1. Jimmie Johnson - After two seasons of failing to win the Sprint Cup Series championship, we still have to rank Johnson the No. 1 driver entering the season. The facts show that the Hendrick Motorsports star has been one of the prime contenders to win the title each of the last two years, but has come up just short in those efforts. Johnson has won seven victories and posted a stunning 45 Top-10 finishes in the last two years, so you cannot argue with the level of performance. Once again crew chief Chad Knaus and Johnson will team to get that elusive sixth championship. There's little doubt that he'll be in the running come November.
2. Brad Keselowski - The "Jimmie Johnson" of the next decade has arrived in the form of Keselowski. The 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion dueled with and beat the best in the sport to win last season's title. The Penske Racing star isn't finished by a long shot, in fact, we expect a long and very successful career for the driver of the No. 2 Ford. Keselowski will stay with crew chief Paul Wolfe yet again in the upcoming season, but the Penske team makes the jump to Ford from Dodge. That's the only change in this team's championship chemistry. It's taken a very long time for owner Roger Penske to ascend to the top of the sport, and there's good reason to believe Keselowski will keep him there for a while.
3. Kyle Busch - For the first time in his Sprint Cup career, Busch ended last season on a very strong note. The Joe Gibbs Racing star typically struggles to finish the season and has traditionally been a bad performer during the Chase. Not in 2012. Busch posted seven Top 5s and eight Top 10s in those final 10 races of last season and accumulated the second-most points of any driver in the series. Had he been a participant in the Chase for the Cup there's little doubt he'd been a prime contender for the championship. Busch seems to be finally developing some good chemistry with crew chief Dave Rogers. The two have been working together for three seasons to get to this point. We expect very big things for the No. 18 Toyota team in 2013.
4. Denny Hamlin - Last season's Chase for the Cup was like a tale of two seasons for Hamlin. He started the 10-race playoff with one victory and three Top-10 finishes, but in the second half he faded miserably. Hamlin only posted one Top 10 in the final five races of last year and limped to the finish line of 2012. That gave the driver of the No. 11 Toyota a sixth-place finish in the final driver standings. As good as Hamlin can be, he often shows mental fragility when it's all on the line. Still, his 18 victories the last four years rank him among the elite in NASCAR. A potential championship may lie just out of reach for a time for this talented driver, but race wins and many Top 10s are certainly in his near-future with Joe Gibbs Racing.
5. Jeff Gordon - Despite Gordon's season-long feud with Clint Bowyer, that boiled over shockingly at Phoenix, and his horrendous bad luck, the Hendrick Motorsports star still had a very good season all-in-all. Gordon managed to pick up two wins, including the emotional victory in the season finale at Homestead and finished a respectable 10th in the final driver standings. The good news is that this is about as tumultuous as it can get for a driver in a given year. The new season and clean slate should be a welcome sight for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet. Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson have combined for five wins and 36 Top-10 finishes the last two seasons, but have yet to really challenge for a championship together. That could change in 2013. Of the upper tier drivers in the sport, Gordon easily has the most upside and will likely come at a much cheaper price than the rest on fantasy racing draft day.
6. Carl Edwards - With the departure of Matt Kenseth, Edwards becomes the No. 1 focus at Roush Fenway Racing. Undoubtedly that is a good thing for the driver of the No. 99 Ford. Edwards is coming off a puzzlingly poor season in 2012. He missed the Chase for the Cup field for just the second time in his nine-year career and was held out of victory lane for the second time in the last four seasons. Edwards hopes to reverse those trends in 2013, and with the team's new focus we believe that will happen. We don't believe the Roush Fenway star will return to multi-win form, but we should see the type of consistency that made him a championship contender in 2011. A campaign of 20 or more Top-10 finishes should be in store.
