The first race proved that a lot of changes were a good thing
The first race proved that a lot of changes were a good thing


By Bruce Cameron

Keselowski/Penske to Ford
Brad Keslowski marked a huge triumph, beating five-time champion Jimmie Johnson for the Sprint Cup championship last year. Penske Racing will now embark on their next greatest challenges, adjusting to a new car and new personnel. Penske has switched manufacturers, moving from Dodge to Ford. This is Keselowski’s first time ever driving a Ford. The Ford lineup also includes Roush Fenway and Richard Petty Motorsports.

Kenseth to Gibbs
For the past decade, 2003 champion Matt Kenseth has been a consistent winner and frequent title contender for Roush. Now he will see if he can maintain that excellence with Gibbs replacing the struggling young Joey Logano.

Kenseth, who had 24 career victories at Roush, won three races in each of the past two seasons — including last year’s Daytona 500 — and made the Chase the past three years.

Edwards gets new crew chief
In 2012, Edwards went winless and failed to qualify for the Chase. It was the third time that he has gone winless after a big year prior. This time he will try to come back with a new crew chief. Veteran Jimmy Fennig, who has worked with  such all-time greats as Bobby Allison and Mark Martin, led Kurt Busch to the 2004 championship and won six races in the past two seasons with Matt Kenseth.

Danica runs a full schedule
After three agonizing years in the Nationwide Series, Danica Patrick will run her first full Sprint Cup schedule in 2013, driving the No. 10 car for Stewart-Haas. This is a do-over and she has plenty to prove. Time will tell if she’s graduated into the Cup too quickly.

After minimal success in the Nationwide Series, Patrick struggled in her first 10 Cup races last year, finishing 28th or worse, seven times, and finishing on the lead lap only once.

Patrick will be paired with Gibson and that should be  encouraging since she scored her best Cup finishes with the veteran crew chief. Her biggest challenge, though, may be  just qualifying for races. Under NASCAR’s new qualifying rules, she may have to make most races on speed, which means she will have to get up to speed quickly — which has been a weakness so far.

Nationwide champion Stenhouse to Cup Rookie
After winning consecutive Nationwide championships, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will get his first shot at Sprint Cup, replacing Kenseth in Roush’s No. 17 car.

Stenhouse is considered a future star, with teammate Carl Edwards predicting he will win a Cup championship one day. He is a wellqualified rookie coming in with 8 wins, 52 top 10’s and seven poles in 67 starts. Roush Fenway has a long history of developing NASCAR stars — Martin, Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Edwards. Stenhouse could be the next to make his mark.

Kurt Busch gets yet another fresh start
The past two years have been nothing short of failed mental meltdowns for Kurt Busch. After struggling in the Chase in  2010 and 2011 and losing control of his emotions in 2011, he was released by Penske at the end of the season. If that  wasn’t bad enough, 2012 was quite the fail.

He spent most of the year with the very small-Phoenix Racing Team, where he scored just two top-10 finishes and fell to 26th in points. He also continued to struggle to control his temper. He was placed on probation for an altercation with Newman’s team early in the year and then was suspended for a race for threatening a journalist in June.

In 2013 Busch left the Phoenix team and started over with Furniture Row Racing, another single-car team. Good luck with that.

Regan Smith gets new opportunity
When Furniture Row hired Kurt Busch, it left Regan Smith without a ride and with an uncertain future. Smith filled in admirably for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports, Smith was named to drive for Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports Nationwide team in 2013. Smith got a head start on 2013 when he won the Nationwide season finale at  Homestead for JRM.

Since losing his ride at Furniture Row Racing to Kurt Busch, Smith has taken the Elliott Sadler route back to the  Nationwide Series in order to re-establish himself as worthy of a top Cup ride. Smith, who also will run some Cup races for Phoenix Racing, is expected to perform well for JRM as well as head a star-studded Nationwide field in 2013.