There's plenty to look forward to this year in Nascar--the new Gen 6 cars, a legitimate Rookie of the Year competition, the departure of ornery Mopar nerds. But where will Nascar's best and brightest (and Josh Wise) finish in the standings? That's were we come in, breaking down each driver/team into handy compartments.
The Championship Contenders
2 Brad Keselowski
The Skinny: Bad Brad won Roger Penske his first Sprint Cup Championship last year, which ranks right up there with The Captain's many Indy 500 wins and tolerating Rusty Wallace's ego for a decade. This year the Blue Deuce becomes a Ford (no, thankfully its NOT a Taurus this time).
Sponsorship Situation: Miller Lite remains one of the only sponsors on it's car's hood for the entire season, earning hours of TV time for this bottled & canned water manufacturer.
Fun Fact: Crew Chief Paul Wolfe gave up a promising career as a ventriloquist to go into Nascar.
11 Denny Hamlin
The Skinny: Denny Hamlin bounced back from a moderately disappointing 2011 to have a moderately successful 2012. He's also still good for an awkward interview-or-two about his friendship with Michael Jordan.
Sponsorship Situation: FedEx returns for a full season with FedEx Express, FedEx Freight, FedEx Office, FedEx Ground, and FedEx FedEx (for when it absolutely, positively has to be absolutely, positively).
Fun Fact: Actually a question here--is it OK to joke about Denny having a kid out of wedlock? Because people do it with NFL and NBA players all the time.
14 Tony Stewart
The Skinny: After a strong start to 2012, Smoke seemed to fade down the stretch. I don't know how much this had to do with the rest of the field catching up to his team, how much this had to do with the crew chief change, and how much of it had to do with Tony's depression over losing the Burger King sponsorship.
Sponsorship Situation: Office Depot leaves Nascar entirely and is replaced by Bass Pro Shops. Mobil 1 stays to try to top their creepy 2012 commercials with Tony and Lewis Hamilton ("I'd say he was…cheeky").
Fun Fact: Tony has been stockpiling Schlitz. This has nothing to do with picking up Budweiser as a future sponsor, its just something that Tony can afford to do.
20 Matt Kenseth
The Skinny: In the second-most talked about move in the offseason (after Loy Allen Jr. moving his new tv into the rumpus room) Matt Kenseth left Roush-Fenway for Joe Gibbs Racing. I'm guessing that if Tony Stewart was the Bob Greise of Nascar, and Matt is the Dan Marino of Nascar, that would make Joey Logano the David Woodley of Nascar.
Sponsorship Situation: The races are almost evenly split between Dollar General and Home Depot's proprietary tool brand, Husky (although Matt prefers the term "big-boned").
Fun Fact: Every time Darrell Waltrip calls him "Matt Kenseths", a person bangs his/her head against the wall.
48 Jimmie Johnson
The Skinny: Jimmie was unable to take back the championship, spending most of the early part of the season fighting allegations of cheating by crew chief Chad Knaus. Unfortunately these allegations (and the penalties and appeals forthwith) remain the most-exciting thing about Jimmie Johnson's career.
Sponsorship Situation: Lowe's stays on the car for the entire year along with Kobalt Tools--which is considering suing the Brooklyn Nets for ripping off their color scheme.
Fun Fact: Jimmie Johnson doesn't sweat.
The Chase Racers
5 Kasey Kahne
The Skinny: Kasey overcame a slow start to become a winning threat for Hendrick Motorsports. Come to think of it, has there ever been a year in which the media HASN'T claimed that Kasey's under a lot of pressure to win? He's like the kid whose parents criticize him for getting a 98 on a test.
Sponsorship Situation: Farmers Insurance (bum-ba-bum-ba-bum-bum-bum) sponsors 22 races, with Quaker State and Time Warner Cable taking four races each and Great Clips sponsoring three. No truth to the rumor that La Leche League tried to pick up sponsorship for a race.
Fun Fact: Kasey mistakenly called his team owner "Roy" for a whole day at Talladega.
15 Clint Bowyer
The Skinny: Clint had his breakout year in 2012, contending for the championship until he was savagely beaten by Jeff Gordon at Phoenix. It remains to be seen if the MWR team can keep up their championship performance, or if they'll revert to being more like MWR.
Sponsorship Situation: Five Hour Energy is joined by Peak Motor Oil, which left Danica Patrick to go for a guy in even MORE tv commercials.
Fun Fact: Clint spends exactly 17 minutes each morning styling his hair.
