Despite winning hundreds of NASCAR, IndyCar, and sports car races, from Indianapolis to Daytona and everywhere in between, Roger Penske didn't take his first Sprint Cup championship until Brad Keselowski won it for him this year.
That should illustrate just how hard it is to win a championship in NASCAR, where the triumvirate of Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing has dominated the top of the standings for the most part since Jeff Gordon's first title in 1995.
While all of those teams put cars in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, we also saw some more interesting names in that mix. Michael Waltrip put both of his full-time drivers in, while Richard Petty Motorsports showed flashes of front-running ability, especially late in the year.
Behind them, a host of top-30 teams are counting on an offseason of driver upgrades and few personnel changes to help them build chemistry for 2013 and beyond. Here are the seven teams taking the greatest strides towards competitiveness—maybe even dominance—at the Sprint Cup level.