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2013 Sprint Cup Team Previews

2013 Sprint Cup Team Previews

Team Preview: Swan Racing
By: Jeff Wackerlin

After making a number of off-season moves, Swan Racing is ready to run full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and shed its "start-and-park" image.

The team formerly known as Inception Motorsports has been purchased by Brandon Davis, CEO of Swan Energy, Inc., and will once again have David Stremme behind the wheel of the No. 30 Toyota.

"Swan Racing is here to race competitively every week.  The days of starting and parking are over," Davis said.  "I'm confident we're putting together the personnel to one day produce a championship contender."

Davis hired veterans Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief) and Steve Hmiel (competition director), and has former NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski signed on as a minority owner.  The team, which made last year’s Daytona 500 with a small crew and finished 37th, has doubled in size.

Swan Energy will be the primary sponsor for a majority of the races.  Romanowski’s health supplement company, Nutrition53, will be the primary in 10 events - the first coming at Texas Motor Speedway in April.

"Brandon’s got a lot through his business - Swan Energy - that I think he can bring to the table," Stremme said.  "They see the benefits of (creating) brand awareness, being on the car and being at the track." (audio)

David StremmeWith a busy off-season preparing the new Gen-6 Toyotas and spending time in the wind tunnel, Stremme took to the track for the first time in NASCAR's pre-season test sessions at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Jan. 18.

After helping build up and compete for the Inception team over the past two seasons on basically a "start-and-park" basis, Stremme will now have his first opportunity to run all the laps since driving for Roger Penske in 2009.

“It's rewarding,” Stremme said.  “A lot of hard work has gone into it.  To be able to race all the time ... I can take a big sigh of relief, I guess you would say, because it sucks having to pull in.  None of us want to do it.  As a driver, it's going to feel good knowing we can go race and run the whole distance.” (audio)

However, Stremme will have to wait one race to take the green flag in 2013.  The team has tabbed two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip to help jump-start the team for the season opener at Daytona.

"This is a one-time deal,” Stremme said.  “At the end of the day, it’s about the relationships Michael and I had before off-track as friends, but also in the Toyota relationship.  We're a very young team.  Brandon has done a lot.  You have to look at the big picture.  I’m not going to run the '500,' but we have to look at the strength of this team and what we can do for longevity of it.” (audio)

Waltrip is looking forward to not only helping Swan Racing but also having the opportunity to work with Eury Jr. and Hmiel, who he worked with when he was driving for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

"It's going to be a reunion of when we won a few of these things," Waltrip said.  "I know some other faces from DEI that Brandon and David have put together.  It’s an amazing team they started, and I’m hoping that my driving the car can help them get sponsors and help jump-start what's going to be a very exciting year for the team." (audio)

Seeing teams like Michael Waltrip Racing grow into successful Sprint Cup organizations encourages both Davis and Stremme.

"I look up to him (Waltrip), Ty Norris (MWR’s executive vice-president of business development and general manager), Rob Kauffman (MWR co-owner) and all those guys because it's difficult to do what they've done," Stremme said. (audio)

Not only does Davis have the Sprint Cup team, he also competes in the United States Modified Touring Series.

"He’s a racer," Stremme said.  "I love it.  He still gets in a dirt car and drives.  I’m a grassroots kind of guy, so it’s really cool.

"The big thing is the focus and outlook of everything.  It's not just what’s going on in six months.  We have a three- to five-year plan.  It’s awesome that I’m going to be able to be part of it and that he chose me to drive the car.  Just everything involved ... I still get to come in and work in the shop.  That’s a big part of it for me."

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Re: 2013 Sprint Cup Team Previews

Team Preview: BK Racing
By: John Singler

Travis Kvapil and David Reutimann won’t celebrate birthdays until March, but candle and cake might still be somewhere in their plans this weekend.

It was one year ago yesterday – on Feb. 1, 2012 – that BK Racing was born. 367 days later, the organization stands on the threshold of its second season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – with Kvapil and Reutimann behind the wheel of the team’s Toyotas.

“I’m excited to continue what we started then,” says Kvapil, who’s returning to the No. 93 Camry. “Having a year under our belts puts us in a much better position than we were in a year ago. It’ll be a little bit of a thrash for the first couple months of the season, but we have direction and we know where we’re headed.”

Like every other Cup Series team, they’re headed to Daytona for Budweiser Speedweeks – which is now just two weeks away. This year is dramatically different from 2012, when BKR went into the season with no testing and scrambled to get ready for the 36-race grind.

Director of Competition Mike Ford – a veteran who’s been part of 21 wins as a Sprint Cup Series crew chief – admits that the season-opening Daytona 500 poses a big challenge for the young organization, but sees a path to progress through March and beyond.

“This team is set up with the long view in mind – obviously trying to work through some short-term issues, but we’re looking down the road rather than right in front of our noses,” Ford said. “As it comes together, Speedweeks is the farthest thing from our minds. I don’t feel like we’re going to be a threat this year, but in years to come I see us growing and becoming stronger.”

For the record, BKR will field two cars at Daytona with Reutimann scheduled to drive the No. 83 entry vacated by Landon Cassill during the off-season. Kvapil returns to the No. 93 which he drove in 34 races last season.

“One of our goals is to finish races consistently in the top 20,” said Kvapil, whose best 2012 run was eighth in the fall stop at Talladega Superspeedway. “This team has a ton of potential, the ownership group is committed, and we have great support with Burger King and Dr. Pepper behind us. The sky’s the limit.”

Kvapil’s efforts last year left the No. 93 team 28th in the final owner’s point standings, which may help secure starting spots in the first three races of the new season should he not qualify on speed.

The 2013 season will be Kvapil’s ninth in the Sprint Cup Series. He has 210 career starts with a best finish of sixth, also at Talladega in 2008.

Reutimann, embarking on his seventh year of Cup competition, moves over to BK Racing after driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing for most of the 2012 campaign. Ironically, one of his 25 starts last year came behind the wheel of the No. 93 BKR Toyota in May at Darlington Raceway – where Reutimann finished 36th.

He’s scheduled to make his 200th career Cup Series start on March 17 at Bristol Motor Speedway and will be working with veteran crew chief Pat Tryson. Todd Anderson is returning as Kvapil’s crew chief and Doug Richert’s responsibilities have shifted from crew chief to supervision of both teams.

“I feel good about the (changes) we’ve made in the off-season,” said team owner Ron Devine. “We’ve brought winning, experienced management on board to guide us. Doug (Richert) will be even more valuable to us now, helping out Pat (Tryson) and Todd (Anderson) with their teams. The hiring of Mike Ford as our director of competition strengthens what BK Racing needs to move forward.”

Ford likes the attitude around the BKR shops.

“This is what racing should be,” he said. “We can see where we want to go over time and we’re working on that. It’s very difficult when you’re competitive and you want to have everything you need at your fingertips. The reality is that Ron has put a start-up team in front of us and we’re looking to grow.”

As Ford heads into the new season, he relishes the role of an underdog.

“We’re competing against teams that have been around for a really long time,” he notes. “We’re growing a program. To me, this is what’s fun. We have a lot of good people and this is grassroots racing at its finest, right here.”

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Re: 2013 Sprint Cup Team Previews

Team Preview: Tommy Baldwin Racing
By: Pete Pistone

Tommy Baldwin Racing enters the 2013 season hoping to move into the next phase of the team’s evolution as a full-time Sprint Cup Series operation.

Team owner Baldwin will again field a ride for veteran Dave Blaney with JJ Yeley set in an additional entry for as many races possible pending sponsorship.  Baldwin will also return to the crew chief role when he calls the shots for the No. 7 team.

“Tommy and I already have a great deal of respect for each other,” Blaney said. “He has a long list of accomplishments as a crew chief, and I am very excited to have him atop the pit box for the No. 7 Chevrolet SS this year.”

Blaney made 34 starts for the team and finished 33rd in the final point standings last season. The veteran driver's best effort came in the season-opening Daytona 500, when he finished 15th.