16 Greg Biffle
The Skinny: The Biff had a solid 2012 despite horrifically waving at Spade Racing writer Mike Mackler in early spring. In other news, Greg Biffle continues to look kind of like Nicolas Cage.
Sponsorship Situation: 3M returns to sponsor about 29 races, which means there'll probably be at least 29 paint schemes.
Fun Fact: As the elder-statesman of Roush-Fenway Racing, Greg's now entitled to find out what happened to Danny O'Quinn.
18 Kyle Busch
The Skinny: If you're surprised why I'm not listing Kyle Busch as a championship contender, don't be. With his volatile personality and desire to race anything anywhere, he's not much of a threat for the Sprint Cup. Besides, all Kyle worries about is reaching his "personal goal" of 200 wins over all three national touring series. Yeah, really.
Sponsorship Situation: M&Ms (and their various brands) returns for most of the races, with the rest filled out by JGR stalwart Interstate Batteries, the #1 company in the world using the word "Outrageously" in their commercials.
Fun Fact: Kyle can eat his own weight in ham.
24 Jeff Gordon
The Skinny: There's some who wonder if Jeff has entered the twilight portion of his career. There's also some who wonder if Jeff is due for a major comeback to championship contention. And then there's me, who wonders how many times Ray Evernham hit on Jeff's ex-wife.
Sponsorship Situation: AARP returns to sponsor 22 races, with DuPont using its Cromax brand to sponsor 14 races of its own. Finally, after all these years of buying my Cro and Max on their own and combining them at home, I can just buy them pre-mixed.
Fun Fact: Jeff's mustache went for $800 at Sotheby's.
29 Kevin Harvick
The Skinny: Happy will have to fend off a year of senioritis, as he has already signed to race for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. Ironically, a driver who was once said to have a "skinny little head" by Charles Barkley will likely be replaced by Austin Dillon, a driver with a gigantic parade-float-style face.
Sponsorship Situation: Kevin takes primary sponsor Budweiser with him after this year, as he will likely do with secondary sponsors Rheem and Two Slices of Slimy Meat Between White Bread--er, I mean, Jimmy Johns.
Fun Fact: Kevin's "hair"-style is referred to in the styling world as "The Brian Williams".
39 Ryan Newman
The Skinny: Its a big year for The Rocketman, as Ryan took less guaranteed money to try and hold on to his ride past this season. When asked if he would get his name out there more on tv, he replied, "Make annoying commercials? Who do you think I am, Quicken Loans?"
Sponsorship Situation: Quicken Loans takes on half of the schedule, while a bevy of others will be on the hood for 10 additional races. Haas Automation, which specializes in the automation of avocados (to my knowledge) will likely pick up the rest.
Fun Fact: Flyin' Ryan is one of the few people that can say that the Army went AWOL on him.
88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The Skinny: Junior's big comeback year (in that he actually won a race) had him in championship contention, until a head injury took him out of the car. I'm still disappointed that he didn't ask Cole Whitt to run his Cup car, just so that he could've quoted Days of Thunder: "I want you to race my car, Cole".
Sponsorship Situation: The National Guard returns, though Diet Mtn Dew scaled back its involvement a bit. I'm still a little surprised that the Guard's sponsorship isn't limited to one weekend a month (or two weeks a year).
Fun Fact: If you believed rumors that Dale Jr. and Danica were dating, you are an idiot.
99 Carl Edwards
The Skinny: Cousin Carl had a disappointing 2012, suffering from the "Runner Up's Curse" after nearly winning the 2011 championship. Then again, at least he didn't suffer from the "Substitute Teacher's Curse", and have the other drivers act up any time he said anything in a drivers' meeting.
Sponsorship Situation: Fastenal and a slew of others will be on the 99 car again, including former Nascar stalwart UPS. David Ragan did more damage than we ever predicted.
Fun Fact: John Henry wasn't a steel-driving man.
A Win & They're Happy
1 Jamie McMurray
The Skinny: Jamie and the EGR crew won the two biggest races in the sport just three years ago. Last year they would've been happy with a win at Kansas. Oh how the mighty--well, strong--well, above-average have fallen.
Sponsorship Situation: Bass Pro Shops leaves the clean-cut McMurray for Tony Stewart, who looks MUCH more like most professional fishermen. McDonalds remains to sponsor about a third of the schedule, while Cessna will provide trips to the bathroom after EATING McDonalds.