7. Matt Kenseth - The newest Joe Gibbs Racing driver left behind a 15-year career with Roush Fenway Racing to become the new face in this Toyota super stable. Kenseth won a championship and 24 victories with his former boss Jack Roush. Now he gets an all new start in the sport with a new owner, team and manufacturer. Kenseth will be paired with crew chief Jason Ratcliff at the No. 20 team and the two should form chemistry right away. Ratcliff guided Kyle Busch to the Nationwide Series championship in 2009 and has 13 seasons of crew chief experience at NASCAR's top level. The 40-year-old driver will have to make some adjustments to his new team, but should be off and rolling soon enough. Kenseth has multi-win potential and can clearly be a championship contender when the conditions are right.
8. Kasey Kahne - The first season with Hendrick Motorsports is now under Kahne's belt and it was a rousing success. He piloted the No. 5 Chevrolet to two victories, 19 Top-10 finishes and a career-best fourth-place finish in the final driver standings. The nine-year veteran may just be getting started and even more success could be in store. Kahne and long-time crew chief Kenny Francis have one of the longest running driver/crew chief relationships currently running in the sport. The duo has combined to win 13 races, 20 pole positions and 99 Top 10s since the 2006 season. The combination of this solid relationship and top notch Hendrick Motorsports equipment should keep paying dividends in 2013.
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Aside from the late-season concussion and brief hiatus from competition, last year was a very successful campaign for the NASCAR icon. Earnhardt saw his championship hopes disappear due to his head injury, but he still managed 20 Top-10 finishes and a respectable 12th-place finish in the final championship standings. He also got the winless monkey off his back in 2012. Earnhardt's thrilling victory at Michigan ended a 143-race winless streak in the Sprint Cup Series. We believe the No. 88 Hendrick team will build on these gains in the upcoming season. Earnhardt should scratch out another victory or two, and he should show the consistency that he did last season. Those characteristics should make him a very valuable driver in almost any fantasy racing format.
10. Clint Bowyer - By all accounts Bowyer was the biggest surprise of last season. His move to Michael Waltrip Racing was clouded in speculation and uncertainty, but it paid off big time for the former Richard Childress Racing driver. Bowyer had by far his best season in his eight-year career. He posted three victories, 23 Top-10 finishes and finished a career-best second in the Chase standings. While all these accomplishments are worthy of admiration, it's probably best to hold a more conservative opinion of the driver of the No. 15 Toyota in the upcoming season. While we do believe Bowyer is the best driver in the Michael Waltrip Racing stable, to expect a repeat performance of his 2012 is probably too ambitious. One or two victories and about 18 Top 10s is a far more realistic follow-up to Bowyer's torrid 2012.
11. Tony Stewart - The three-time Sprint Cup Series champion was unsuccessful in defending his 2011 title. In fact, it was a very up-and-down season for Smoke in 2012. His three victories were offset by shockingly poor finishes at some of his best tracks. It all added up to a 16 Top-10 finish campaign, which ranks among the worst of his career. The good news is that all that stands between Stewart and getting back to the top is finding some consistency. We're not sure the No. 14 team has a handle on that quite yet. The last 10 races of last season showed as inconsistent a driver as Stewart had been all season long. His four Top 10s during the Chase were offset by five finishes outside the Top 15. Stewart has the potential to climb these rankings, but he needs to rediscover that consistency first.
12. Joey Logano - At times it's difficult to remember that Logano is just 22-years-old. After five years of unrealized potential at Joe Gibbs Racing he was released at the end of last season. During his time at JGR he only won two victories in 147 Sprint Cup Series starts. Logano can be much better than this, and the change of scenery could help in that regard. He moves to championship stable Penske Racing and the No. 22 Ford team. Logano will be paired with crew chief Todd Gordon. The 14-year veteran crew chief should be a stabilizing presence for the young Logano. While we don't expect the No. 22 team to take off immediately, Logano and Gordon should start to work on the chemistry needed to one day be a multi-race winner and championship contending driver. We should certainly see some glimpses of this potential in the upcoming season.
