As the top racing series of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), the Sprint Cup or Cup Series is named for its current sponsor, Sprint Nextel. And the champion at the end of 2013 will be the driver who outlasts his (or her in the case of Danica Patrick) competitors through a grueling 36 races. Sprint Cup pit crews are tasked with tweaking every bit of horsepower and fuel conservation out of their driver’s car each week, making changes as the Sprint Cup moves back and forth between flat tracks and restrictor plate tracks, road course tracks, short tracks and intermediate tracks.
Every year each of the 43 drivers to suit up for each weekly race tends to favor one type of track over another, but consistency is the key to taking home the Sprint Cup Trophy. Half of the 36 annual races are held in the NASCAR-crazy Southeastern United States, with the biggest race of the year kicking things off at the Daytona International Speedway. The legendary Daytona 500 runs on February 24 with its traditional 1 PM start time, with Chevrolet entering the season as the Manufacturers Champion thanks to Brad Keselowski’s efforts last year.
The 2013 Sprint Cup season is the 65th rendition, and change is definitely in the air. Popular fan favorite Danica Patrick ran in a part-time role last year, and will run a full slate of races this year. Penske Racing makes probably the most significant change, moving from Dodge to Ford vehicles. Penske had formerly been with Ford from 1992 through 2002, then switched to Dodge in 2003. In the NASCAR off-season, Swan Energy Incorporated CEO Brandon Davis purchased the Inception Motorsports race team, renaming it Swan Racing. David Stremme will continue as the lead driver of the new Swan Racing, but multiple driver changes are in store for other teams.
The Sprint Cup 2012 season saw Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. enjoy some success, and he takes over for Matt Kenseth at Roush Fenway Racing, where he will drive the #17 car. Kenseth had run with that race team for 14 straight seasons, and he looks to become the first driver since Darrell Waltrip in 1981 to win the Sprint Cup in his first year with a new team, Joe Gibbs Racing, driving the #20 car. Joey Logano moves from the Joe Gibbs #20 car to the Penske #22, and in what is more of a return to the past than an actual change, the Car of Tomorrow (COT) gives way to the Car of Yesterday.
The COT made its debut in 2007 as the fifth generation NASCAR style. Notably larger and boxier, the COT cost significantly less to maintain and was much safer than the previous version. But it never seemed to gain driver or fan popularity and support. In a refreshing change, the new cars that are running in the 2013 Sprint Cup actually look like they were driven right off the showroom floor. While there is definitely a lot of change afoot for this year’s Sprint Cup season, 11 of the 12 Chase qualifiers stayed on with their respective teams. That means that Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, Junior, the hot-blooded Kyle Busch and the rest of the gang will be back again for another memorable NASCAR Sprint Cup season.