10 Sleepers Who Could Win the 2013 Sprint Cup Championship
It has only been a week since the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship trophy went to to Brad Keselowski, but it is never too early to look at who could win the title in 2013.
The Wynn Casino in Las Vegas recently released their odds to win the 2013 Sprint Cup Championship; Keselowski is not even in the top five. The odds on favorite to win the 2013 championship is Jimmie Johnson, once again. The Wynn Casino has Johnson at 7/2 odds, followed by Denny Hamlin 7/1, Kyle Busch 8/1, Clint Bowyer 8/1 and Tony Stewart 10/1.
Picking a winner is easy before the season starts, but which drivers will come out of nowhere to compete for the championship in 2013? This season saw a supposed top-five shoe-in struggle (Carl Edwards), and a driver who wasn't supposed to make the Chase end up competing for the tile (Clint Bowyer). Who will be the Clint Bowyer of 2013?
Here is my list of 10 sleepers who could win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship in 2013…
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
If Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wins the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship in his rookie season, it would be one of the biggest underdog stories in NASCAR history.
Not since 2006 has a Rookie of the Year finished in the top-five. 2006 was one of the best rookie classes in recent memory, with Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. all making their debut. Hamlin came out of nowhere that season and finished third in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.
Stenhouse has a lot going for him in 2013. He is the back-to-back NASCAR Nationwide Series Champion, and will be driving the No. 17 car for Roush Fenway Racing. If Stenhouse has anywhere near the success that Matt Kenseth had in the No. 17 car, he will be a driver to watch in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The Wynn Las Vegas list Stenhouse’s odds of winning the championship at 50/1.
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Paul Menard has improved upon his finish in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings in each of the past four years. The 2012 season was his best season when he finished No. 16. It would be a stretch to say that Menard could go from outside the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship in one year, but NASCAR is a crazy sport and the unexpected tends to take place.
What Menard has going for him in 2013 is his ability to compete on the 1.5 mile racetracks and his place at Richard Childress Racing. Menard had nine top-10 finishes in 2012 and four of them came at 1.5 mile tracks (Las Vegas, Michigan, Kansas and Atlanta). With Kevin Harvick possibly moving on to Stewart Haas Racing after the 2013 season and Jeff Burton at the end of his career, Menard could become the No. 1 driver on the Richard Childress team.
Menard has a lot to improve upon in 2013 in order to be the champion, but it is about time Richard Childress Racing climbs back to the top of the sport. There is no reason why Menard cannot be the driver leading the charge.
The Wynn Las Vegas list Menard’s odds of winning the championship at 60/1.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Could this be the season Kurt Busch learns to control his temper and returns to the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Standings? He has the talent to do so; the question is, will he have the equipment?
Busch blew his opportunity at Penski Racing to win a championship. The year after Busch was cut from the team, Brad Keselowski drove his former car to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
After a season at Phoenix Racing, Busch moves to Furniture Row Racing in 2013. When Busch took over for Regan Smith in the No. 78 car at Charlotte in 2012, he ran most of the races in the top-20. Busch’s best finish came at Phoenix, where he finished No. 6.
Busch will need a lot of things to go right for him in 2013 in order to become a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion. He can start off by controlling his temper and let his talent make the statements.
The Wynn Las Vegas lists Busch’s odds of winning the championship at 100/1.
Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Ryan Newman is a fickle driver. He can put together multiple top-10 finishes, but just when you think Newman is ready to compete for the championship he has a streak of finishes outside the top-15. When will Newman be able to compete at a high level and stay there?
Maybe 2013 will be the season. The one thing that Newman has going for him is his ability to start on the Pole; starting up front makes it easier to finish there. His 49 career pole positions rank No. 7 all-time in NASCAR history.
Matt Borland took over as Newman’s Crew Chief at Martinsville last October. Newman was able to finish the 2012 season with two top-five finishes in four races with Borland as his Crew Chief.
Newman has the talent to become one of the best drivers in the Series. In order to become the champion he must avoid his signature slumps.
