenseth in the 2003 championship season – and it’s logical to assume that the new association should produce results. But notice the word “should.”
What about the Busch brothers?
For several seasons Kyle, the younger, has provided ample evidence that he was solid championship material.
From 2005-2012 he won 24 Sprint Cup races and, oh, a few dozen more on the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.
He was, and is, a natural. To win a championship seemed, for him, merely a matter of time.
But last year was not that time. Not at all.
He won only once for Joe Gibbs Racing in Sprint Cup competition and entered 22 races with his own Nationwide team. Remarkably, he went winless.
Worst of all, he missed the Chase for the first time since 2009, giving way to Gordon after another unfortunate performance in the September Richmond race.
Afterward, Kyle rallied in the last races of the year as he compiled seven top-10 finishes in the final eight events of the season.
To me, for Kyle, the 2012 season was merely a stumble and not a face plant. For him not to return to the Chase in 2013 and even make a run at a title is hard to imagine.
It’s not the same for older brother Kurt.
He finished 25th in points last year racing for Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Motorsports. That’s quite a drop for a guy who won the 2004 championship with one of NASCAR’s elite teams, Roush.
The elder Busch’s descent has much less to do with his driving skills that it does his personality and behavior.
He’s never been able to curb his emotions or keep his temper in check. He’s never been able to shake his images of arrogance and immaturity.
These traits, I feel, have caused him to tumble from the elite of NASCAR to teams that, with all due respect, are nowhere near equal in resources and talent.
And if we see a familiar Kurt in 2013 – the one we have seen for so long now – well, what happens next?
In NASCAR his career will certainly will not trend upward. He may have passed that point already. He could be gone.
What he needs most is a respectable, controversy-free season. It appears 2013 is, for him, a very important reclamation project of which performance, and behavior, will matter a great deal.
Jeff Burton needs a much-improved 2013 with Richard Childress Racing, a team that, by the way, also needs to get better.
Burton has had just four top-five finishes in the last two seasons. He has not won. He was 19th in points last season.
The 45-year-old Virginian has become a driver whose successes in the past have been largely forgotten – well, overlooked. He’s now a guy some think is just hanging on until he finds something else to do.
It won’t be long before Burton does just that. But not now.
If he can make 2013 a more productive season, one in which he escapes mediocrity, the chances are good that when he decides to move on it will be with a bang and not a whimper.
I fully believe that is exactly what he wants – and, I might add, deserves.
Hello, Kasey Kahne. You won twice last year and finished fourth in points with Hendrick. Nice work.
Given that, I think you know what is expected of you in 2013. Yeah, we all know what can happen. But now is your time.
Many believe you can win a championship. I don’t doubt that. Now prove it. And in so doing, make female hearts throb much louder and quicker.
Yeah, I have to mention Dale Earnhardt Jr. He enticed his legions of fans last year with his solid performances, including a long-awaited victory, and his steady position in the Chase.
It was all taken away when he had to sit out two races because of a concussion – which, by the way, was one of the smartest career moves he could have made.
He was never a factor in the Chase and wound up in 12th place.
That was then, this is now. Given the potential he displayed last year I think it is fair to say his legion of fans expect even better in 2013 – especially if he stays healthy.
Know what? I think he does, too. He may not evolve into a championship contender (although many think he will), but if he ends up in the Chase with multiple victories, he will have shown us all what he and his Hendrick team can do – at last.
And to my way of thinking that is of great importance.
It’s his way of thinking too, incidentally.