Teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have already begun to prepare for the 2013 season. It is never too early for fans to begin looking ahead to the new season as well.
Before each NASCAR season begins, many media outlets publish their list for the new season. One of the most popular is the list of the best NASCAR teams heading into the new season.
Many factors must be considered when ranking the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams. Past success is the most important, but personnel changes within the organization is also a factor.
One of the biggest mistakes made by media members when creating lists for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is that too much emphasis is put on the previous season. Anyone who is a diehard NASCAR fan knows that what happened the previous season will not happen in the upcoming season.
Here are my ranking of the top NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams going into the 2013 season….
Some teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are making their way to the top, while others are becoming less competitive in the sport. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is one of the teams heading in the wrong direction.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing consists of the No. 1 car driven by Jamie McMurray and the No. 42 car driven by Juan Pablo Montoya.
In 2010 Earnhardt Ganassi looked like they were ready to take a step forward and become one of the elite teams in the sport. The team won four races and seven poles that season. McMurray won both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400.
The team has gone downhill since the 2010 season. Last year, McMurray and Montoya failed to finish the season in the top-20 in the point standings. McMurray finished No. 21 and Montoya finished No. 22. The team does not look like it will make much improvement in 2013.
The major change for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in 2013 will be the switch to Hendrick Motorsports engines. With more horsepower under the hood, McMurray and Montoya may be able to return to victory lane. Just do not look for either driver in the Chase in 2013.
One of the most underrated teams in NASCAR is Furniture Row Racing.
There seems to be a template that describes what it takes to be a competitive team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Furniture Row Racing does not follow the strategies used by most of the other teams.
Having multiple teams in the organization, based out of one garage in North Carolina seems to be the norm in NASCAR. Furniture Row Racing is a single car team based out of Denver, Colorado. The team is looking to expand to a second car, but it is unlikely to happen in the 2013 season.
The major change for Furniture Row Racing in 2013 will be the change from Regan Smith to Kurt Busch as the driver of the No. 78 car. Busch is a former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion and has the talent to take Furniture Row Racing to the Chase. He will need to control his temper and realize that his team does not have the resources of the multi-car teams.
Could 2013 be the season Richard Petty Motorsports makes the Chase? Probably not, but the team is closer than most people think.
The 2012 season was a good one for Richard Petty Motorsports. Both of their drivers, Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose, found success. The team won one race (Watkins Glen), had 12 top-10 finishes and won three poles. Both drivers finished in the top-20 in the point standings.
There will not be much change for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2013. There was talk that the team may switch to Dodge for the 2013 season, but when Richard Petty Motorsports made the decision to stay with Ford, Dodge decided to leave the sport.
Almirola and Ambrose continue to improve in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Ambrose is the best road course racer in the sport and Almirola is starting to prove he belongs in the famous No. 43 car. 2013 may be the best season for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Richard Childress Racing is another team heading in the wrong direction. There are more questions than answers at Richard Childress Racing. Who will replace Kevin Harvick after the 2013 season? Is Jeff Burton ready to retire? Can Paul Menard carry the team to a championship? Time will tell how all of these questions will be answered.
The 2012 season was not a complete failure for Richard Childress Racing. The team won one race (Phoenix), had 29 top-10 finishes and Harvick was able to finish eighth in the point standings. With the past success of Richard Childress Racing, the team is held to a higher standard than having one team in the Chase and two teams outside the top-15.
With so much uncertainty heading into the 2013 season, it is hard to imagine Richard Childress Racing competing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Harvick should be able to make the Chase for the fourth time in a row, but Burton and Menard will not be able to make enough improvements to earn a spot the Chase.
I look for major changes to take place at Richard Childress Racing following the 2013 season.
How can a team with a three time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion only be the sixth best team in NASCAR? Stewart Haas Racing is a “one-horse stable.”
Tony Stewart is arguably one of the best drivers in the sport. He will lead Stewart Haas Racing to the Chase in 2013.