Blaney found himself in the lead of the race when the red flag flew after Juan Pablo Montoya made impact with a jet dryer to ignite a huge fire. During the two-hour delay, Blaney was the topic of conversation as a potential race winner had NASCAR not been able to return the track to racing condition.

The race eventually resumed, and Blaney finished 15th.

“During the red flag, a lot of things went through my mind,” Blaney recalled. “There is no way you expect they are going to call it off, so I didn't think they would. But then, I kept watching the track workers, and it was hard to tell. Most of the drivers around me thought it was going to get it called off, but I didn't. I was disappointed for about 10 seconds when we had to pit with one to go, but that was it. I'm just glad we had the finish we had and got a lot of good exposure for our team.”

The former World of Outlaws standout returns for the new campaign in a TBR entry that will sport the number 7, a tribute to Baldwin’s late father Tom Sr. who was a standout NASCAR modified driver.

7 car"It is a very special moment today to announce the number 7 on our Chevrolet SS,” Baldwin said of the number change. “The number has been in the Baldwin family for a long time and it is going to be pretty special to carry on that legacy in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series."

TBR has made several sponsorship announcements during the off-season and has funding in place for the No. 7 Chevy SS.

Florida Lottery will sponsor Blaney in the season-opening Daytona 500 and then return at Daytona in July and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Industrial equipment company SANY America will serve as the primary sponsor for 14 Sprint Cup Series events and associate partner for 22 races, starting with the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 3rd.

“We’re working hard to get this team up the competitive ladder as best we can,” Baldwin said. “The behind the scenes work to bring on companies to be part of this race team and help us meet our goals has been phenomenal. We’re really looking forward to what lies ahead in the new season.”

JJ YeleyYeley will take the wheel of the No. 36 TBR Chevrolet and popular sponsor Golden Corral returns for four restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega.

This will mark the third year that the Raleigh, N.C. based company has been a partner with TBR. 

Also returning is the popular "Top 10 Kids Eat Free" promotion.

Each time Yeley finishes in the top 10, Golden Corral will offer a one-day "Kids Eat Free" promotion called "J.J.'s Mondays" on the Monday immediately following the top-10 event.

United Mining Equipment will be a primary sponsor for three races in 2013. The Butler, PA-based company will be on board for both races at Bristol Motor Speedway, and the annual summer race at Kentucky Speedway. 
And Accell Construction will be back with TBR and the No. 36 for six races in 2013.

“We’ve got a lot of good things happening at TBR right now,” said Yeley, who made three starts for the team last year. “We’re excited to be back and looking to make things even better as the season goes on.”

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Re: 2013 Sprint Cup Team Previews

Team Preview: Germain Racing
By: Jeff Wackerlin

Germain Racing heads into the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season looking to build off its best finish in the Cup standings.

Last year, Germain finished 29th with driver Casey Mears.  It marked the first time the team competed in all 36 races.  In 2011, Germain only missed one race - failing to qualify for the Daytona 500.

Casey MearsWith both GEICO and Mears signed through the end of 2014, the 30-person team remains intact with Robert "Bootie" Barker calling the shots as crew chief.

"It’s been a pretty natural progression for us,” Mears said.  “We have continued to grow and get better.  It’s neat to see things going in the right direction.  Also, this is my third year now being able to work with Bootie and some of the same guys, and that hasn’t happened for me since I was with (Chip) Ganassi (Racing) when I first started my career.  It’s nice to have that continuity." (audio)

Like all teams in the garage area, the Germain operation has been busy this off-season building and testing the new Gen-6 Ford Fusion.  Along with spending time in the wind tunnel, they've participated in all three pre-season tests at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway.

During the first Charlotte test in December, Mears was driving one of the only fully built, steel-bodied racecars as teams were still waiting on parts and pieces, and for NASCAR to finalize the rules package for the new car.  He was first on the track in the test and came away with a top speed of 189.860 mph.

Casey Mears"Some of the new rules that they've applied this year, with the new body and doing away with the rear sway bar packages, are going to simplify things a little bit,” Mears said.  “It's always complicated, but it should make it a little bit easier for us to be in the mix." (audio)

At the second Charlotte test last month, Mears was fast in qualifying trim and ended up third on the speed chart behind a pair of fellow Ford Racing drivers.

"It went well,” Mears said of that test.  “We're pretty happy.  We got a lot of runs in and learned a lot about the new car as far as what it wants for balance, playing with the new duct work they have underneath the car that exits out the quarter windows.  We didn’t quite have the speed we wanted in race trim, but we went to qualifying trim and seemed to be comparable to some other guys.  Overall, (we're) pretty happy with it.  At the end of the day, we got a lot of information” (audio)

During January's Daytona test, Mears was able to take to the track in every session over three days.  He was even able to get a handful of laps in the draft (10th-best speed at 198.943 mph) before a multi-car accident sent a bunch of teams home early.

Casey MearsAlthough the team has been fast in qualifying trim on the intermediate tracks and in the draft, Mears still knows there's work to be done since Germain is one of a handful of one-car operations in the Cup Series.

"We're still a small team," he said.  "We're going to be behind the curve, naturally, on some little things because we rely on a bigger program to supply us with information.  But as long as we can get that working right, I think we can do really well this year.  We'll just have to wait and see, and get some races under our belt. (audio)

"I'm happy with the progress the GEICO team has been making.  Everybody has been working hard and Bob Germain has put a lot of effort into this year."

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Re: 2013 Sprint Cup Team Previews

Team Preview: Front Row Motorsports
By: Pete Pistone

Front Row Motorsports returns virtually intact from its 2012 effort with hopes to build on the foundation put into place last year.

Team owner Bob Jenkins remains committed to creating an organization that can one day compete with the powerhouses in the sport.

“You often see a lot of young teams going through a lot of changes trying to make it in the Sprint Cup Series," Jenkins said.  "We've been fortunate to have had a lot of stable partners, people who believe in our approach and are seeing year-to-year improvement as a result of that approach.”

Last season saw David Ragan come into the fold to join David Gilliland as the team’s one-two punch.  After spending several years at Roush Fenway Racing, where he did score a Sprint Cup Series victory at Daytona, Ragan's addition was a major milestone in Jenkins' eyes.

"I'm committed to building a competitive race team by employing the same fundamental business principles that have worked for my other successful endeavors, and it all begins with the people," Jenkins said.  "We took some pretty big steps in our race program last year and adding David Ragan is another giant step in the right direction.”

Front Row MotorsportsRagan brought a veteran presence to the organization and finished 28th in the final Sprint Cup Series point standings.  He was able to score one top five and two top-10 finishes.

"We had realistic expectations coming into this year," Ragan said last fall after finishing fourth at Talladega.  "It's been a full-time team for four seasons, and we're a smaller team and underfunded compared to the powerhouses in our sport.  We wanted to be in the top 30 in points with a couple of top fives, some top 10s and top 20s.  We've been able to do that.  We're darn near the top 25 and that's tough to do these days.

"It gives everyone a little confidence, that we've continued to get better as a team.  I think it shows we're making progress and you have to start somewhere.  If we keep digging, we can make it happen.  Success doesn't happen overnight."

Gilliland ended up 30th in the 2012 standings and although he wasn't able to crack the top 10 like his teammate, he also had a few impressive performances.  Gilliland managed good runs as well at Talladega and was proud of his 18th-place effort at Michigan International Speedway in August.

"We've had a few solid runs in a row and are gaining some momentum with our No. 38 team," Gilliland said after his run in the Irish Hills.  "It was nice to post a good weekend for Ford in their backyard."

The new season will see a few tweaks for Front Row with a shuffling of crew chiefs and personnel.  Frankie Kerr comes from JTG Daugherty Racing and will work with Gilliland.  Steven Lane was hired to work on the team’s third entry, which will again be driven by Josh Wise in what is now a limited schedule.  Ragan will again be paired with crew chief Jay Guy.