Fun Fact: Jamie has never tried beef jerky.
9 Marcos Ambrose
The Skinny: The Devil Racer won a wild one at Watkins Glen last season, outdueling Brad Keselowski and Kyle "No Comment" Busch while slipping and sliding around on Joe Nemechek's oil. Viewers were shocked, as this is the first time that Joe Nemechek has factored into a win in a decade.
Sponsorship Situation: StanleyBlack&Decker returns, rotating its brands (including DeWalt and Mac Tools) for the entire season…and making out-of-the-loop fans wonder why Matt Kenseth is in the 9 car.
Fun Fact: A wallaby lives inside Marcos' new beard.
17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The Skinny: A new driver and new crew chief take over Matt Kenseth's old ride in 2013. I'm just hoping that Jack Roush agrees to help clean up the thousands of discarded 17 stickers currently clogging up Wisconsin's landfills.
Sponsorship Situation: Best Buy, Zest and Fifth-Third Bank return to sponsor a total of about 20 races. Maybe Ricky can bring some additional sponsorship from his home state of Mississippi, like, um… nevermind.
Fun Fact: Ricky's private nickname is "Thrillhouse Jr.".
21 Trevor Bayne
The Skinny: The Wood Brothers return as Nascar's only part-time team with a real shot to win races. Trevor Bayne, meanwhile, is under real pressure to avoid being known as either Nascar's biggest one-race wonder, or half the man of Derrike Cope.
Sponsorship Situation: Motorcraft returns to sponsor about a dozen races. No word on if Good Sam returns with their incredibly creepy mascot.
Fun Fact: All of Trevor Bayne's computers run Windows 3.1.
22 Joey Logano
The Skinny: Joey has pressure to win for Roger Penske, but otherwise he has a pretty low bar to clear. As long as he doesn't curse out Dr. Jerry Punch, take some mysterious pills from a friend, or grow really pointy sideburns, he'll be fine.
Sponsorship Situation: Shell/Pennzoil continues its relationship with all of Roger Penske's entities--Penske Racing, Penske Truck Rental, and Cap't Roger's Fish & Chippery.
Fun Fact: Joey collects Gumby figurines.
27 Paul Menard
The Skinny: RCR Legacy Kid #1 returns after a disappointing followup to his "break-out" 2011 (if by break-out you mean "one win"). Sadly, this car is the most-stable in terms of sponsorship and driver in the RCR camp--that is, unless he convinces Jeff Burton to change his last name to "Budweiser".
Sponsorship Situation: Menards returns for the bulk of the schedule, using the hood to promote their many many MANY many partner sponsors. Because any time you spend millions to promote your company to people who, for the most-part, live nowhere near your stores, you make that move.
Fun Fact: Merriam-Webster has been considering adding "Menardburns" to the dictionary this year.
31 Jeff Burton
The Skinny: Jeff Burton returns for what he himself has called a "Make-or-Break Year" for this team. I'm no expert, but I'm going to go out on a very short limb and put my money on "break".
Sponsorship Situation: Caterpillar returns to sponsor a majority of races, while General Mills will return to promoting its Cheerios brand for half a dozen weekends. John Andretti, Jeff Green, Johnny Benson--man, you can just FEEL the history in that yellow-and-black car.
Fun Fact: A Caterpillar is neither a cat nor a pillar.
42 Juan Pablo Montoya
The Skinny: JPM is looking forward to getting Daytona Speedweeks over with, as once a year has passed since running into the jet-dryer, the jokes will likely taper off. Media members and fans will have to instead make jokes about Montoya's lack of talent in Nascar.
Sponsorship Situation: Target returns to sponsor the entire schedule, along with its vendor partners such as Clorox and Energizer. Speaking of which, Clorox and Energizer batteries are a great way to recreate JPM's jet dryer explosion in your own home.
Fun Fact: Chip Ganassi came in 3rd place in a 2004 Pete Rose lookalike contest.
43 Aric Almirola
The Skinny: One of the last drivers to find a ride in 2012, Aric had an admirable first full year in Sprint Cup last year. The late-season pairing with Todd Parrott seemed to help as well. Maybe its finally time for the Petty 43 to return to the glory days of Bobby Hamilton and Wally Dallenbach!
Sponsorship Situation: As the winner of last year's Spade Racing Hoodie Award for Most Sponsors, I'm STILL waiting for someone from RPM to contact me to pick up their trophy.
Fun Fact: They actually tried to fuel the car with bacon once (the less said about the results, the better).
