Racin’ with Russ
Each year at this time, I dive into the many driver, crew, sponsor and paint scheme changes for next year. I’ll also throw in my predictions as to how well the various combos will fare. Either take some notes or save these articles to keep up with the many changes.
Car No. 10: Danica Patrick
NASCAR’s newest sweetheart will have a limited schedule of Sprint Cup starts set at a maximum of 10, although only eight are currently scheduled.
Once again, she’s been able to surround herself with the best opportunities by having some of the best equipment and being under the Stewart/Haas Hendrick banners. Having Tony Stewart as a mentor can’t hurt, and the recent announcement of Greg Zipadelli as crew chief is a definite bonus (via USA Today).
There’s also talk of her using the champion’s No. 14 subliminally under the No. 10 GoDaddy graphics, which will insure her of at least a few starts regardless of how she qualifies.
So, how will she fair against the big boys of stock car racing?
Starting with Daytona and later Bristol will not make things any easier. Overall, she’ll be an also ran in her bright green GoDaddy Chevy and leave the racetrack on more than one hook. Don’t bet on any Top 10s.
Car No. 14: Tony Stewart
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Stewart returns to the No. 14 Chevrolet ride with sponsors Office Depot, Burger King and Mobil 1 as major backers for the now three-time champion.
Steve Addington has replaced the departed Darian Grubb as crew chief. These two have worked together before, and with the recent addition of Zipadelli as competition director should be a lethal combo: But of course there are no guarantees in racing.
I’d see a solid season with more than one win, a berth in the Chase, but he comes up short as far as title No. 4.
Car No. 15: Clint Bowyer
This ex-dirt track racer moves over from Childress Racing to be part of the Waltrip Racing Toyota gang. This is certainly a move down from where he was, and despite having the experienced Brian Pattie as crew chief, I don’t see any miracles here.
Although 5-Hour Energy has signed on for about 20 races, it leaves a good part of the season's backing a question mark.
A colorful paint scheme will be easy to spot somewhere in the middle of the pack with a few Top 10s before seasons end. Chase spot? I think not.
Car No. 16: Greg Biffle
This Roush-Fenway driver showed some signs of brilliance with three poles during the 2011 season, but a 16th in points with 10 Top 10s and no wins is not really what the team had in mind.
He led quite a few laps, but could not complete the mission for a myriad of reasons.
Matt Puccia once again calls the shots from atop the pit box and 3M returns as the primary sponsor. If this group can all get on the same page, wins are possible and a Chase berth plausible.
Car No. 17: Matt Kenseth
Biffle’s teammate Matt Kenseth returns as driver of the lightly-sponsored Ford Fusion, but it is sounding like big-dollar retailer Best Buy may adorn the quarters of this racer for most or a full season of racing.
Valvoline and Affliction Clothing are signed on for a handful of races.
Kenseth was a threat to win the whole thing last year until tangles with non-Chasers—such has Brian Vickers—derailed their shot.
It's impossible to ignore a fourth in points, three wins and 20 Top 10-runs to once again be a contender this year. Despite his quiet demeanor, you cannot count out this ex-Sprint Cup Champion.
As for results, I’d say more of the same: Top 10 in points and a possible contender for the whole ball of wax.
With Greg Zipadelli leaving Gibbs Racing No. 20 driven by Joey Logano, Jason Ratcliff moves over from the very successful No. 18 Nationwide car to guide this team back to some winning ways as crew chief.
Tired of the two-by-two restrictor plate racing? So is NASCAR.
They recently have implemented rule changes in an attempt to minimize the two-by-two racing. The changes include a smaller radiator—now at two gallons, down from five—and a smaller overflow tank set at a half-gallon. Other changes include a higher radiator inlet, softer springs in the front, a smaller rear spoiler and a slightly larger restrictor plate.
All of these changes should force the drivers to move around a lot more. They should not be able to stay two by two for very long at speed.
Do I think these changes will work?
Yes, but we may wind up with cars all over the place with radical moves to get to the front…read…wrecks. Testing should be interesting.
That’s it for this week. Next week, RWR will continue with Part 3 of Who’s Where for 2012 NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, along with racing news from around the globe.