Front Row MotorsportsThe maneuvering will allow Derrick Finley to go back to his role as competition director after working as Gilliland's crew chief last season.

"It's great to have three veteran guys leading our race teams and have Derrick back exclusively in his competition director role as we start the season with the new Ford Fusions," Jenkins said.  "Like every other team, we're going to have a lot of benchmarking, analysis and building to do this season and it'll help us to have a solid, experienced group leading that effort with each guy having a focused role."

Front Row will campaign Fords in a relationship with Roush Fenway Racing for the fourth season.

“Bob Jenkins has put a lot into this team since he started part-time back in '05,” said Gilliland.  “He's growing it the way he should and the results are showing."

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Team Preview: JTG Daugherty Racing
By: Pete Pistone

JTG Daugherty Racing enters the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season hoping to become a much more competitive force in NASCAR.

The team struggled through a disappointing 2012 campaign that left co-owner Brad Daugherty frustrated.

“We just have to up the performance of our race team and bring home the results that match the effort I know this entire organization puts in every week,” said the former NBA star.

Veteran driver Bobby Labonte wound up 23rd in the Sprint Cup Series point standings and was able to bring home a pair of top-10 finishes at Daytona International Speedway and Martinsville Speedway.

But the single-car operation still had hoped for more days like the ones in Daytona and Martinsville, which just didn't happen.

Prior to last year the Toyota team announced a split from the alliance it shared with Michael Waltrip Racing as a means of better establishing itself as a competitive force.

"I think what we gain, and what's been very import to us, is our own identity," Daugherty said. " ... It's tough. It hurts almost to be called a satellite team, or Michael Waltrip's stepchild, or all that kind of stuff. Because we're our own race team. So it's important to us, because we spend a lot of money on this, we work hard to be the best product we can. So we get our identity back."

But at least last year that identity didn't equate to better on-track results.

JTG Daugherty will again have Labonte behind the wheel paired with crew chief Brian Burns, who has been elevated from the interim role that he had last year.

“I’ve worked with Brian now for a couple years," Labonte said. "He was at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) two years ago and then last year he was an engineer at our race shop and we kind of put him in the crew chief role halfway through last year."

Burns thinks the personnel changes and other additions that the team has made, as well as the change to the new Sprint Cup car, will help the cause.

"We're in great shape for 2013," Burns said during the recent Charlotte Motor Speedway test session. "We have so many positive things taking place at the Harrisburg (N.C.) shop. We're adding a lot of engineering support and staffing up. We're in transition with those folks coming on board right now. With the way we are running right now and knowing we are going to get more support, it's only going to get better."

Co-owner Tad Geschickter is pleased with how the team is operating and believes there are better days ahead with Burns on top of the pit box

"We have some exciting stuff happening," Geschickter said. "We came to an agreement for Brian to stay on board. Chemistry and continuity means a lot in this sport. He's got a lot of experience working with [competition director] Bobby [Hutchens], and they get along well. He's a smart guy. We're pleased that he decided to stay with us."

Daugherty has again expressed the team's interest in evolving to a two-car operation to up the competitive level. But without proper sponsorship and resources, that will be easier said than done.

"It's a distinct possibility we could field a second car in a handful of races later [in the 2013] season," Daugherty said. "We're already working on it. That's something that's going to happen sooner rather than later, because we need that. That's as big as we want to be, though. The cost comes down, and the information goes way up. So we're really working on that."

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Team Preview: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
By: Jeff Wackerlin

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is looking to use a new year with a new car to bounce back from two straight winless seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

After owner Chip Ganassi called the 2011 season "pathetic," the team failed to once again break into the top 20 in the final standings in 2012 with drivers Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya. It’s not the first time Ganassi saw struggles within his organization, which also fields teams in the IZOD IndyCar and GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.

The team’s IndyCar program had its share of dismal seasons before ultimately going on to win four of the last five championships.

Ganassi"We struggled huge with the Indy car team in 2004 and 2005, and those struggles made us better," Ganassi said. "A part of their success today is because of the struggles they went through in 2004 and 2005. I think the same holds true for the NASCAR team.

"The important thing is to have the courage to stay in it, stay on path. Anybody that's competed in NASCAR knows it’s humbling on all levels, not just from an ownership level ... drivers, crew members. This sport can really make you take a look at yourself when you think you’re successful in one area, then come over here and it’s a challenge. There are lots of variables, a lot of moving parts, but the most competitive games attract the most competitive people."

Overall, Ganassi has combined to win 15 series titles in IndyCar and GRAND-AM, and wants nothing more than to see McMurray or Montoya hoisting the Sprint Cup Series trophy at the end of the season.

"There’s obviously something missing from that list: a NASCAR championship," Ganassi says. "I'm hard at it to add that to our list of accomplishments. And while we - again - had a tough season in 2012, our expectations are to run at the front and be at the front, and we're continually making changes. We had a lot of new people throughout the organization. We were installing a lot of new processes and equipment during 2012 and quite honestly, it didn’t happen as fast for me as I would have liked.

"Juan, Jamie and the teams worked hard all season long and it was one of those years when nothing seemed to work. I can tell you it wasn’t due to lack of effort."

Ganassi will keep the crew chief combinations of Kevin Manion and Chris Heroy intact for McMurray and Montoya, respectively. The two teams struggled with last year’s car and are now looking for a fresh start with the Gen-6 Chevrolet after trying a number of things during the final half of last season.

"We missed it last year, with the car being skewed out and manipulating the rules after what everyone else was doing with truck arms and rear sway bars," McMurray said. "That got us in a small panic mode, taking big swings at the car. We didn’t finish where we wanted to, but we learned a lot towards the end of last year." Juan Pablo Montoya

Montoya, who only scored two top 10s last year, is pleased with the results of pre-season testing.

"Last year, we were hoping for a lot better things," Montoya said. "We hired a ton of really smart people and I think it took longer to get everybody together. We were a lot further behind than we thought. We've been testing everywhere and the car seems to have a little more speed."

This year, EGR will utilize Hendrick engines after using Earnhardt Childress Racing powerplants for the past four seasons.

"The engine program was not our biggest weakness last year," said McMurray - who won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 (Indianapolis) and Bank of America 500 (Charlotte) with ECR engines in 2010. "From the testing we've done with Hendrick, they seem to really have their act together. When we tested at Charlotte, there was a Hendrick guy in our garage pretty much the whole day. In addition to the regular engine tuner we have, anyway, there was someone else over there wanting to help and asking our opinions."

Jamie McMurrayMcDonald’s will return as the primary sponsor of McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet for 15 races along with the addition of Cessna, which the team unveiled during last month’s media tour, for 10 races. Bass Pro Shops, who shifted a majority of its sponsorship to Stewart-Hass Racing, will remain on the car for two races. Montoya’s No. 42 Chevrolet will once again be backed by long-time Ganassi sponsor Target.

"If you look at this organization, it's the best at not only keeping sponsors but taking care of them better than anyone else," McMurray said. "When you look at the people Chip has been able to bring in across the board, I think it’s cool that if you sponsor the Cup car, you get to be part of an Indy car or a Daytona Prototype."

Along with its Cup program, EGR development driver Kyle Larson will run a full-time Nationwide Series season with Turner Scott Motorsports.

"We've been working with Kyle for a couple years, now," Ganassi said. "He came on our radar screen through some people that work for us. Seems like a great young man with plenty of raw talent. It's just a matter of finding the right situations for him along the way.

"It's going to be a continual effort for the next few years and hopefully, we can bring his career into NASCAR in a way that he and everyone else will be most proud of."

Overall, EGR has an air of confidence that differs from what seemed to permeate the organization in recent time. Team manager Max Jones, who joined the team in the 2011-2012 off-season, attributes a great deal of that change in attitude to consistency among EGR's staff and personnel.

