3 Stories to Follow For the 2013 NASCAR Season

Jan 10, 2013; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Greg Biffle (left) and Jamie McMurray (right) sit on pit road during Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

I know you all can agree with me that you’re happy that the highly anticipated 2013 is only about a month away from beginning. I’m sure some of the drivers might disagree because they want more time off, but that’s just not how NASCAR rolls and I’m sure that’s just fine with you, the fans.

The biggest change in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series from this year to last is, of course, the debut of the Generation 6 car, designed to look more like the actual street model instead of that big, boxy type car known as the COT (Car of Tomorrow) that we all grew to hate beginning in 2007. The hope is that this newly designed car will not only retain the safety that the COT brought (no racing deaths since its arrival), but also create the action packed racing in years past by allowing more passing to occur.

If this new car is successful in creating more passing, then there might be some interesting storylines to watch this year, storylines that may not have come to your mind so quickly. That’s where I will try to help, by providing three under-the-radar stories to watch that have the potential to occur in the 2013 season with the new car.

1. What type of racing will the Gen 6 car create at this year’s restrictor plate races?

No matter what design NASCAR’s primary cars don, restrictor plate racing will always draw the ire and the praises of the NASCAR community. In the early to mid 2000’s, pack racing, where nearly all 43 cars are racing front-to-back and 3 lanes wide and running within 2 seconds of each other, was what dominated the scene at Daytona and Talladega. For the drivers, this style of racing was a veritable hell as they all knew that one mistake by any driver could easily wipeout half of the field in a massive crash. For the fans however, that type of tight quarter racing was a thrill to see, knowing that danger was lurking every lap.

As the late 2000’s and early 2010’s came about, the COT allowed for two car super tandems to form and that broke up pack racing into little two car pods with little action happening. That racing did not please the fans and also continued to frustrate the drivers. And for the last few years, it has been a combination of both styles that confuses everyone involved.

Perhaps with the Gen 6 car, the fans will get back the epic pack racing that is the definition of pure insanity which they so crave. The new car is supposed to reduced the slowing aero effects that limit passing, so assuming that goal is accomplished this is a very possible scenario. And sorry drivers, you’ll never pack racing regardless.

Jan 10, 2013; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr during Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

2. Can Dale Jr. recapture his early career magic?

The average fan might take a look at Dale Earnhardt Jr. nowadays and see him as just an O.K. driver who can score some good finishes and maybe even a rare win. But does anyone remember that Dale Jr. who busted onto the Sprint Cup scene in 2000 and began steadily racking up wins and great points finishes through 2006? That was just before the COT came into existence and once that happened, Earnhardt suddenly fell off the face of the figurative NASCAR earth.

Consider this; Earnhardt has 19 career Sprint Cup victories but only two of those victories have occurred since 2006. That means that Earnhardt excelled in the series before the COT was created and hasn’t found victory lane consistently since then. He has openly stated the COT never fit his driving style, but he’s been in championship contention the last few years since pairing up with crew chief Steve Letarte.

The new car might be just what the doctor ordered for Junior that will make him a very familiar face in victory lane yet again.

Jan 10, 2013; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson during Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

3. On the flip side, is Jimmie Johnson’s success in NASCAR in danger?

Most of you will probably look at this question and laugh. That’s fine because I laughed when this thought popped into my head as well. But let’s take a step back and look at this idea for a moment.

When I mentioned Johnson’s success being in danger, I didn’t mean that he wouldn’t win again, but rather I was questioning if he will not win another championship. Conventional wisdom says that he will of course win another title. But it’s been no secret that Johnson has obliterated the rest of NASCAR since the COT arrived and now that that era is over, could Johnson’s era be over too?

Johnson won the first four titles in the age of the COT (2007-2010) and wasn’t too far off from winning the title in 2011 and 2012 either. Also during that time, he amassed 37 wins, nearly 20% of all races between 2006-2012. Prior to the COT, he already had 23 wins and one championship, but today’s competition is much stiffer.

Do I really think Johnson is done winning titles? No, mainly because no one has even seen if the Gen 6 cars are truly going to change racing for better or worse yet. I suppose that will be our treat or our angst to witness in 2013 as NASCAR fans.

Keep looking forward to Daytona all of you fans out there, it won’t be long now!

Topics: 2013, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Generation 6 Car, Jimmie Johnson

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