What makes one car "cooler" than another—especially in NASCAR?
It's not like sports car racing, where 10 to 15 different car models take to the track in any given race. These days, NASCAR racing features only Fords, Chevrolets and Toyotas with the occasional independent Dodge/RAM straggler potentially hanging around in the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series. Compare that to the early 1990s, when every General Motors brand seemed to have an entry.
On one hand, with NASCAR moving to cars that better resemble their street counterparts, just about every new model looks pretty good. But a new batch of paint schemes separate some of next year's challengers from the rest.
With that in mind, this list is a mixed bag. In some cases, paint schemes that look good on next year's new models get the focus, but on some occasions, the cars themselves are the stars of the show. Without further ado, here are 10 cars sure to steal camera time next year:
For the first time since 2002, Penske Racing will field Fords in NASCAR, rejoining the Blue Oval camp after a lengthy and successful partnership with Dodge.
But while Dodge unveiled a new Charger for potential competition in 2013, Penske was too impressed with the new EcoBoost Fusion to resist joining Roush Fenway Racing, Front Row Motorsports and the Wood Brothers.
Defending champion Brad Keselowski will lead the charge into next season in the famous No. 2 car, partnering with new teammate Joey Logano.
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports will lead Chevrolet's charge into the next generation of stock car racing with the new SS model, inspired by the Australian Holden Commodore.
For the second year in a row, sponsor Lowe's will repaint the car in classic Chevrolet colors in selected races, starting with the non-points Shootout at Daytona in February. This one, "Daytona yellow," was used on Chevelles, Camaros and Corvettes in 1969 and 1970.
Well known for his taste in clean-looking cars and having a hand in most of his paint schemes, this is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s new car for the majority of the 2013 Sprint Cup season.
It's a slight update of the longtime National Guard scheme, reversing the blue and white from this year, but it preserves the general theme—and of course the black rear bumper.
One of many impressive new paint schemes on the fresh Chevrolet SS model, sponsor Budweiser is dropping the black-oriented look of the past two seasons for a new scheme inspired by the new design of its beer cans.
Though this car may only last one season with both Harvick and Budweiser rumored to leave Richard Childress Racing after 2013, it's one of the sharpest looking cars we've seen in years.
Get used to the Dollar General paint scheme on a No. 20 car, as Matt Kenseth will join Joe Gibbs Racing to drive this at the Sprint Cup level, and Brian Vickers will campaign a matching scheme at the Nationwide level.
What was always a sharp looking scheme looks even better on the new Generation Six Camry.
The new look of the iconic No. 21 Ford is an expert blend of a retro-themed paint scheme—inspired by the Wood Brothers' heyday with David Pearson and sponsor Purolator—and styling cues borrowed from the new Fusion design. The result is a NASCAR-ready stock car that almost looks like a street-legal model decaled up for the race track—exactly what Ford was going for.
After two years of running similar candy apple red schemes, Jeff Gordon's new primary ride for 2013 features a lot more black and a lot less silver, along with yellow highlights added to accent the iconic No. 24 decal.
It's one of the meanest schemes of Gordon's career, even topping the black-and-flame DuPont scheme and the iconic Jurassic Park car from the 1997 Winston.
After years of wild schemes shared between Truex and now team owner Michael Waltrip, NAPA elected to run this simpler, cleaner scheme on the No. 56 Camry for 2013.
In some ways, it's reminiscent of the more basic NAPA scheme that Ron Hornaday and Brendan Gaughan—among others—ran at NASCAR's lower levels in the past two decades, often to great success. Hornaday won 19 truck races and two championships between 1996 and 1999, while Gaughan took home two Winston West championships and eight victories in 2000 and 2001 driving the scheme.
Of the handful of paint schemes revealed for the NASCAR Camaro, Chevrolet's new entry in the Nationwide Series—Ty Dillon's limited-schedule entry—may be the sharpest.
After Ford's decision to bring in the Mustang and Dodge's brief run with the Challenger, it was only logical that Chevrolet would replace the Impala at the Nationwide level before too long. A slight update of the scheme he drove to a top-five finish at Indianapolis this year, Dillon will run this car in a handful of races while campaigning for his first Camping World Truck Series title and preparing for a full-time Nationwide slate in 2014.
NASCAR's oldest and most unique class of racing features these open-wheeled cars racing at both local tracks and as support events for Sprint Cup weekends at Bristol and New Hampshire. It's one of the most popular regional series in the sport, with Ryan Newman frequently competing and longtime Cup and Nationwide racers Jimmy Spencer and Mike McLaughlin among its past champions.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.