13. Greg Biffle - Biffle entered last season's Chase for the Cup as the standings leader. He won two races during the first 26 races of the season and was in great position to challenge for the championship. However, a slowdown in the Chase for the Cup erased those title hopes. Biffle managed six Top 10s during the playoff format, but eventually slipped to fifth in the final point standings. This is a microcosm of the Roush Fenway Racing veteran's Cup career. Biffle has the skill to win a couple races each season and the ability to push the 20 Top 10 plateau but just lacks the ability to get over the hump for that championship cup. How will Biffle's late-season fade affect his 2013? Probably not well. Recent history has shown that drivers who come up short late in the season start the next campaign slowly.
14. Kevin Harvick - It's difficult to give any driver the "lame duck" label, and ones as gifted as Harvick it is even more difficult. Still, the Richard Childress Racing star is coming off one of his worst seasons in Sprint Cup Series racing. Were it not for some late-season magic and surprise win at Phoenix, he would have been locked out of victory lane in 2012. Harvick announced late last season that he will be heading to Stewart Haas Racing in 2014, making his upcoming season with RCR his last with team owner Richard Childress. Just how this affects the mindset of this team knowing that Harvick's days are numbered at the No. 29 camp is anyone's speculation, but it can't be that good. Raw talent alone probably earns Harvick 13-15 Top-10 finishes in 2013, but making the Chase field and winning races seems highly unlikely.
15. Ryan Newman - The driver of the No. 39 Chevrolet enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in 2012. Rocket Man earned his 16th career Sprint Cup Series win last season but only posted 14 Top-10 finishes in a campaign that fell just short of the Chase. Newman will hope to increase the level of performance in the upcoming season. He has the goal of getting back into the Chase field and winning more races. Newman will be challenged to meet those goals in a sport that just keeps generating more parity. The SHR veteran driver should be good enough to make it back into the Chase in 2013, but we don't expect to see the multiple race wins and 20 Top 10s that were the hallmark of his career early on. Instead, the hot streaks we're accustomed to seeing with this driver should reemerge this year.
16. Martin Truex Jr. - Coming off the best season of his nine-year Sprint Cup Series career, Truex enters an uncertain 2013. He posted a career-best 19 Top-10 finishes and tied a career-best with an 11th-place finish in the driver standings last season. With all those accomplishments the driver of the No. 56 Toyota still came up winless even though he had a couple close brushes with victory lane. We don't expect a complete collapse from Truex in the upcoming season, but the last campaign is probably the high water mark for this driver. Instead we expect to see a performance similar to 2011 for the Michael Waltrip Racing veteran. A season of 12 to 14 Top-10 finishes is most likely in store.
17. Kurt Busch - The move to Furniture Row Racing will give this veteran driver a new start in the upcoming season. We got a preview of what Busch and his new team is capable of at the end of 2012. Busch collected three straight Top-10 finishes with the No. 78 Chevrolet team. Those results are very encouraging and pointing to a much better 2013 season. The equipment and experience of this single-car team could propel Busch back to victory lane or even an outside shot at making the Chase for the Cup field. One thing is for certain, the misery of the 2012 campaign will be long forgotten once Busch gets up and rolling with the FRR team.
18. Marcos Ambrose - Ambrose had what can only be termed as a successful season in 2012. For the second-straight year he won a race and finished a career-best 18th in the driver standings. Now the No. 9 Ford team sets their sites on climbing the ladder. Ambrose is still looking for his first oval track victory and he's still looking for a first-ever berth in the Chase. Those will be the goals for this driver and team in 2013. In a Sprint Cup Series filled with parity Ambrose has his work cut out for him, but improvement is entirely possible. The Aussie is a gifted driver and he just gets better each and every season.
19. Paul Menard - Last year was a bit of a lost season for Richard Childress Racing as a whole, but Menard somehow managed to tread water. He collected a career-best nine Top 10s and finished a respectable 16th in the final championship standings. Still, he was unable to find victory lane which was a major frustration for the winner of the 2011 Brickyard 400. The trends are RCR are a bit troubling so it's hard to be overly optimistic for Menard and the No. 27 team in 2013. With the departure of teammate Kevin Harvick at the end of next year and the waning performance of teammate Jeff Burton, Menard will get more focus from the RCR team, but at an expense.