The Wynn Las Vegas lists Newman’s odds of winning the championship at 30/1.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
After initially high expectations—some saw him as the best driver to come into the Sprint Cup Series in a long time—Logano has disappointed fans in four years at NASCAR’s top level.
Maybe what Logano needs is a change in teams. In 2013 Logano will leave Joe Gibbs Racing and take over as driver of the No. 22 car for Penski Racing. He will be teamed up with the defending Sprint Cup Champion, Brad Keselowski. The two young drivers could be a commanding force in the 2013 season.
If Logano can learn from Keselowski, he might start to live up to his nickname: “Sliced Bread.” Logano has yet to make the Chase, but 2013 could be the season to take a giant leap forward.
The Wynn Las Vegas lists Logano’s odds of winning the championship at 50/1.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Like Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s career started with expectations of multiple championships. Entering his 14th season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, many of his fans believed Earnhardt would have already won a championship.
Critics of Earnhardt often question his dedication to the sport. That intensified when Earnhardt made the decision to step out of his car after suffering a concussion at Talladega. Afterwards, ESPN Analyst and former NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace made comments about Earnhardt giving up his seat.
Earnhardt had one of his best seasons in 2012, finishing in the top-10 in 15 of the first 20 races of the season. He finished, however, in a slump. If Earnhardt can finish his season as well as he starts it, he will be a contender for the title.
The Wynn Las Vegas list Earnhardt’s odds of winning the championship at 15/1.
Martin Truex Jr.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Martin Truex Jr.’s 2012 season started hot but faded in the Chase. Truex finished No. 11 in the point standings, but also captured seven top-five finishes and 19 top-10 finishes.
Nothing will change with the No. 56 team in 2013. Chad Johnson returns as the Crew Chief and Michael Waltrip Racing will be powered by the Toyota Racing Department engines.
One of the biggest surprises in the 2012 season was how well the teams from Michael Waltrip Racing were able to perform. If they continue to improve, Truex will be at the top of the point standings. He just needs to turn his top-five finishes into wins.
The Wynn Las Vegas list Truex’s odds of winning the championship at 22/1.
John Harrelson/Getty Images
Kevin Harvick had a quiet season in 2012. He ended up finishing No. 8 in the point standings, but for most of the season no one was talking about him.
Harvick is one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR. He has finished in the top-five in the point standings five separate times. He just needs to take his abilities to the next step.
With the reports of Harvick possibly leaving Richard Childress Racing following the 2013 season, it is hard to believe that he will be focused enough to win the title next season. I am not one to doubt Harvick’s ability to win, and I would not be surprised if he took the 2013 Sprint Cup Championship with him to Stewart Haas Racing.
The Wynn Las Vegas list Harvick’s odds of winning the championship at 16/1.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Is Matt Kenseth a sleeper? Everyone knows that Kenseth is one of the best drivers in the sport; the reason he made the list is because he is leaving the comfort of Roush Fenway Racing to start over at Joe Gibbs Racing.
My guess is the move will mean more wins and a finish at the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
Teaming up with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch will be good for Kenseth. He has a reputation for being too laid back. If Kenseth was more aggressive on the racetrack, he could win more races. If Hamlin and Busch cannot fire him up, nothing will.
The Wynn Las Vegas list Kenseth’s odds of winning the championship at 10/1.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Kasey Kahne came close to winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship in 2012. Luck plays an important part in racing, and Kahne was one of the most unlucky drivers in 2012. Kahne had the best car in many of last year's races, but wound up in other drivers' wrecks. If Kahne could have finished those races up front, he would have been competing for the title.
Kahne’s move to Hendrick Motorsports helped his career. Kahne’s best finish in the point standings before moving to Hendrick Motorsports was eighth (2006). Kahne finished No. 4 in 2012.
Kahne could definitely put it all together and finish as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion in 2013.
The Wynn Las Vegas list Kahne’s odds of winning the championship at 12/1.
Follow me on Twitter @HuskerMagic