Jamie McMurray“A year ago I had only been there for three weeks," Jones said. "I have been there just a little over a year and when you come into a new organization and you start to learn the people and there was a lot of new people brought in it took a little while to understand and get all those things going. There were some new tools that were brought in and new processes we put in place. So it took a while behind the scenes to get that all going. I feel like we just started to get those things working well.

"It hasn’t materialized on the race track yet, but I fell like our pre-season testing some of those things were really working. I feel like we are much farther ahead there. I fell like the organization in the shop, there was a lot of people we moved around in different spots to better utilize their skill sets. I feel like the organization as a whole is running a lot smoother.”

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Re: 2013 Sprint Cup Team Previews

Team Preview: Richard Petty Motorsports
By: Pete Pistone

Richard Petty Motorsports looks to continue its climb back to prominence in the Sprint Cup Series.

The Ford organization will bring back the tandem of Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola in 2013 after both drivers turned in solid if not spectacular seasons a year ago.

“There’s a lot to be said for coming back with the same group of guys that we needed last year with for this season,” said Petty. “It gives up something to build on and I liked what I saw from this team last season. I think we’re getting better."

Marcos AmbroseAmbrose gave "The King" a win when the Sprint Cup Series made its annual trek to Watkins Glen International Raceway in August. The road-racing specialist took the checkered flag in what turned out to be one of the season's most exciting races, outrunning Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to the finish line on a wild last lap.

Although he managed to finish 18th in the standings with three top-five and eight top-10 efforts, Ambrose did it with three crew chiefs.

He started the year with veteran Todd Parrott before RPM moved him over to work with Almirola about midseason. Former Denny Hamlin crew chief Mike Ford was swapped from the No. 43 entry to Ambrose's No. 9 Ford, but that only lasted a handful of races until Drew Blickensderfer came aboard from Richard Childress Racing.

The Ambrose-Blickensderfer pairing seems solid, and there is hope for it to blossom in the coming year.

"We want to compete for a championship – plain and simple,” said Ambrose. “I think we have a great team and a lot of continuity. There’s no reason we can’t make that jump (to the Chase).”

Blickensderfer returned to the Ford fold last season after leading Roush Fenway Racing for Childress. Things didn’t work out for Blickensderfer with Jeff Burton and the RCR No. 31 team and he found his way back to the Ford family with RPM, which continues its alliance with Roush again in 2013.

“I was able to leave Roush-Fenway on really good terms last year, to pursue an opportunity,” Blickensderfer said. “I have had some success here, won a lot of Nationwide races, a few cup races, sat on poles last year and I was able to leave these guys on good terms. think that helped me a lot. They wanted me back. They called me a couple of times during the year to talk to me about certain plans they may have in the future and it kept me in good terms with the people here and Ford.”

Almirola was signed to drive the iconic RPM No. 43 ride at the start of the year as Petty made the decision to pass over the available-but-controversial Kurt Busch. It provided the former Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series regular another shot at running full-time in NASCAR's top division.

Unfortunately for Almirola, he struggled during the year with three DNFs. He also endured working with three crew chiefs starting with Greg Erwin before a stint with Ford and finally ending up with Parrott.

Aric AlmirolaAlmirola finished 20th in the standings and did score a pole along with four top-10 finishes. He’s hoping to build on that with a solid group of returning sponsors as well including Smithfield Foods and the U.S. Air Force.

“I think we need to be in the top 15 in points,” said Almirola. “I feel like if I can run consistently inside the top 15, and we can win a race, with this new points system anything is possible – maybe even a wild-card spot.”

RPM was a candidate to make a switch back to Dodge in the wake of Penske Racing leaving the manufacturer, but in the end will also return to the Ford camp. Ambrose and Almirola will be back behind the wheel, and both should benefit from the past year's experience as well as continuity within the team.

“This is a tough deal,” Petty said of competing in the Sprint Cup Series. “It’s not easy but we’ve got some good things going I think that’ll make us competitive. Having some of the questions of past years answered like who’s driving our cars, staying with Ford and sponsors is also gonna help us be able to stay focused on running better on the race track.”

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Re: 2013 Sprint Cup Team Previews

Team Preview: Stewart-Haas Racing
By: Jeff Wackerlin

Stewart-Haas Racing has enjoyed lots of success in a little amount of time, winning the 2011 title with Tony Stewart and placing at least one driver in the Chase each of the four years since Stewart joined the team as co-owner.

Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Danica PatrickNow Stewart-Haas, which has recorded 17 wins with Stewart and Ryan Newman, looks to add to its accomplishments in 2013 with a new racecar (the Gen-6 Chevrolet SS) and a new full-time teammate in Danica Patrick.

“From the ownership side, looking out my window, it's been very busy downstairs," Stewart said. "These guys have done a great job through the winter of catching up. It's taken a little time to get some of the pieces and parts, but our guys have done a good job of getting ready. I'm proud of the effort they've put forth to get everything ready for Daytona. If these (new) cars race as well as they drive, it's going to be an awesome year.”

Stewart, who's made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in each of his four seasons with SHR, finished ninth in the 2012 standings in his first year with crew chief Steve Addington.

"It's wiping the slate clean to go out and try to figure this new car out," Addington said. "We made a few changes on the team. We have a new engineer and shock specialist, and a couple mechanics ... just getting a team to work together. Mainly, it was moving some guys around to give us support at the shop and be more competitive.

“We're looking forward to getting on top of this new car before other teams do, and we're excited about it."

Danica PatrickAfter running 58 Nationwide Series races over the past three seasons and 10 Cup starts in 2012, Patrick will make the transition to NASCAR's top series full-time and run for Rookie of the Year honors.

"It's been a process and I'm grateful for a sponsor like Go Daddy that's willing to take the time with me, be patient and stick with me," Patrick said. "With two years part-time in Nationwide and then one year full-time over there, with some Cup races,it's been a nice transition."

Patrick will be paired with crew chief Tony Gibson, who joined the No. 10 Go Daddy team for their final races of 2012 at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway. In her last start at Phoenix, Patrick posted her best career Cup finish of 17th.

“For us, the sky's the limit," Gibson said. "We were fortunate to get a couple races together at the end of (last) year. They went extremely well and we were pumped up when we left those places. We want to gel as a team and it's exciting to have a driver who's pumped up each day to get in the car. The feedback she's giving us is tremendous and it's a lot of fun to experience that again."

With Gibson going to Patrick's team, that left the door open for Matt Borland to move from vice president of competition to crew chief and be reunited with Newman. Borland, who was the best man at Newman's wedding, guided him to 12 wins at Penske Racing from 2002 to 2005 and then a third-place finish in last year's season finale while transitioning to the No. 39 team.

“I'm looking forward to getting rolling again," Borland said. "We've got a whole new group of guys on that team; looking forward to getting better and better, and when we get to the racetrack winning poles, leading laps and winning races. Those are our goals."

Ryan NewmanNewman, who won the 2012 spring race at Martinsville Speedway, finished 14th in the final standings and has now missed the Chase in two of his four seasons at SHR.

"We started off strong last year and it fell apart," Newman said. "We won early, which is nice. But even with that win, which would have gotten us into the Chase in 2011, it didn’t get us into the Chase for 2012. You can’t just sit there and feel like you’re happy because you have speed. It takes teamwork and a lot of other things to be successful, and have a shot at the championship."

Stewart-Haas was able to fill some sponsorship holes after Office Depot and the U.S. Army left at the end of last season. Bass Pro Shops will sponsor Stewart in 18 races with Quicken Loans increasing its support of Newman from 9 races to 18. Mobil 1 will back Stewart in 11 events. WIX Filters, Outback Steakhouse, Aspen Dental and Code 3 Associates will combine for 10 races on Newman's car. Co-owner Gene Haas' company could be used as a safety net if other sponsorship does not materialize.

“We still have nine races on my car open for primary spots," Stewart said. "There are eight or nine on Ryan's car, and there's an opportunity for three with Danica. We would love to sell that inventory, obviously. That would make it easier on us. But racers are very resourceful and they always have been. You take what you have and make the most with it. We've been able to do that the first four years and we'll keep doing so.”