20. Mark Martin - The 54-year-old legend will saddle up for another part-time schedule with Michael Waltrip Racing in 2013. Martin will once again pilot the No. 55 Toyota under the guidance of crew chief Rodney Childers. The duo combined for four pole positions and 10 Top-10 finishes in just 24 starts last season. Martin narrowly missed victory lane on two occasions last year, so his level of performance was very high. We expect similar results from the veteran driver in the upcoming season. Martin should crest the 10 Top-10 finish plateau and possibly get back into winner's circle.
21. Aric Almirola - Almirola will return for another season of Sprint Cup Series Racing with Richard Petty's historic No. 43 team. Despite five years and 71 starts of experience, 2012 was his first full-time season in NASCAR's top division. The learning curve was steep and the lessons were many for Almirola last season. He labored to just four Top-10 finishes and a 20th-place finish in the final driver standings. 2013 should hold some incremental success for Almirola. He and crew chief Todd Parrott seemed to have things pretty well figured out at the end of last year. The duo posted a pair of Top 10s in the final four races and had the No. 43 Ford team performing as well as they had all year long. We expect that momentum to carry right into February and beyond.
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - The two-time reigning Nationwide Series champion will take on his first full season of racing in the Sprint Cup Series. Stenhouse takes over the famous No. 17 Ford for the departed Matt Kenseth and he has some pretty big shoes to fill right off. The young driver is not completely unacquainted with the Cup car. Stenhouse made five starts in NASCAR's top division over the last two years. He'll use that experience to his full advantage in 2013. When we look back in history and Roush Fenway Racing rookies we're reminded of David Ragan. The comparisons between him and Stenhouse are striking. In fact, we think their rookie campaigns could be just as similar. Lots of lessons learned and around 7-9 Top-10 finishes for the ROTY candidate.
23. Jamie McMurray - For the second consecutive season McMurray failed to break into the Top 20 of the final driver standings in 2012. The three-win, 12 Top 10 season of 2010 is becoming a distant memory for McMurray and really starting to cast a shadow of doubt on the entire Earnhardt Ganassi Racing organization. He will once again be paired with crew chief Kevin Manion in the hopes that the two can turn around this struggling No. 1 team. Prospects for that seem slim given McMurray's Chase performance. In the final 10 races of last season he only picked up one Top-15 finish vs. five finishes outside the Top 20. Improvement will almost certainly come for the EGR driver, but it will be incremental at best.
24. Jeff Burton - Burton followed his sub-par 2011 season with another lackluster campaign in 2012. The Richard Childress Racing veteran retained some excellence on the super speedways, recording four of his six Top 10s on these huge ovals. However, most of the season, Burton was largely invisible. The RCR stable in general suffered a downturn last season and that's not a positive sign for the 45-year-old driver. The departure of Clint Bowyer and pending departure of Kevin Harvick has this multi-car team reeling at the moment. Another season of 4-6 Top-10 finishes and another standings finish outside the Top 20 are in store for Burton this year.
25. Juan Pablo Montoya - Montoya is in much the same position as his teammate Jamie McMurray this season. Two seasons removed from his one-victory and 14 Top 10 campaign in 2010, the Columbian has been mired in a very long slump. His fiery crash into the jet dryer in the Daytona 500 last year is about all that is memorable for Montoya and the No. 42 team in 2012 and that's a bad sign. After Homestead he capped a two Top-10 finish and 22nd-place driver standings effort last season. Like McMurray the final 10 races of last season showed little-to-no improvement for Montoya. One Top-15 finish during the Chase compared to six finishes outside the Top 20 are a bad sign for the upcoming season.
