The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has one of the shortest offseasons in all of professional sports, but it is constantly rife with developing stories despite its short 90-day respite.
Fresh off the heels of one of the most exciting finishes in recent memory, the drivers and teams are already looking forward to January when testing will begin for the 54th Daytona 500.
Many faces and places have altered in the past couple weeks since the final checkered flag dropped.
Still more are undoubtedly in the works.
Here are some stories that will be discussed in the offseason and become more fodder for NASCAR news junkies as the season gets ready to open again on February 26th, 2012.
As it stands right now, Kyle Busch is on probation until the end of 2011. But when that is lifted on January 1st, a question mark remains as to where he will stand with NASCAR and his sponsors.
The short answer to the question is that he will not have a huge margin for error. His best bet is to avoid any conflict at all costs and to keep his mouth shut.
This includes—but is not limited to—Kevin Harvick. The two seem to genuinely dislike each other, even though they did make some form of amends in the second half of the 2011 season.
This tenuous standing with NASCAR may result in a slow start for Busch; he will have to curb his aggressiveness. Unfortunately, that is part of what makes him a great driver.
As soon as Kyle Busch is involved in anything that resembles a purposeful wreck of another driver, questions will explode as to what NASCAR, M&Ms and Joe Gibbs Racing will do with the driver.
Staying in the camp of Joe Gibbs Racing, the organization replaced Denny Hamlin's crew-chief, Mike Ford, with the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup-champion crew-chief Darian Grubb.
This will draw a lot of attention and put some extra pressure on Grubb to get results fairly quickly.
Although the expectations of Joe Gibbs Racing have not been explicitly expressed in public, it is assumable that it hired Grubb to get the No. 11 FedEx Toyota back to its 2010 form that almost derailed Jimmie Johnson's bid for a fifth consecutive title.
Though a big topic for the offseason, this story will be a continuing development for the better part of 2012.
The only solid information about where Kurt Busch will go in 2012 is his continual visits to see a sports psychologist.
Other than that, many rumors abound.
One of his reasons for parting ways with Penske Dodge South was basically that he was not having any fun with racing as he had in the past.
Who knows? He might just take a year off. While highly unlikely, that would be a major story in and of itself.
Based on Kasey Kahne's stellar performance in the 2011 Chase (though not a contender), Hendrick Motorsports has to be excited about the prospects of putting him in one of their rides.
The media will be excited, too.
With better funding and better equipment, Kahne, if he can bottle up the momentum he carried at the end of 2011 into 2012, has a great chance to enter the Chase.
Furthermore, Hendrick Motorsports should have a better than even chance of putting all four of its drivers in the 2012 Chase.
One other ingredient to look for is whether Kahne will replace Mark Martin as Jeff Gordon's traditional drafting partner, or whether Hendrick Motorsports will switch things up and have him draft with either Jimmie Johnson or Dale Earnhardt Jr.
This topic will probably be discussed ad nauseum until the Daytona 500 is finished.
NASCAR has finally removed the carburetors from its cars and switched to a more modern fuel injection system.
It will probably arouse many opinions. Whoever wins the Daytona 500 will love it; there is bound to be one or two top drivers that disdain it.
Either way, all teams have had the chance to test it and see how differently it performs in terms of fuel conservation and overall mileage. The real testing ground will begin in race conditions at Daytona.
Roush Fenway Racing had to scale back to a three-car team for 2012, as UPS was no longer a willing sponsor. That was bad news for David Ragan.
He is currently unemployed, though he is considered to be a leading candidate to replace the recently released Kurt Busch in the No. 22 Dodge.
Though a favorite, Ragan has some competition—Brian Vickers, a former Chase contender, is also available. Other possibilities include Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and perhaps Scott Speed.
If he does not get the ride from Penske Dodge, Ragan may be spending another season in the Nationwide Series.
Former employee of Michael Waltrip racing and driver of the No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota, Reutimann is in an even more precarious spot than David Ragan.
Unlike Ragan, Reutimann is not at the top of any lists, currently, to get a new ride. Further, he was given much less warning than Ragan to try to find one.
Sometimes, nice guys finish last. The best he can realistically hope for is to make a last-minute deal to drive either a Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series vehicle.
Either way, he will be taking a serious pay-cut in 2012.
This story will either die quickly or blossom into a huge media blitz.
The major factor? Tabloid press has published rumours that Jr. broke up the marriage of what is considered his current girlfriend, Amy Reimann.
There is no conclusive evidence of a scandal, especially considering the fact that the source of the information are tabloids that thrive on half-truths and myths to sell their publications.
If Jr. breaks up with his current belle and they go their separate ways, the story will most likely die a quick death.
On the other hand, if somehow proven true, Jr. will be asked many more questions than simply how he thinks his new teammate, Kasey Kahne, will fit in at Hendrick Motorsports.
In 2010, Denny Hamlin had to swallow a bitter pill after losing the championship to Jimmie Johnson while still having the lead going into the last race.
Carl Edwards essentially did the same thing, though he was even closer to the title than Hamlin and did not surrender the points lead. He just did not win enough races.
Edwards' season will be followed closely in 2012, as he has emerged as a perennial Chase contender and a very serious championship contender.
Denny Hamlin did not rebound well from his near-miss at the title. What will Carl Edwards do, and how will he improve to actually win the title?
He will be asked that question many times during the offseason and through the course of 2012.
It is safe to say that Tony Stewart cannot be expected to duplicate his 2011 Chase performance. Winning half of the Chase races is a new record that may never be bested.
However, the question of whether or not he can repeat his championship will be asked and asked again until almost everyone is sick of discussing it.
At some point, Smoke will probably get sick of it himself. It would not be a major surprise to see a clip or sound-bite of his going viral that sees him berating yet another helpless reporter that arouses his ire.
Just as questions will abound as to Tony Stewart's chances to repeat, the same stories will echo that with the subject being transplanted for Jimmie Johnson.
Was 2011 just an off-year for the five-time champion? Or is the magic gone, and is he on the downward slope?
Much of that will have to play out over the course of the season to get a true answer, but it will be hashed and re-hashed as fodder for analysts and commentators.
The general consensus with modern super-speedway racing is that it's rather boring and produces random winners.
NASCAR has recognized this and pledged to make an effort to change it. The question is how?
One way could be to remove the restrictor plates, but for safety concerns, this seems like an unlikely option.
Perhaps in the weeks leading up to the Daytona 500, NASCAR will unveil its official plan to truly change a formerly exciting form of racing that has since become bland and unpopular with the drivers themselves.
Well, if anything, we do know that four-time champion Jeff Gordon can still break-dance (a little).
Gordon had two separate seasons in 2011: the regular and the Chase.
His regular season was outstanding and even had many speculating that he could match Jimmie Johnson's total of five championships.
It was not to be. Gordon was never a serious contender once the racing started; he finished a disappointing ninth place in points.
How will he respond in 2012? A poor season could have him contemplating retirement.