Mobil 1Mobil 1, which joined SHR as a sponsor in 2011, recently extended its contract with NASCAR through 2017 to remain as the Official Motor Oil of NASCAR.

"I've always said they are not only a partner that helps us keep these cars on the racetrack financially, they're as active in the race team as our own crew guys are," Stewart said of Mobil 1. "What they're doing with lubricants and oils is just as important to our program as anything else. It’s neat having a partner and a sponsor that's active in its role with the race team."

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Team Preview: Richard Childress Racing
By: Pete Pistone

Richard Childress Racing enters the 2013 season determined to get back to elite status in the Sprint Cup Series garage.

Despite Kevin Harvick winning a race and making the Chase, last year proved to be another frustrating season for the three-car stable.

Richard Childress"We know we've got to do our work here," team owner Childress said. "We've got to get our cars better, we've got to get our handling better, got to get to running better."

Harvick began the year with Shane Wilson as crew chief. That move was initiated in 2011, when the driver was very vocal about his displeasure with Gil Martin, who had previously called the shots for the No. 29 team.

But while Harvick and Martin return in 2013 hopefully headed in the right direction after their Phoenix win last November, the pair could be dealing with some awkward moments.

That's because Harvick's next direction is out the door of RCR. News broke late last season he'll vacate the team where he has spent his entire Cup career for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, leaving a major void on the Childress effort and creating a potentially sticky situation.

However, Harvick doesn’t see it that way. He reiterated his commitment to the team and vowed to remained focused during what will be his last season working with Childress.

“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of exciting things going on,” Harvick said. “Having Gil and everybody working together over the end of the year and during the off season has been good. There are a lot of unknowns with the new car, but to see the structure and the things going on and the plan we have going into the season, I’m looking forward to having fun this year and doing the best we can to win races.”

Harvick will be under the spotlight as a lame-duck driver with the team in the coming year but promises the effort will still be strong.

"Regardless of what happens on the business side of things, Richard Childress and myself will always be friends," said Harvick. "We may agree to disagree, but we still have a lot of racing left to do, and we owe it to our sponsors and our company to go out and race hard."

"It has been a struggle. But I know that these guys all want to win. I know Richard wants to win, regardless of what happens in 2014."

One of the major changes for the team also came at the end of last season when Dr. Eric Warren was brought in to serve as competition director.

Warren filled a major hole left by the departure of former competition director Scott Miller, who joined Michael Waltrip Racing at the start of last season.

"I think obviously when Scott Miller left, there's kind of been a void in that particular area of the company," Harvick said. "As many of you know and you hear us preach all the time, this sport is really all about people. I think for us having Eric in that position will lead to some structure and some focus on a lot of things that we need to get better at.

"Just having somebody there on a daily basis is going to be a step in the right direction. Now it's all about putting a system into place that everybody buys into to lead everybody on a day-to-day basis and hopefully make things better."

Warren, who came on board late in 2012, says he’s already seen a difference in the organization in a relatively short period of time.

“Started at the end of last season, kind of built a method of preparing and trying to look at the teams separately to kind of develop ideas and bring them all together when it counts, when the season starts,” he said. “We’ve had two successful tests . . . We’ve got high expectations and I look forward to bringing that to reality.” Jeff Burton

Teammates Jeff Burton and Paul Menard also struggled in 2012.

Veteran Burton finished 19th in the final Cup Series point standings and was in the rumor mill as well as possibly retiring. He vehemently denied any plans of hanging up the helmet but understood why his name was being discussed.

"When you're in your 20th year and people are talking about you being replaced, it is not the position you want to be in,” said Burton, who is determined to get back to being competitive. "When you've put in as much as I've put into it and it means as much as it means to me, you want everybody saying, 'That's a driving son of a [gun].' "

Burton is optimistic the team’s personnel changes, move to the new Gen 6 Sprint Cup Chevy SS and a renewed energy will lead to better results in 2013.

“We’re as prepared as we can be,” said Burton. “Obviously, everybody is behind. There is a lot of energy around here; there’s an enthusiasm – you can feel it.”

When the final checkered flag of the year flew, Menard finished 17th in the standings.

Paul MenardHe’ll return this year with veteran crew chief Slugger Labbe calling the shots with high hopes for a much better performance.

“We didn’t accomplish what we were after last season that’s for sure,” said Menard, who won the 2011 Brickyard 400. “It will be nice to set the restart button and we’re confident things will change for the better this year.”

Although recent times in the Sprint Cup Series have been lean, Childress believes the pieces are in place for a much better performance all the way around this coming season.

“We’ve got a good lineup,” he said. “The tests we’ve had, I’m really pleased with what we’ve seen. Hopefully, when we put it all together, it will be what we expect for this year.”

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Team Preview: Joe Gibbs Racing
By: Jeff Wackerlin

Joe Gibbs Racing welcomes a former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion into the fold this year as the team looks to place all three cars in the post-season Chase for the first time since 2008.

Matt Kenseth, who won the 2003 championship, joined JGR in the off-season after spending the past 13 years driving full-time for Roush Fenway Racing. Kenseth replaced Joey Logano - now with Penske Racing - as the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General/Home Depot Toyota and will team up with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

"It's great having Matt on board," said owner Joe Gibbs. "He's somebody we all respect. For our Cup program, I have to tell you the truth. This is the most excited I've been going into a season."

Kenseth spent his entire career at Roush driving a Ford and will make the transition to a new manufacturer at a good time, with the series rolling out its sixth-generation racecar. He's been busy over the past two months testing and working not only with new teammates but new crew chief Jason Ratcliff.

“The timing is good, in a way," Kenseth said. "All the crew chiefs on every team have worked with the old car but if they ran well somewhere, they wish it wasn’t the new car so they could use all that stuff. It’s a good time because it’s going to be a learning experience with not only the new car, but obviously coming to a new team and having a new group of people as well.”

Denny Hamlin and Matt KensethThe last time JGR made the Chase with all of its drivers came when Tony Stewart drove for the team. Like Kenseth, Stewart is a previous champion winning three titles - including two with JGR in 2002 and 2005. Both Busch and Hamlin, still seeking that first championship, are looking forward to learning from Kenseth.

"Matt's been here a lot longer than me," Busch said. "There are things we can learn from him. There are things we could learn from Joey (Logano), but you look at Matt as a teacher. You look at Joey as a student. You'll always see it that way. Matt being that type of guy over here for Denny and myself, I hope it helps us."

"We know what he’s done in the past and I know what he’s capable of on the racetrack because I race with him every week," Hamlin said. "He’s going to be a guy that takes Joe Gibbs Racing to that elite level.”

Busch heads into 2013 fresh off signing a long-term contract extension to keep him behind the wheel of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota.

"I did meet with some other teams and they were very interested, and there were some very nice and lucrative deals that were out there to pursue," Busch said. "Ultimately, what it comes down to are relationships and things you’ve developed over the last five, six years here. The relationship I have with Coach Gibbs and J.D. (Gibbs, president) - as well as the Toyota folks, the M&M’s folks and everybody, they treat me so well."

The contract extension comes after a year in which Busch did not make the Chase for the second time in his five seasons with JGR. Back-to-back engine failures in the summer hindered his chances, as well as a tough outing in the final regular-season race at Richmond International Raceway after Busch had won there earlier in the year.

“We had a tough year and it wasn’t one that either of us wanted - myself or Joe Gibbs Racing," Busch said. "You look toward the positive and what these guys are working on here, what Toyota has been working on for us behind the scenes and what we feel like we can do moving forward to win races.”

Interstate BatteriesDave Rodgers will be back as Busch's crew chief. Together over the past three Cup seasons, they've combined for eight wins.

Along with the Mars brand, long-time JGR sponsor Interstate Batteries will return to support Busch in select races.

"If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be in the sport," Joe Gibbs said about his 21-year relationship with Interstate.

