Ranking the 10 Most Promising Driving Prospects for 2013

Michael Guadalupe@The_GuadaFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2012

Ranking the 10 Most Promising Driving Prospects for 2013

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    Being a prospect in NASCAR can mean several different things.

    Some drivers are prospects because it's their first full-time Sprint Cup season, and after having success in the Nationwide or Camping World series, they should be ones to watch as they make the move to another level in stock car racing.

    Then there are those who switched teams after 2012 and are looking for new starts in the 2013 season.  Their new rides might be enough to make them drivers to watch as the new season starts.

    Regardless, a prospect in NASCAR should be a driver who will have some success in the sport, whether it's in the Camping World, Nationwide or Sprint Cup series.

    As NASCAR gets set for the 2013 season, there are several drivers who will be looking to prove themselves.  Some had a solid rookie year, while others are entering new territory within the sport.

    Here are the 10 most promising driving prospects for 2013.

10. Kurt Busch

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    Kurt Busch had an up-and-down season in 2012.  He found himself on an underfunded Phoenix Racing team and couldn't keep up with the other top drivers in NASCAR.

    After making the switch to Furniture Row with six races left in the season, though, Busch started to show immediate improvement.

    He finished in the top 10 of the last three races of the 2012 season.

    Now that NASCAR is in its offseason, Busch is getting ready to make his debut with Furniture Row Racing, and it looks like he could have a much more successful year in 2013 than in 2012.

    Busch is teaming up with veteran crew chief Todd Berrier, and now Kurt looks like a huge prospect to help put Furniture Row Racing on the map in 2013.

    He also looks like a driver who will be in the mix next year, thanks to his fresh start with a new team.

    “With Kurt behind the wheel, seriously, we’re going to win some races,” Furniture Row GM Joe Garone said over at aol.com. “We expect to win races and be competing competitively every weekend.”

    As long as Busch can keep his cool and remain out of trouble, 2013 should be a solid year for him.  After being dropped by Penske Racing because of his attitude, his new start with Furniture Row Racing is a great way for Busch to show he is still a top driver.

    Look for Kurt to be a promising prospect once the offseason finishes and 2013 starts.

9. Ty Dillon

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    Ty Dillon, the younger of the Dillon brothers, was impressive in his debut in the Camping World series last year.

    He won the rookie honors in the Camping World series, won a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and managed to lead the points race for a portion of the season.

    He was in the race for the championship going into the last laps of the Homestead race.

    Ty Dillon still has a lot of work to do in the Camping World series, but eventually he will make his way over to Nationwide and probably continue to have success.

    After a successful 2012 Camping World series run that saw him finish the season in fourth, with an average finish of ninth, Ty Dillon looks like a promising prospect for the 2013 season.

8. James Buescher

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    James Buescher started the 2012 season by winning the Nationwide Daytona 500.

    He found himself elevated quite quickly in NASCAR and went from being an unknown driver to an overnight sensation.

    His real success came in the Camping World truck series, though, as he managed to win four races.  He would go on to win the Camping World truck series championship as well.

    After winning the Camping World title, Buescher's future is uncertain.  He still doesn't know if he's sticking around in the Camping World series or going to try his luck in Nationwide.

    "I know I'll be in a series full time and be in competitive equipment and in position to win races so I'm not too concerned to know what I'm doing next year," Buescher said over at aol.com.

    "I'm good with either one. It would be cool to try to go for back-to-back championships but if I get the opportunity to go Nationwide racing, it would be cool to compete for more Nationwide wins and see if we can get a Nationwide championship."

    Regardless of what opportunities present themselves to Buescher, he will be one of the most promising prospects in either the Camping World or Nationwide series.

7. Sam Hornish Jr.

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    Sam Hornish Jr. stepped up big for Penske Racing in 2012 when A.J. Allmendinger was released.

    He had some solid finishes, but Hornish didn't do anything extremely impressive when he was thrown into the No. 22 at the last minute.

    It wasn't really his fault. After all, he had to shuffle both a Nationwide and Sprint Cup schedule while trying to adjust to the No. 22 team and car.

    Penske decided Hornish wasn't ready for a full Sprint Cup season, and instead Hornish is sticking to the Nationwide series.

    While this might seem like a setback for the driver, it's actually the right course of action.  Hornish will run limited races in the Sprint Cup series and will have both Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano around to help him ease into the Sprint Cup car.

    Now Sam Hornish is getting a new crew chief in Greg Erwin for the 2013 Nationwide series.  Erwin led Greg Biffle to five victories and played a role in getting Biffle into The Chase three times.

    With an experienced Ford crew chief helping him improve even more, Hornish is one prospect to look out for in the Nationwide series.

    He managed to finish fourth in the series last season and will be looking to finish even stronger in 2013.

6. Austin Dillon

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    Austin Dillon made history in the NASCAR Camping World series when he became the youngest driver to win the title at the age of 22.

    In 2012, Dillon moved over to the Nationwide series and never left the top four in points.  He also won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. 

    Not bad for his first year in the Nationwide series.

    Now with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moving up to the Sprint Cup series, 2013 is the perfect time for Dillon to take the Nationwide series by storm once again.

    Austin had a great year in Nationwide and has proven to be one of the top drivers in the series, based on his rookie season alone.

    Eventually he will transition to the Sprint Cup series, but for now Dillon looks like one of the most promising prospects for the 2013 Nationwide title.