26. Bobby Labonte - Labonte returns for his third season of racing with JTG Daugherty Racing and 22nd overall. The veteran driver is coming off a 23rd-place finish in the driver standings last year, his best finish since the 2008 season. This small race team has managed to stay competitive despite their funding and sponsorship disadvantages in a sport dominated by corporate and racing giants. Labonte racked up two Top 10s and 14 Top 20's last season and is looking for much more in the upcoming season. He will be paired with a new crew chief and that's a bit of a concern going forward. How quickly Labonte develops a rapport with this new chief will be key to his success in 2013.
27. A.J. Allmendinger - After Allmendinger's substance abuse suspension last summer and subsequent fall from grace with Penske Racing, the embattled driver is looking to rebuild his career in the upcoming season. Allmendinger has landed a role with Phoenix Racing in 2013. He will share driving duties for the No. 51 Chevrolet, although it looks like he could be in for a lot of seat time with this small race team. This is the same stable that saw Kurt Busch struggle tremendously throughout the 2012 season. Allmendinger has a lot of talent as his 15th-place points finish with Richard Petty Motorsports in 2011 showed. However, the stability of this team and situation are far from ideal. This journeyman driver could be in for a very long season.
28. Danica Patrick - The media hype machine also known as Patrick will make her first full-time move into NASCAR. She will build on the 10-race experience that she had in 2012 and look to be competitive in a full Sprint Cup Series schedule. Patrick will have veteran crew chief Tony Gibson as a stabilizing presence atop the pit box and the full support an experienced Stewart Haas Racing team to guide her. Patrick showed signs of improvement as last season wore on so there is great optimism for 2012. She posted her first Top 20 at Phoenix in her final start last season, so Patrick did end the year on a positive note. The rigors of a full 36-race schedule loom ahead and many ups-and-downs along the way wait for NASCAR's most famous female competitor.
29. Travis Kvapil - The BK Racing team made it through their first season of competition in the Sprint Cup Series in 2012 and Kvapil shone through as the bright spot of this two-team stable. The journeyman driver posted one Top-10 finish and ended up a respectable 27th in the final driver standings with this tight-budgeted race team. Kvapil should return to this car and team in 2013 and continue building on what he started last season. The one Top 10 and three Top 20's he collected during the Chase is a hopeful sign of the future for this small race team. Kvapil carries the most upside of the lower tier Cup drivers aside from probably David Ragan.
30. David Ragan - Ragan's first full season away from Roush Fenway Racing was a bumpy affair. He piloted the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports and struggled to a 28th-place finish in last season's final driver standings. Along the way Ragan picked up a couple Top-10 finishes and flexed some muscle, mostly on the super speedway ovals. Ragan will return to this team that seems to incrementally improve each season. He will pair with returning crew chief Jay Guy and hope to build on the team's chemistry and performance in 2013. At 27-years-old, Ragan has a lot of good racing left in him, and he should hopefully build something good at FRR in the near future.
31. David Gilliland - He returns for his fourth season of competition with Front Row Motorsports. Gilliland has been with this three-car stable since it's inception in 2010 and has been working hard to move up the standings ever since. Progress has been hard to measure for this driver and team. Gilliland was held without a Top-10 finish in the 2012 season and that's concerning. This driver and team usually perform best on the super speedways, but he didn't even post a Top 10 in those four events. Gilliland will work hard to improve in the upcoming season and that starts with the super speedway event at Daytona in February. His Daytona 500 performance could easily set the pace for the remainder of the 2013 season.
32. Casey Mears - The biggest obstacle to this veteran's success isn't the other drivers or even the tracks, but the funding and critical money needed to be competitive. Germain Racing has struggled to pay the bills, but large corporate sponsor GEICO has stood by them from nearly the beginning. Mears spent a large portion of last season start-and-parking the No. 13 Toyota and that is a killer from a fantasy racing standpoint. When this team takes to the track with the goal to compete they can be pretty good. Mears collected four straight Top-20 finishes between June and July last year before the funding issues set in. If Germain Racing can keep the money flowing there's little doubt that Mears can climb these rankings, but the cloud of funding problems hangs over this team for the time being.