Busch will also run 25 Nationwide Series races under the Gibbs banner after running last season for his own Kyle Busch Motorsports team, where he went winless for the first time in nine years. Busch will be joining a stout JGR Nationwide lineup that includes Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers running for the championship.

"Joe made it very clear that he wanted me to be back in his Nationwide cars," Busch said. "That was a positive thing for me to do, and a positive thing for me to work with Adam Stevens (crew chief)."

Last year, Hamlin tied for the series lead in wins (five), matching reigning champion Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson. He finished sixth in the 2012 standings in his first season with crew chief Darian Grubb and made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the seventh consecutive year.

“Our goals haven’t changed," said Hamlin, who will be backed once again by FedEx. "We need to win at least six or seven races. That’s where we feel like we’ll be this year. And we need to fill up the stats column with top fives and top 10’s that you need to win a championship. The champion is not going to go out there and win one or two races for the year. He's going to be the guy that wins consistently. We’ve done that over the last few years, but we haven’t had reliability to win a championship. So that’s been the focus of this race team through the off-season.”

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Team Preview: Roush Fenway Racing
By: John Singler

Basketball’s “Dream Team” first hit the scene with the United States’ participation in the 1992 Summer Olympics.  Roush Fenway Racing was just five years old at the time but a generation later, NASCAR team owner Jack Roush has what he feels to be an exceptional “starting five.”

Roush characterized the drivers who’ll steer him into the 2013 season as stock car racing’s “Dream Team” during last month’s pre-season media tour and who can argue?

Reigning two-time Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is stepping into the No. 17 Best Buy Ford as the replacement for Matt Kenseth, who’s moved over to Joe Gibbs Racing.  There’s stability with the No. 99 Fastenal team, where Carl Edwards is returning for his 10th season.  And Greg Biffle is back after finishing the 2012 campaign as the highest-placed Ford driver in the championship standings, in fifth place.

The organization’s Nationwide Series program is in good hands with 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and action sports icon Travis Pastrana behind the wheel … leaving a big smile on Roush’s face as he heads into Budweiser Speedweeks at Daytona.

“I’m as enthusiastic and as driven as I’ve ever been to take our absolute best effort to the racetrack every week,” said Roush, embarking on his 26th season in the sport.

Kenseth won a championship and 24 races while driving the No. 17 Ford, so Stenhouse goes into the 2013 season knowing he has big shoes to fill and plans to leave a big footprint in his rookie Cup season.

“We have to go out and try to win every week,” Stenhouse said.  “That’s how you achieve your best results.  We have to be consistent. That’s what I learned over the past three years racing in the Nationwide Series.”

Roush FenwayConsistency, indeed.  In his 67 starts over the past two seasons, Stenhouse totaled 52 top-10 finishes with only three DNFs.  That includes eight wins.  In preparation for his advance to the Sprint Cup Series, Stenhouse made four Cup starts in 2012 with a best finish of 12th in the fall race at Dover.

“You can’t make big mistakes,” said Stenhouse, who’ll be teamed with crew chief Scott Graves.  “You have to take what the car and track will give you and go on.  Looking back over the last couple years, we really put ourselves in a hole when we tried to get too much.  Stick to the plan, and be smooth and consistent.”

For Edwards, he goes into the new season hoping to put the old season as far into the back of his mind as possible.  There were no wins and no Chase for Edwards in 2012 as he finished 15th in points.

“I would like to put last year out of my memory and not think about it too much,” said Edwards, who carries a 69-race winless streak into 2013.  “I haven’t been this excited to go racing in the last few years.”

It was only a short 15 months ago when Edwards was chasing Tony Stewart in that epic 2011 title fight and he knows just what’s needed to get the “99” team back in that mindset.

“It all comes down to confidence,” said Edwards, whose last Cup Series victory came nearly two years ago in Las Vegas.  “You have to get up every morning and know that if you go out and do your very best, and when the circumstances are right, you will prevail.”

Roush FenwayIn 2013, Edwards will be paired with veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig – who moves over from the No. 17 car.

“I think we have a pretty good situation, now,” Edwards said.  “You never know.  We could go out and win 10 races, or we could have trouble.  But I feel like we’ve stacked the deck in our favor.”

Edwards heads to Speedweeks looking for his second straight Daytona 500 pole.  If he secures the No. 1 starting spot for “The Great American Race” this year, he would become the first driver with consecutive “500” poles since Ken Schrader put three in a row together from 1988-90.

Of Roush Fenway’s three Cup Series teams, Biffle’s No. 16 3M Ford is the only one with a driver-crew chief combination that remains intact from last season.  Biffle is once again teamed with Matt Puccia as he enters his 11th full season.

“I’m excited about this year and I think these new cars are going to be good,” Biffle said, referring to NASCAR’s Gen-6 Sprint Cup Series racecar.

Biffle, who’s made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in four of the last five seasons, is coming off a year in which he posted two victories and 19 other top-10 finishes.  He’s on schedule to make his 400th career Cup Series start in November at Texas Motor Speedway.

RFR will field two full-time entries in the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series, with Bayne driving the No. 6 Ford vacated by Stenhouse and Pastrana in the No. 60 Mustang.

Ryan Reed will also enter a limited number of NNS races in the No. 16 Ford.  His car will feature the Drive to Stop Diabetes campaign in collaboration with the American Diabetes Association.  Reed, who has type-1 diabetes, is expected to make his season debut in April at Richmond International Raceway.

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Team Preview: Hendrick Motorsports
By: Pete Pistone

After putting all four of its drivers in the Chase but not able to win the Sprint Cup Series championship, Hendrick Motorsports will try for even bigger things in 2013.

Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all found Victory Lane and qualified for the playoffs, but none were able to bring team owner Rick Hendrick an 11th Sprint Cup title.

Hendrick Motorsports"I'm still very proud of this team and the effort everyone put in," said Hendrick. "It's a special year for us for what we did accomplish even though we weren't able to win the championship."

There were many successes last season for the NASCAR powerhouse including Johnson scoring the team’s 200th career victory at Darlington in May.

Johnson's season did include five wins, 18 top fives and 24 top-10 finishes as well as four poles. He was in the middle of the race for a sixth championship until the last race of the year at Homestead, only to be derailed by a missing lug nut and subsequent mechanical failure to end the quest.

But the five-time champion remains confident in his team’s ability to bounce back from that disappointment and Johnson has his sights squarely set on a sixth title.

“I feel like through those five years there was some pressure on me that I didn’t know existed until the streak ended,” said Johnson. “Starting the 2011 season, I was aware of that and kind of a clean sheet of paper. Time to start a new streak if I can or turn a page to what’s next.”

Gordon also had a shot at winning the title after enduring an up-and-down regular season. He made the Chase but got off to a bad start that he was never able to recover from.

Hendrick MotorsportsHe did score his 87th career win at Homestead, but it wasn't enough to get a fifth title. His year was also punctuated by a feud with Clint Bowyer, which boiled over in Phoenix.

Gordon is ready to put all that behind and concentrate on building upon the positives of 2012. The four-time champion believes the change to the Gen 6 Chevy SS Sprint Cup car will be a major factor in the 24 team improving its performance.

To be frank, Gordon was not a fan of the Car of Tomorrow.

“I know we wanted to race again the next week,” said Gordon about the confidence in his team after winning the Homestead finale. “I just never got a good feel for [the Car of Tomorrow]. It was better over the last couple years, but it just never fit me well. This new car – now that’s a race car.”

Kahne's first season in the Hendrick stable got off to a frustrating start, but he was able to turn it around for a career-best fourth-place finish in the standings.

Kahne teamed with crew chief Kenny Francis to drive his way into the Chase as a wild-card entry. Though he wasn't able to mount a championship charge, he was proud of the 2012 effort.

"As a team, our greatest accomplishment was battling back from a poor start and making the Chase," Kahne said. "I have to thank Kenny for his vision and his preparation of our race cars. He and I and a lot of guys on the 5 team have been a lot of different places in recent years, but we've stuck together and, through hard work, were able to have a great season."