The problem with Stewart Haas Racing is with their other drivers. Ryan Newman is a streaky driver. When he gets on a roll, he can be one of the best drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The problem is that his hot streaks do not last long enough to make him a factor in the Chase.
The addition of Danica Patrick will not do much for the team other than help them sell merchandise. If Patrick is able to finish in the top-20 in the point standings in 2013, it would shock most fans.
The 2013 will be a down year for Stewart Haas Racing. The team will bounce back in 2014 if the rumored addition of Kevin Harvick to the team is true.
The surprise story for the 2012 season was the success of Michael Waltrip Racing. The team was able to win three races and have 58 top-10 finishes. Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. were both able to make the Chase, with Bowyer finishing second in the final point standings. Mark Martin probably would have made the Chase as well if he had raced the entire season in the No. 55 car.
Was the 2012 season a fluke, or is the team really this good? I think the team is good, but I would not expect another second place finish from Bowyer. He is a good driver, but his 2012 season may be the best of his career.
Truex is competitive week in and week out, but he needs to learn to turn top five finishes into wins.
Martin and Brian Vickers will continue to have success in the No. 55 car. As long as the team keeps switching drivers, they will continue to miss out on a spot in the Chase.
Michael Waltrip Racing is one of the NASCAR teams on the rise in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The team will be competitive in 2013, but not yet ready to win the championship.
I penalized Stewart Haas Racing on my list because the team has only one driver who could compete in the Chase. The same can be said for Penske Racing. The difference between the two organizations is that Penske Racing’s top driver is also the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion.
Brad Keselowski had a dream season in 2012. He had five wins, 23 top-10 finishes and won his first championship. There is no reason to think that Keselowski is going away anytime soon. With so many races coming down to fuel millage and Keselowski being the “King of saving fuel,” Penske Racing will have a chance to win multiple races in 2013.
Penske Racing made some drastic changes for the 2013 season. Joey Logano will take over for Sam Hornish and A.J. Allmendinger in the No. 22 car. Penske Racing will also switch from Dodge to Fords in 2013. Both of these moves will make Penske Racing more competitive in 2013, if that is possible.
For years the top two teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have been Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. Hendricks is still at the top, but Roush Fenway Racing is falling down the list.
Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle will lead Roush Fenway Racing in 2013. Both drivers have the skills to compete for a Championship. They know how to lead the points throughout the season. Now they must learn how to be at the top of the point standings at the end of the season.
The lost of Matt Kenseth will be significant for Roush Fenway Racing. It is hard to replace a NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion with a rookie driver. That is what Roush Fenway Racing will try to do in 2013. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has had success in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Now he must prove he can compete in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford.
Edwards and Biffle will make the Chase in 2013, but in order to be the top team in NASCAR, all of the team’s drivers must make the Chase. Stenhouse will hold the team back for a season before Roush Fenway bounces back in 2014.
Joe Gibbs Racing did not have the season they were looking for in 2012. Denny Hamlin was their only driver to make the Chase. He finished a disappointing sixth in the point standings.
The 2013 season will be different. Matt Kenseth will replace Joey Logano in the No. 20 car. The addition of Kenseth to the team propels Joe Gibbs Racing past Roush Fenway Racing on the list of the top teams in the sport. Kenseth is a past champion who could teach Hamlin and Kyle Busch what it takes to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.
The trio of Hamlin, Busch and Kenseth could win any race throughout the 2013 season. Each will make the Chase next season and it would not be surprising if one of them is holding up the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship trophy at Homestead Miami Speedway.
This list would not be realistic if Hendrick Motorsports was not at the top. The team of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. may be the most powerful team ever assembled in motorsports.
All four drivers made the Chase in 2012. The team won 10 races, had 81 top-10 finishes and won 11 poles. The only thing Hendrick Motorsports did not do in 2012 was win the championship. That could change in 2013.
A car using Hendrick Motorsports engines has won six of the last seven NASCAR Sprint Cup championships. If a driver from Hendrick Motorsports is not holding the championship trophy at the end of the 2013 season, you can bet that one of the drivers will be competing for the championship trophy at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Follow me on Twitter @HuskerMagic.