55 Mark Victrip
The Skinny: Nascar's three-headed driver would likely contend for the Chase if they had the chance. Instead, they get Mark Martin, who can usually find speed in any car, Brian Vickers, who has shown some real talent on the flatter, shorter tracks, and Michael Waltrip, who can make a 6th place finish at a plate track seem like he just cured cancer.
Sponsorship Situation: Aaron's returns to sponsor most of the races. No word on if they'll also return with commercials making light of OCD.
Fun Fact: Brian Vickers is holding on to all that Red Bull, just to see if it ferments into alcohol.
56 Martin Truex Jr.
The Skinny: The real-life Cal Naughton Jr. had another strong year in 2012, but again went winless. So far the highlight of Truex's Cup career has been a win at Dover. And as a resident of Delaware, I can honestly say that you DON'T want the highlight of your ANYTHING to happen in Dover.
Sponsorship Situation: Napa remains on the 56 car for the entire season, advertising their filters, brakes, and fresh-baked pies.
Fun Fact: Robert Kauffman's favorite font is Impact.
78 Kurt Busch
The Skinny: Kurt Busch proved his worth as a comedic actor in 2012 by starring in the hilarious parody "Kurt Busch The Outlaw". I honestly can't remember the last time I laughed so hard! The way he acted like nothing was his own fault? Brilliant!
Sponsorship Situation: Furniture Row (owned by team owner Barney Visser) stays with this team, meaning that Kurt can now piss off his team owner and sponsor at the same time.
Fun Fact: New crew chief Todd Berrier is a masochist.
A Top-10 & They're Ecstatic
7 Dave Blaney
The Skinny: Dave Blaney returns to the Little Race Team That Could with a new number--however, word is that he'll still have the same dismissive, taciturn attitude towards race fans.
Sponsorship Situation: No word on who will be on the hood for most of the races, but Golden Corral will return if The National Association of Honey Butter Lovers has anything to say about it.
Fun Fact: Tommy Baldwin Jr. went to Toronto once, but didn't really like it ("too cold").
10 Danica Patrick
The Skinny: Danica's in a lose-lose situation this season--if she doesn't win, people will say that she doesn't deserve her ride. If she does win…wait, that won't happen. So I guess its a lose situation?
Sponsorship Situation: GoDaddy is expected to be the primary sponsor all-season, but is only signed through the end of this year. And we all know that sponsors won't tolerate a driver that doesn't win (well, Kodak did, but that's why they're almost out of business).
Fun Fact: Danica has an intense fear of oranges.
13 Casey Mears
The Skinny: Casey had an admirable year in this underfunded car in 2012, overcoming the tragic loss of the secret of his BBQ sauce recipe.
Sponsorship Situation: Geico fulfills its contract to sponsor something in everything for another season.
Fun Fact: Casey is a vice-treasurer in the Charles in Charge fan club.
23/93 Travis Kvapil
The Skinny: There's a rumored number change for the old 93 crew in 2013. And that's the most-exciting thing that we know.
Sponsorship Situation: Burger King and Dr. Pepper return as part of a licensing agreement for the BK Racing cars. For those unfamiliar with how Nascar works, a licensing agreement allows a team with no sponsorship to pretend that it DOES have sponsorship.
Fun Fact: Travis's last name, in German, is spelled Kwapil.
26 Josh Wise
The Skinny: This team remains arguably the most nondescript in Nascar. They're kind of like those purple drone cars in Daytona 500 that always get in the way at the start.
Sponsorship Situation: No definite word on who will sponsor these guys, but here's hoping that Wise Potato Chips knows a mediocre thing when they see it.
Fun Fact: Frankie Kerr is not related to Steve Kerr.
30 David Stremme
The Skinny: The former Ugly Duckling Racing returns rebranded as Swan Racing, with a new owner and new crew chief. Also, Michael Waltrip will run the car at Daytona (because things went so well for him last year at Daytona).
Sponsorship Situation: It remains to be seen if this team will try and find outside sponsorship, or simply use it to promote their own company, Swan Energy (known in Nascar as "Pulling a Doug Bawel").
Fun Fact: The above chicanery was the first time in 8 years that anybody has mentioned Doug Bawel.
32 Ken Schrader, Terry Labonte, and the rest
The Skinny: The only concrete plans for this year have Terry Labonte running the restrictor plate races and Ken Schrader running 10 to-be-determined races. Who will fill out the remaining 22? Only time will tell (though I'm guessing it will tell Reed Sorenson).