With a year under his belt, Kahne has even bigger aspirations for what he can accomplish as a member of the Hendrick brigade.

“I’ve been here a year now, and it’s an unbelievable place, and everyone knows the opportunity Mr. H gives us, so we want to take full advantage of that,” he said.

Earnhardt had a memorable 2012 season as for both the right and wrong reasons.

He ended a four-year victory drought with a win at Michigan in June, the site of his last previous checkered flag in 2008.

Earnhardt made the Chase and was poised to make a serious run at the title until he was unexpectedly sidelined for a pair of race.

Involved in a 24-car, last-lap crash at Talladega, Earnhardt was diagnosed with a concussion, his second in less than two months, after an August testing accident at Kansas Speedway.

He was forced out of the car to recover, ending any hope of a championship.

But Earnhardt is optimistic about what lies ahead in 2013 and ready to get back on track.

"I really enjoy being at the track and driving cars," he said. "It's been a good year, but this should be par for the course. It's been a good year, but we want to be a lot better than this. I'm not ready to stop trying to be better."

Hendrick MotorsportsAlso a fan of the new car, Earnhardt is ready for a fresh start and to come out of the gate strong in the new season.

“I can be confident going into next year with the confidence that we’re going to put good cars on the track and enjoy the races,” he said. “I think the first 10 races of the season are the most important as far as making the Chase. It’s about putting down a good foundation.

“If you end up eighth or ninth or 10th (after 10 races), that’s kind of where you wind up fighting all year long. That kind of mental battle wears on the teams and drivers that are in those positions. It’s nice to get out there and get out front early and stay there.”

Hendrick, who correctly predicted his quartet of drivers would make the Chase last year, believes all four will again make the playoffs in 2013. And the ultra-successful team owner is chomping at the bit to get things started.

“Obviously, with the new car, we’re excited to get things going,” said Hendrick. “There’s a lot of anticipation to get this season started, and I think I can speak for all four drivers when I say they’re ready to get to Daytona.”

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Team Preview: Michael Waltrip Racing
By: Pete Pistone

Michael Waltrip Racing moved into the upper echelon of Sprint Cup Series teams in 2012.  Led by newcomer Clint Bowyer, MWR's resurgence was one of the biggest stories of last year.

Bowyer finished second in the final standings, 39 points behind Brad Keselowski, after joining the team from Richard Childress Racing and was understandably ecstatic about the effort.

“Building a brand new team from scratch and being able to accomplish everything we have in a short amount of time, we're very proud of that,” Bowyer said, “and proud of my guys - Brian Pattie [crew chief] and everybody on our 5-hour ENERGY Toyota did a great job.”

Bowyer won three races in 2012 and helped put MWR into the post-season Chase for the first time, eventually coming up just one spot short of a title.

“Winning races and making the Chase were our goals,” he said.  “You never know how you're going to roll into the Chase, what momentum you're going to have heading into it and how long you can hold onto that momentum.  Everything came together last year.  Michael Waltrip has been in this sport a while, now, and weathered the storm.  It's neat to see good things finally coming his way."

Martin Truex Jr.Bowyer was joined in the Chase by teammate Martin Truex Jr., who finished 11th in the final standings but not before putting together an outstanding regular season.

He earned seven top fives and a career-high 19 top 10s.  However, the former two-time Nationwide Series champion was disappointed with not running better once the playoffs began.

“We've learned a lot as a team about how to be better prepared if we can be fortunate enough to get in the Chase again this year,” Truex said.  “(We) have a little better idea of what's needed to make sure we don't have those bad races again.”

MWR's third entry didn't have too many bad races last season.  Waltrip, veteran Mark Martin and Brian Vickers all shared time behind the wheel of the No. 55 Toyota ... and all experienced success.

The addition of Martin, who competed in a limited schedule, gave the entire organization a lift Waltrip said was needed.

“We made a lot of changes before the season started in 2012 and one of the smartest ones we made was bringing Mark on board,” Waltrip said.  “In our meetings at the shop, when he starts to speak everyone gets real quiet.  He's like E.F. Hutton.  When Mark talks, everyone listens.”

MWR returns intact for this season with the full-time rides of Bowyer and Truex again complemented by Martin, Vickers and Waltrip sharing the No. 55 Camry.  Martin has signed on for a 24-race slate and is optimistic about the team's fortunes.

“I love my schedule and I love our lineup,” said Martin, whose four poles in 2012 tied Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne for the series lead.  “Brian has a tremendous amount of experience and talent for such a young driver, and you saw at Talladega that Michael is as good as anyone in a restrictor plate race.”

Martin, who doesn’t expect to be with MWR after his two-year contract expires at season's end, believes an additional strength to this year’s effort will come from stability throughout the No. 55 team.

Mark Martin“This is the first time in my entire NASCAR career I’ve started the season with the exact same group of team members from the previous year,” said Martin.  “That shows you what an incredible bunch this is, that we didn’t have any turnover."

Vickers, who will also drive a full-time Nationwide Series schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing, agreed to another partial Cup season with MWR.

“It's amazing that we have a driver of Brian's talent available for our No. 55 Toyota again in 2013," Waltrip said.  "He's a race-winning, Chase-caliber driver and we're happy to have him back.  We gave Brian a difficult assignment in 2012 and not only has he thrived in the role, he's made the entire team better.

“Believe me, I know how hard it is to run a part-time schedule with races spread throughout the season.  I've been most impressed with his attitude toward the crew and his approach to the job, and am confident he can win with our team.”

Vickers is excited about his busy 2013 schedule and thinks the extra time behind the wheel will be a benefit to both organizations.

“Seat time is invaluable,” said Vickers.  “Running a full Nationwide program for JGR will help a lot when I run the '55' car for MWR.  As a driver, you want to race as much as you can and the schedule I have this year is almost a dream come true.”

Overall, the atmosphere around MWR is sky high and there's a belief that improvement over last year’s successful campaign is possible.

“Look at how we ran in the Chase,” said Bowyer, who was also involved in a celebrated feud with Jeff Gordon last season - which boiled over to a fight between their pit crews at Phoenix International Raceway.  “A bad race was sixth place.  We were bummed out.  When you're running like that, it's pretty rare.  We were building a notebook, learning from each other and learning from the mistakes we made the first couple of times around those racetracks.

“That's when you get a sense of what you've got for a race team and understand what you're up against.  It gives me a lot of confidence and a lot of pride knowing what's in store.”

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Re: 2013 Sprint Cup Team Previews

Team Preview: Penske Racing
By: Pete Pistone

Finally reaching the top of the NASCAR mountain in 2012 after nearly 40 years of trying the question for Penske Racing is “what can you do for an encore?”

Legendary team owner Roger Penske has been competing in stock car racing since the 1970s, but it wasn't until Brad Keselowski's remarkable run last season that "The Captain" could celebrate the ultimate accomplishment.

"There's no question that winning a NASCAR championship at the elite level is something that everybody in racing wants to accomplish, and we hadn't done that," Penske said. "It's a war out there, and to be standing at the end with the American flag in your hand when it's all over and be the champion is something real special."

The Michigan native Keselowski scored five victories and 23 top-10 finishes on his way to giving Penske Racing its first Sprint Cup title.

The blue-collar racer remembers his humble beginnings and how he’s risen from a family-owned local racing team to NASCAR’s elite.

“When I was in Michigan and my family had its own race teams, they were on the third tier of racing, and Sprint Cup was on the first tier,” Keselowski said during a recent trip to his home state. “My vision was kind of limited to being successful on that third tier. That’s all I knew. Through whatever chain of events, positive or negative, and at the time they seemed negative but now they’re positive, that didn’t work out. My family’s business fell apart. It was a catalyst for a chain of events that got me to be here, now, and have the opportunities that have lead to it. There’s been a lot of self reflection about that, how sometimes you have to dream big.”

Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe teamed up to become one of the most formidable pairs in the Sprint Cup Series. Penske believes that chemistry and the personal contributions of Penske were keys to the dream season.

"It's not how much money you put into your race team," Penske said. "It's all about the people and the human capital and, I guess, Brad is right at the top.

"He came in and said, 'Look, I want to help you build a championship team.' He looked me in the eye and shook my hand. That's how we started -- and there's no question that he's delivered way above what both of us probably thought was possible when you look at the competition and what we have to deal with. But he's a great leader on our team."

However, Penske Racing will face a number of challenges as the organization tries to defend its title. A new teammate for Keselowski as well as a switch in manufacturers awaits in 2013.

The team announced early last year it would end its affiliation with Dodge and join the Ford stable in 2013, reuniting Penske with the Blue Oval manufacturer he campaigned in the 1990s.

Sam Hornish, Jr. filled in after AJ Allmendinger failed NASCAR’s substance abuse policy and was subsequently released from the team last summer. But the former Indy Car star was not given the full-time spot in the No. 22 entry as was speculated.

Joey LoganoRather, Joey Logano comes to Penske from Joe Gibbs Racing. Keselowski played a major role in recruiting the young driver and the two have already hit it off during this winter's testing sessions.

"It's really cool to have a teammate that's a student of the sport, that really studies it and will push me to do things differently," Logano said. "I think the coolest thing that Brad is able to do is he's able to think outside of the box -- like way outside the box."

After spending his entire Sprint Cup career with JGR, Logano believes a change of scenery will be beneficial. Plus it doesn’t hurt to be joining the organization that won last year’s crown.

“The move is going great so far,” Logano said. “Coming into a championship-winning team is a huge privilege. [Crew chief] Todd Gordon and I are learning each other at a very quick rate. I feel we have a lot of similarities.”

As for Keselowski, he’d like nothing more than to see a similar ending for the coming season to the one that resulted in a Sprint Cup title in 2012.

“What we did last year is not good enough,” Keselowski said. “We have to step up another level. We know our competition is going to do the same. I’m not happy being a guy that wins one championship and goes away quietly.

“Look at some of the additions we’ve made. Bringing in Joey Logano, working on the Nationwide program to solidify two programs, having Ryan Blaney be part of that – that shows the commitment we all have to improving. I know that Joey and Ryan bring some youth and fresh ideas to make the team better. They might go out there and beat my butt, but I’m going to surround myself with the most talent because that’s what got us where we are today.”

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Re: 2013 Sprint Cup Team Previews

2013 Team Power Rankings
By: Pete Pistone

Talk is over and it’s time to get down to business for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

The offseason saw its share of team personnel and sponsor changes, as well some drivers moving to new rides. Last year's champs at Penske Racing made a manufacturer move from Dodge to Ford.

Toss in the development of the Gen-6 Sprint Cup Series car and the new campaign brings with it a hint of intrigue and mystery as teams try to figure out the new machine.

There are 16 organizations set to do battle for the full 2013 season, and here's how they shape up in our preseason Team Power Rankings:

Hendrick Motorsports

The perennial powerhouse put all four of its drivers in last year's Chase but still came up short of Rick Hendrick's 11th Sprint Cup title. The quartet is back intact with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. the cream of the crop heading into the new season. Look for all four back in the Chase again this year and a familiar face on top of the standings when Johnson returns to championship form.

Michael Waltrip Racing

Last year's surprise story is back for another run to build on its impressive foundation laid in 2012. Series runner-up Clint Bowyer will have to overcome the next year jinx of finishing second in the standings but along with teammate Martin Truex Jr. will be back in the thick of the championship fight. The rotation of Mark Martin and Brian Vickers in the team’s third entry is also not too shabby.

Penske Racing

The defending series champions will have much different look in 2013. Joey Logano comes over to team with reigning Sprint Cup titlist Brad Keselowski. And Penske joins the Ford stable after taking Dodge to last year's title. There will be some challenges ahead in the organization's quest to repeat not in the least of which will be the change to Fusions. It’s difficult to repeat as champ in any sport and Sprint Cup Series racing is no different.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Roush Fenway's loss is JGR's gain as Matt Kenseth joins the Toyota organization in 2013. He'll take the wheel of the No. 20 Camry and join Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin in what on paper looks like one of the most potent lineups in the series. How fast Kenseth adjusts to his new surroundings will be important to the team's overall fortunes. Make no mistake JGR has a “Murderer’s Row” driver line-up but engine issues will need to be eliminated.

Roush Fenway Racing

There's also a different look at Roush Fenway Racing for the coming year. Gone is former champion and 2012 Daytona 500 winner Kenseth with back-to-back Nationwide Series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sliding into the iconic No. 17 Ford. Carl Edwards looks to rebound from a dismal season and Greg Biffle hopes to extend what he did in last year's regular season into the Chase. So far in testing and Speedweeks the Ford group overall looks down in the power department so there will be some early catching up to do.

Stewart-Haas Racing

Tony Stewart wasn't able to follow his 2011 title-winning performance with another championship last season. Although he and new crew chief Steve Addington did win races, consistency was an issue for Stewart as well as teammate Ryan Newman. Daytona 500 pole sitter Danica Patrick joins the fold in her Rookie of the Year Sprint Cup Series run on what will certainly be a team that will generate a lot of attention. But how that translates on the track over the course of a 36-race season is very much a question.

Richard Childress Racing

Kevin Harvick will spend his last campaign at RCR before heading to join SHR in 2014. Team owner Richard Childress vowed to make some major changes to his underperforming race team, and Dr. Eric Warren was brought in as the new competition director. He'll have his work cut out for him to get Harvick, Jeff Burton and Paul Menard competitive once again. Harvick won’t phone in his last season at RCR before leaving for Stewart-Haas in 2014, but he’ll be at the mercy of the organization fielding competitive cars.

Richard Petty Motorsports

The Petty team made some strides last season with Marcos Ambrose bringing “the King” to Victory Lane at Watkins Glen. Drew Blickensderfer comes from RCR to crew chief for Ambrose with Aric Almirola returning to drive the No. 43 Ford. Having some stability after three rocky seasons will benefit the Petty organization.

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

It wasn't quite as bad as the year before, but 2012 was nothing to write home about for EGR. Team owner Chip Ganassi's frustration level will be off the charts if Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray aren't running better early this new season. Talk is cheap and now it’s time for the Ganassi squad to finally get back to being a competitive operation.

Furniture Row Racing

The single-car team headquartered in Denver inked Kurt Busch as its driver late last season. He replaced Regan Smith, who drove the No. 78 Chevy to a Darlington victory the year before. Busch ended the 2012 season with three straight top 10 finishes to give the organization optimism for this season, which will rely greatly on Busch finally keeping his emotions in check. So far the team has been hard on equipment with two wrecked cars in Daytona, not a good omen.

JTG Daugherty Racing

Another one-car effort comes off a disappointing year with driver Bobby Labonte, who returns in 2013. Team management would like to grow and add another entry to its stable but won't be able to until they get a better performance from the flagship No. 47 Toyota. Not a make or break year for JTG but definitely one that will shape the team’s future path.

Front Row Motorsports

David Ragan and David Gilliland are back for the Ford team that will also field an entry for Josh Wise on a limited basis. Still a David vs. Goliath story that would consider inside the first twenty in the Sprint Cup Series standings a success.

Germain Racing

Casey Mears returns to drive the No. 13 Ford Fusion for the former Camping World Truck Series organization. The team is still looking for sponsorship to run the entire season.

BK Racing

Travis Kvapil returns to team with David Reutimann, who slides into a full-time role to replace Landon Cassill. A year under its belt will be beneficial but the season will again be an uphill battle.

Tommy Baldwin Racing

Veteran Dave Blaney will make a full-time attempt for the former “Start and Park” team that hopes to add JJ Yeley as a full-time teammate.

Swan Racing

The former Inception Racing team returns for a full-time effort that will see David Stremme driving a car crew chiefed by Tony Eury Jr.

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