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Motorsports 101 Debate: 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers

February 20th, 2013 at 10:00 AM
By Mark Eddinger

Daytona 500 pole qualifying took place on Sunday and the Budweiser Duel 150’s are tomorrow leading up to the first points race in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on Sunday. It is time for Motorsports 101’s writers to make their preseason predictions for the drivers who will make the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Clayton Caldwell’s Picks:
 
It is time for us to pick who is going to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in the 2013 season. While it’s still a long way to go and this new car will throw wrinkles into this plan, it’s still fun to try and guess who will have a great season. Here are my predictions:
 
1) Denny Hamlin: Yes he is my pick for a champion. I said it last week and I will stand by the pick. I think Hamlin had a great season last year and I think Matt Kenseth will bring the experience that team needs to move the organization in the right direction, to help make things run more smoothly over there.
 
'2009 Kobalt Tools 500 March 7 Pictures by FedEx Photographer (8)NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt 500 Mar 07' photo (c) 2009, Hans J E - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
 
2) Jimmie Johnson: Still think they are a powerhouse team. As long as Knaus is still the crew chief and Johnson is still the driver I trust both of them to make the top five and win several races in 2013. The team is still the role model team for everyone else.

3) Kasey Kahne: Kasey and crew chief Kenny Francis will be working together again and for the first time in ages not much changed on Kahne’s team from one year to the next. Stability will be huge in Kahne’s year and I think he will win a bunch of races and contend for a championship. 
 
4) Brad Keselowski: The defending champion still has his crew chief in Paul Wolfe but that’s about it. Everything else on the team has changed. While I still think this team is one of the top five teams in the business I think there are too many changes for this organization in one year. 
 
5) Carl Edwards: I know Carl is a year removed from the missing the Chase but I think Carl needs a crew chief that can light a fire under his butt and with old school crew chief Jimmy Fennig coming onboard that is going to happen. 
 
6) Jeff Gordon: Still one of the best teams in the business. As long as you have Jeff Gordon behind the wheel it doesn’t matter who the crew chief is Jeff will find a way to win and make the Chase. He’s done it all but one year in his career. 
 
7) Kyle Busch: Still love Kyle’s intensity and his skill but I am not in love with the 18 team as a whole. I think they do better than they did in the 2012 season but not much. 
 
8) Matt Kenseth: While the No. 20 team hasn’t made the Chase since Tony Stewart left, Matt Kenseth brings a load of experience to the organization something that is similar to what Mark Martin brought Michael Waltrip Racing. I don’t know if the chemistry will be there for Kenseth with new crew chief Jason Ratcliff but I do believe Kenseth will still have a nice year there and make the Chase. 
 
9) Dale Earnhardt Jr: All four Hendrick cars will make the Chase in 2013, with Jr being lowest in the points. The team has the right people in place, now they have to figure out how to get in victory lane at other places other than Michigan. 
 
10) Greg Biffle: Biffle is one of the better drivers on the circuit and always has a competitive year. He and crew chief Matt Puccia get along good and Roush needs Biffle to step up, which I think he is capable of. I think Biffle will run well and make the Chase.
 
11) *Wild Card* Tony Stewart: I know this may surprise some people but the team struggled so bad towards the end of the season and that’s got me worried going forward. I know it’s not going to be a horrible, winless year for Stewart, but I think there will be a crew chief change there around June and things will turn around. 
 
12) *Wild Card* Kevin Harvick: Still a lame duck year for him, and I think the team will run okay, but not great, especially towards the end of the season. There will be a lot of change over at RCR and I think it will hurt the performance of the 2012 season. 
 
Those are my 12 Chase drivers. I know I am leaving Clint Bowyer off the list and I bet you I’ll be wrong on one of my picks and Bowyer gets in somewhere I just don’t know where. I still want to see if MWR can back up their 2012 performance. I left some key names off like Martin Truex Jr who like Bowyer was in the 2012 Chase, but it should be interesting to see how wrong I am when we are in Daytona again in July and the Chase is closer.
 