33. Trevor Bayne - The Wood Brothers Racing youngster will return for a third part-time season of racing in the No. 21 Ford. Bayne competed in 16 events in 2012 and should be up for a similar slate in the upcoming season. The 21-year-old cracked the Top 10 twice last season and improved his average finish to a respectable 22.5 over the prior season's 25.8. We should see more improvement from the Wood Brothers team in 2013. Bayne should post 3 or 4 Top 10s and push that average finish closer to 20.0 in the new season. He and crew chief Donnie Wingo have been together for some time now, and improvement for this team is certainly in the cards.
34. Brian Vickers - The former Red Bull Racing driver got a second chance of sorts in 2012. Vickers landed a part-time gig with Michael Waltrip Racing, sharing the No. 55 Toyota with Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip. In just a limited, eight-race schedule the veteran driver was quite impressive. Vickers racked up three Top 5s and five Top 10s in that handful of starts, and he led 158 laps. The performance showed that Vickers still has the skill to perform at a high level in the Sprint Cup Series. He returns to this team in 2013 for a similar nine-race slate. Vickers will run most of the short tracks, both road courses and a couple intermediate oval events. We expect him to be just as stellar in the coming year with this solid race team.
35. Landon Cassill - Although it's not written in stone, Cassill should be returning to the No. 83 Toyota of BK Racing in 2013. He raced the full schedule with this new team last season. The results were mixed but generally good for a young driver with a start-up team. Cassill posted seven Top-20 finishes en route to a 31st-place finish in the driver standings. That's the good news. This driver and team will have provisional starts in the upcoming season, thanks to their Top 35 status. For that reason alone BK Racing is in a good position to keep Cassill in the seat of this Toyota Camry and keep the growth going.
36. David Stremme - Stremme returns to the same team for a third season in 2013. Inception Racing was acquired by Swan Racing over the off-season and they will keep Stremme behind the wheel. The new ownership has brought in heavyweight Tony Eury Jr. to crew chief the No. 30 Toyota team and provide guidance to Stremme. The team just seems to be headed in the right direction and the journeyman driver will give them a steady presence on the track each week. The days of start-and-parking should be over for this team.
37. Elliott Sadler - While Sadler's primary goal will be to compete for the Nationwide Series championship in 2013, he will get a few Cup starts with new boss Joe Gibbs. The 37-year-old Virginian should get a few starts in a fourth, yet-to-be-named JGR Toyota in the coming season. While the slate will be small, the equipment and team should be very good. The idea of a veteran like Sadler, with well over 400 Cup starts in his resume, racing for Gibbs brings visions of Top-10 finishes. If you play in weekly lineup fantasy racing leagues, you'll want to be sure to check the entry list each week for Sadler's name.
38. Dave Blaney - 2012 can only be termed as disappointing for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Blaney ran the full schedule, but fell way short of expectations after a decent start to last season. A technical alliance with Stewart Haas Racing just never yielded the fruits that were expected with a veteran driver like Blaney. This team should return intact for 2013 and Blaney should be back behind the wheel. But the loss of crew chief Ryan Pemberton and the loss of the Stewart Haas technical alliance are troubling developments. Lots of question marks lay ahead for Blaney and this small team.
39. Sam Hornish Jr. - Hornish did a steady job filling in for the suspended A.J. Allmendinger last season. He made 20 starts last year, most of those in the No. 22 Dodge. Penske Racing will keep Hornish focused on his Nationwide Series efforts in the upcoming season, but that won't stop them from the occasional Cup start. As sponsorship permits, we could see Hornish a handful of times in the Penske's third team, the No. 12 Ford. With seven Top-15 finishes in those 20 starts last season, Hornish brings a lot of desirable ability to the table for a part-time driver.
40. J.J. Yeley - The journeyman driver spent much of last season split between three different race teams. Yeley will return to the No. 37 Chevrolet team that he finished last season with. The Max Q Motorsports team will put him behind the wheel again in 2013 and hope for better results. In only a handful of starts last year they were mostly a start-and-park effort. However, Yeley did compete in the entire race in the season finale at Homestead and finished 35th. This small team needs a major cash and personnel infusion in order to be more competitive. Yeley will probably start-and-park a lot with this team in the coming year.