5. Danica Patrick

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    When it comes to looking at some of NASCAR's future prospects, it's hard to find a place to put Danica.

    Of course she is a promising prospect, since her popularity alone will translate well for Stewart-Haas Racing.

    She had some success in the Indy Car series, managing not to have any DNFs in her last two years, but she only had one win in her entire Indy career.

    Danica is one prospect that will have all eyes on her, as she prepares to make her Sprint Cup series full-time start in 2013.  She will be driving for one of the better organizations in the sport, and has had a handful of top drivers help her along the way.

    She had some interesting moments last season in her limited Sprint Cup debut, so 2013 should be filled with even more Danica moments.

    She will be talked about all over the media, whether she succeeds or fails next year.

    Regardless of her success, though, Danica Patrick is a promising prospect for 2013 and could change the sport of stock car racing as we know it.

4. Matt Kenseth

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    Matt Kenseth is making a huge transition from Roush Fenway Racing, where he's been for his entire Sprint Cup career, to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013.

    It won't be easy, especially since Kenseth was with RFR for 13 seasons.  But Kenseth is one of the top drivers in NASCAR, and he looks like a huge prospect for the Joe Gibbs Racing organization in 2013.

    Kenseth was quoted by Bob Pockrass at aol.com as saying:

    I’m the older one and the most experienced from a leadership (standpoint), but I feel the opposite—I feel like the new kid.  I feel like I’m going to go in there with my eyes and ears open and try to see what’s going on here in the next few weeks.

    With his experience, and the success he had with Roush Fenway Racing, Kenseth is a great acquisition for any racing team.

    "I’m going to spend a lot of time in the shop, a lot of time getting to know new people and getting acclimated and getting ready to go racing, so I’m really curious to see how everything goes, see what we talk about this time next year," Kenseth continued over at aol.com.

    How hard it is for Kenseth to adjust to his new racing team is something we will see when the 2013 season starts.

    One thing is for sure, though: With Kenseth leaving RFR, he was the top driver to pick up for 2013, and Joe Gibbs Racing got themselves a promising prospect for next season.

3. Regan Smith

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    Regan Smith lost his ride in the Sprint Cup series at Furniture Row, but he picked up another ride for 2013 in the Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports.

    Regan would go on to win his first race for JR Motorsports at Homestead Miami.  Smith now has some momentum going into the 2013 Nationwide series, and he could be a serious contender to win the championship by the end of the year.

    He did a solid job in the Sprint Cup series when he was needed to fill in for a couple of races when Dale Jr. needed to sit out due to a concussion.

    "The main thing is going to be to go into the offseason and realize that we've got to continue to improve, we've got to continue to build fast racecars, to find more speed because everybody else is going to do it all offseason," Smith said over at aol.com.

    Winning his first race for JR Motorsports might put a lot of pressure on Smith, but he has the right attitude moving into the 2013 season.

    "I don't think winning ever sets the standard too high," Smith continued to say over at aol.com. "That's what we do this for, and it's what we're going to do it all next year for, and if we're sitting out on the frontstretch (celebrating the title) at the end of the year next year, that's what the goal is and that's what the goal needs to be."

    Regan Smith looks like a promising prospect for the 2013 Nationwide series.  If he manages to have success next year, don't be surprised to see Smith make a full-time return to the Sprint Cup series.

2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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    Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is another promising prospect who has a lot to fulfill in 2013. 

    After managing to win back-to-back Nationwide championships, Stenhouse is moving up to a full-time Sprint Cup series start.

    He will be replacing Matt Kenseth, who headed over to Joe Gibbs Racing.  Replacing a driver like Kenseth is always easier said than done.

    Rookies who come over from Nationwide also tend to struggle in their first full-time start, and the same could happen to Stenhouse.

    The Roush-Fenway organization clearly believes Stenhouse to be a promising prospect.  With two Nationwide titles under his belt, he looks like he might be the next big thing in Roush Fenway Racing.

    With a young driver like Brad Keselowski winning the Sprint Cup championship in 2012, the future looks even brighter for young drivers.

    Keselowski struggled in his first full-time Sprint Cup series and managed to win a title only a few years later.  The same could happen to Stenhouse.

    2013 will be a year where Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is tested.  Regardless of how his rookie Sprint Cup year goes, Stenhouse is a promising prospect in NASCAR and will be a top driver sooner or later.

1. Joey Logano

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    Joey Logano has been a prospect in NASCAR since he entered the Sprint Cup series.

    The problem is that Logano has never delivered.

    He is extremely dominant in the Nationwide series, winning nine races in 2012, but he only managed to win one race in the Sprint Cup series.

    Now that Logano has separated himself from Joe Gibbs Racing, 2013 is a new start for him.

    He will be racing for Ford again, and teammate Brad Keselowski will undoubtedly help Logano reach his full potential.

    "His work ethic and the way he is is very similar to me when it comes to being a race car driver," Logano said over at ESPN.com.

    Logano becoming the new driver for the Penske No. 22 car was the best option for him.  He now looks like one of the biggest prospects for the 2013 season.  With a new team behind him, Logano could finally break out in the Sprint Cup series.

    “They respect me coming right into it,” Logano continued over at ESPN.com. “You talk to Roger, he says, 'I don't see you and Brad being any different, you're starting from the same level and you go from there.' That's huge.”