Mark Eddinger’s Picks:
 
The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season will be competitive and the race to the Chase for the Sprint Cup will be fierce in the first 26 races of the season. The 12 drivers I see making the Chase this year are as follows:
 
1) Matt Kenseth: Last week I picked him to win the championship in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing driving the No. 20 Toyota. Obviously I feel big things are in store for this team and Kenseth.
 
'7.2.11 - Matt Kenseth Museum - Championship banner' photo (c) 2011, Royal Broil - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
 
2) Kasey Kahne: His first season at Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 got off to a tough start. He ended up winning a Wild Card position with his two victories to make the Chase. Kahne will only be better this season with Hendrick and should be in the Chase with his points alone this season and in contention for the championship.
 
3) Jimmie Johnson: The five-time Cup champion has never finished lower than sixth in the points at seasons end and 2013 will not be any different. Another Chase birth and a run at a sixth title are in order for Johnson.
 
4) Denny Hamlin: This could be the year for Denny Hamlin to win his first championship. Joe Gibbs Racing seems like it will be tough to beat all around. Hamlin just needs to cut back on the bad races due to mechanical issues that have hurt him in the past.
 
5) 18 Kyle Busch: Kyle Busch missed the 2012 Chase but I feel like he will be back in for 2013. The fact that he only won once last season and couldn’t grab a Wild Card spot was surprising. Kyle will be back to his winning ways in 2013 and will not miss a second consecutive Chase.
 
6) Brad Keselowski: The 2012 champion will be in the Chase again in 2013 to try to defend his championship. The switch to Ford might pose some issues at some point for Penkse Racing but nothing that will keep Keselowski from the Chase.
 
7) Carl Edwards: After tying Stewart for the championship in 2011 and losing the tie-breaker it was almost unthinkable that Edwards would miss the Chase in 2012 but that is what happened. He needs to be the man at Roush-Fenway Racing now that Kenseth is gone and I think he will step up. When he followed his runner-up season in 2008 with a no win 2009 he rebounded with two wins and finished fourth in 2010. I feel like Edwards is in store for a repeat of that trend and will make the Chase and compete for the championship again.
 
8) Tony Stewart: Stewart backed into the 2011 Chase then won the title. In 2012 he looked strong in the first 26 races but didn’t have a good Chase. This year Stewart will land in the Chase again and from there anything can happen as he has shown.
 
9) Jeff Gordon: The Gen-6 car might just play into Gordon’s hands. He only won 12 races with the Car of Tomorrow which was run between 2007 and 2012. Six of the 12 wins were in 2007. The change in car should be a positive for Gordon who showed glimpses of brilliance behind the wheel last year that showed he still has what it takes.
 
10) Clint Bowyer: The 2012 runner-up in the points is the top driver at Michael Waltrip Racing that proved to be as good as any other organization last year. He will make the Chase again although it would surprise me if he comes as close to the championship in 2013 as he did in 2012.
 
11) *Wild Card* Martin Truex Jr: He hasn’t proven he can win with Michael Waltrip Racing yet but he was consistent in 2012 to make the Chase. His 12.1 average finish position was the best by far in his career and he led 434 laps. All that leading will translate to at least one win this season and I expect Truex to be able to make the Chase again.
 
12) *Wild Card* Joey Logano: This is my surprise pick. Logano never made the Chase in his four seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing and has now moved to Penske Racing. He recently described the Gen-6 car as being similar in driving style to the Nationwide Series car. In 2012 he won nine of his 22 Nationwide Series starts. I expect Logano to make the Chase this year even if it comes by way of the Wild Card.
 
Those are my twelve drivers to make the 2013 Chase. I left Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick, and Greg Biffle, out of the Chase this year of those who made it in 2012. They will be in the mix for a spot for sure, along with Ryan Newman and it will be interesting to see how Ricky Stenhouse Jr stacks up in his rookie season. Marcos Ambrose will also have a shot at making the Chase with the Wild Card system the way it is because of being such a talent on the road courses.
Tags: Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, matt kenseth, Motorsports, NASCAR, Sprint Cup Series, Tony Stewart

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