41. David Reutimann - Reutimann enters the 2013 season a free agent driver, although he has been associated with many teams through rumor. At the time of this writing his most likely destination is a possible new second JTG Daugherty Racing team. Another possibility is a third BK Racing team. Wherever Reutimann ends up, he will bring a strong veteran presence and aggressive racing style. He made 25 starts last season, mostly for Tommy Baldwin Racing, and managed a reasonable 29.1 average finish for that small team. Any fantasy racing value Reutimann can have will be largely tied to the team where he lands.
42. Michael McDowell - The 28-year-old McDowell will return for his sixth season of Sprint Cup Series action in 2013. He will return to the No. 98 team that he spent all of last season with. Team owner Mike Curb merged his team over the off-season and has now become Phil Parsons Racing. McDowell's efforts were mostly of the start-and-park variety last year, and unfortunately we don't see that changing right away in the upcoming season. This team will need major sponsorship and funding to develop before McDowell can be a serious competitor in NASCAR's top division.
43. Ken Schrader - The 28-year veteran made 13 starts last season with the small FAS Lane Racing team. Schrader was able to actually race and compete with this team although the equipment wasn't the best. He will return for a 10-event schedule with this same team in 2013. The one thing this team possesses that makes them valuable is their Top 35 status. That means provisional starts and the possibility to continue racing full bore in the upcoming season. Whenever Schrader takes the wheel the team has the chance to challenge the Top 25.
44. Josh Wise - Wise spent much of last season racing with Front Row Motorsports' third team. No word as of this writing if he will return to this team, but it is assumed that he will. The effort was a total start-and-park operation in 2012 and that would likely be the same scenario in 2013. Wise has shown flashes of ability in NASCAR's lower divisions, but he will need a better-equipped race team to show his wares in the Sprint Cup Series.
45. Michael Waltrip - The boss at Michael Waltrip Racing will step in for another part-time schedule in the upcoming season. Waltrip made four starts in the No. 55 Toyota last season, mostly on the super speedways, and picked up one Top-10 finish in the Daytona summer race. He will run a similar three-race schedule in 2013 which will include the Daytona summer race once again and both Talladega events. This wily veteran driver has incredible super speedway racing skill, as his four restrictor-plate victories show. Waltrip is always worth a spot start in the weekly lineup leagues in the Daytona and Talladega events.
46. Scott Speed - The 30-year-old driver crossed the 100-start plateau in 2012. Speed spent most of last season racing with the small Leavine Family Racing team in the No. 95 Ford. He is signed to return for a 20-race schedule in the upcoming season. The team is primarily a start-and-park operation, but the hope is that funding will improve in 2013 and Speed will be able to better compete. The part-time status and limited resources of this team fall short of Speed's driving ability, so the upside is very limited.
47. Joe Nemechek - The owner/driver of the No. 87 Toyota will return for a 21st season of Sprint Cup Series racing in 2013. Nemechek made 31 of the 36 events last season, but only competed as a start-and-park team. The veteran has failed to post a Top-10 finish in his last five seasons of Cup racing, so the prospects for improvement are quite small. Nemechek is steadily nearing 50 years of age, so his days of ultra-competitive racing may be over. Unless the sponsorship situation changes drastically he will be reduced to start-and-parking once again this season.
48. Mike Bliss - Bliss competed in a 19-race schedule for Humphrey Smith Racing in the No. 19 Toyota last season and this is the team he will return to in the coming year. The veteran driver DNQ'd seven times in this car last year, so Bliss was far from a safe bet to make the field each week. When the small team did race, they were mostly a start-and-park venture. Bliss only finished one race in 2012 and it was a respectable 24th-place finish at Phoenix early in the year. It may be a glimpse of this team's potential, but a radical funding and equipment infusion will need to take place to make that type of performance a weekly possibility.