Today, the story of 2013 is unwritten and untold; a blank slate. There will be those events we saw coming, and many more that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. At the outset, here are drivers who bear watching; who, at this point, are more likely to be the story makers of the the NASCAR season to come….
1. Kevin Harvick- Word has it the one-time Busch Series champion and successor to Dale Earnhardt at RCR is moving on after 2013. We have every reason to expect Harvick will be a true professional to the very end, but what if the problems that plagued him in the past, the problems that caused friction between he and owner Richard Childress before, rear their heads again? Will the marriage suffer early termination?
2. Clint Bowyer- Truth be told, Bowyer likely exceeded his own expectations in his first year at Michael Waltrip Racing. Has his team attained a higher level? Was it a mirage? What of his “feud” with Jeff Gordon?
3. Brad Keselowski- He’s not the snot-nosed kid anymore; Bad Brad is the reigning champion. No longer the hunter, Keselowski is the hunted.
4. Matt Kenseth- For the first time in his Cup career, the one-time champion is starting over. No two organizations could be more different than Joe Gibbs and Jack Roush; certainly Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are very different teammates than Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards were at Roush. we’re not saying good, we’re not saying bad. We’re saying different.
5. Kasey Kahne- Once he got untracked, Kahne was bad fast in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports. This could be the year Kasey raises Kahne to a championship. All the ingredients are there.
6. Jeff Burton- “The Mayor” is the quintessential journeyman driver. While he hasn’t always been a headliner, anyone who knows can tell you he’s been a consistent finisher throughout most of his career. 2012 marked a down year overall at RCR, and it would seem Burton is at a crossroads. Does he have anything left?
7. Carl Edwards- He may have been the 2011 runner-up, but let’s face it, he hardly got there in spectacular fashion. Some swear there’s a hangover the following season for a runner-up, and it Edwards did nothing to dissuade that perception last season. Now what? Cousin Carl has been Jack Roush’s shiny pony for years. Is the bloom off the rose?
8. Kyle Busch- It’s hard to imagine it will be another quiet season for NASCAR’s version of the Energizer Bunny. Either he will return to contending form soon, or he’s going to blow….maybe not?
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.- Is this the year? Being a Junior Fan has become a bit like being a Chicago Cubs fan. You want to believe, but don’t want your heart broken. He’s been trending the right direction with crew chief Steve Letarte.
10. Danica Patrick- Let’s just go ahead and get it out there. To hear some in the media tell it, we may be in for a revelation this season. Do they know something, or are they just giving themselves an excuse to talk?
11. Martin Truex Jr.- While he didn’t have any wins for his troubles, 2012 was a big step in the right direction for the New Jersey native, as he made the Chase. Can he clinch the deal? Is it another case of so close, but yet so far?
12. Jeff Gordon- Is there a Drive For Five in store?
13. Jimmie Johnson- Forget Darrell Waltrip, here’s NASCAR’s version of Jaws. Just when you think you’ve seen the last of him, he comes roaring back.
Jim McCoy is a radio and television sports reporter and producer in Southern Oregon, where he makes his home with his wife and three children. Jim is also a radio play-by-play announcer for high school football, baseball and basketball. He was recently named Oregon Association of Broadcasters 2012 Sports Announcer of The Year- Non-commercial Division.
Other stories by Jim McCoy include......
"Cautious Optimism" The Operative Phrase for The New Car
Our NASCAR Top 12 Stories From 2012
Johanna Long Just Wants To Be One Of The Boys