Sponsorship Situation: Terry brings C&J Energy while Kenny brings Federated Auto Parts. See kids--make enough business connections in your career, and you can keep running 30th well into your 50s.
Fun Fact: Frank Stoddard lost his left pinky toe in a bizarre candle-making accident.
33 Stephen Leicht (Possibly)
The Skinny: Circle Sport (or "Curcle SPort", as Jayski calls it) is likely to return for a majority of the schedule as a start-and-park operation. No word on how the new qualifying rules will affect Nascar's bottom-feeders, but here's hoping that Joe Falk held on to some of that Spam from the mid-90's.
Sponsorship Situation: This team was sponsored by Black Paint for most of 2012, and word is that they'll do the same in 2013. At Daytona, Austin Dillon will pilot this car with sponsorship from Honey Nut Cheerios (jeez, that bee has MILLIONS to spend).
Fun Fact: Crew chief Buddy Sisco should really have a street-smart TV detective named after him.
34 David Ragan
The Skinny: Ah, Front Row Motorsports' glamour team, basking in the spotlight of 28th-place finishes, lowest in the points amongst teams that actually run the whole races. This, unfortunately, is what Nascar really IS all about.
Sponsorship Situation: Something called Peanut Patch will have four races, the rest will likely feature Long John Silver's, A&W, or some other restaurant you thought was out of business.
Fun Fact: David Ragan's TV remote is missing the "Volume +" button.
37 J.J. Yeley
The Skinny: Harvard's least-favorite driver returns to one of the sport's least-successful teams. Well, at least Yeley's succeeding in the Nationw--never mind.
Sponsorship Situation: This team ran most of last season with sponsorship from Black Paint's arch-rival, White Paint.
Fun Fact: If I ever get a dog, I will gladly name it Max Q.
38 David Gilliland
The Skinny: Who cares?
Sponsorship Situation: Who knows?
Fun Fact: There is nothing fun about apathy.
47 Bobby Labonte
The Skinny: Its looking like another depressing season for the JTG-Daughtery gang and their dozen or so sponsors. Its hard to tell when Bobby Labonte fell into irrelevance--oh, wait, no its not, it happened when he went to Petty Enterprises.
Sponsorship Situation: A bunch of companies tangentially related to food make up the bulk of the races, joined by such odd-sounding companies as "RainEater" and "Luke and Associates".
Fun Fact: In the mountains of Eastern Austria, there is a tale of a horrifying monster the locals call "The Geschickter".
51 The James Finch All-Stars
The Skinny: Memo to Kurt Busch--when a team loses a former-championship-winning driver, who nearly steered a car with a broken rear-end to victory on a freaking road course, and comes back the next week with a huge smiley-face on the hood, its safe to say that you don't have the most-magnetic personality.
Sponsorship Situation: Again, there is no major sponsorship for the whole year, although Guy Roofing (both a company and a descriptive phrase) will be featured at Daytona.
Fun Fact: A.J. Allmendinger looks like that all the time.
83 David Reutimann
The Skinny: Stepping in for Landon Cassil, Reuty will be able to race without the pressure of keeping his car in the top-35 for another driver. Well, that is unless Tina Gordon is able to finance her big comeback.
Sponsorship Situation: Burger King sticks with this team through their licensing agreement. Burger King: Where 29th-place finishes are king!
Fun Fact: David Reutimann's great-uncle purchased the second "N" for their last name in 1934.
87 Joe Nemechek
The Skinny: Word is that Front Row Joe will again attempt to run the majority of the Sprint Cup schedule as a start-and-park team, using the winnings to finance his Nationwide Series operation. That's a little like running for President to get more publicity for your county council campaign.
Sponsorship Situation: AM/FM Energy likely returns in some form. I don't know exactly what AM/FM Energy does (apparently they make wood pellet stoves), but judging by Joe's on-track results, I'm guessing they only work for about 10 minutes.
Fun Fact: All of Joe's cars smell like taffy.
98 Michael McDowell
The Skinny: Mr. Nice Guy is expected to return to this start-and-park operation for the bulk of the 2013 season. In a related story, the commentary on McDowell's vicious wreck at Texas is quite similar to my own internal commentary during first dates.
Sponsorship Situation: K-Love and Curb Records will return in limited fashion, putting Michael at the forefront of 1970's music.
Fun Fact: Phil Parsons is over 14 feet tall.