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1. Jimmie Johnson - With six championships now in tow there's no disputing Johnson's place in NASCAR history. Arguably the best driver of the modern era, he now has stats that rival any driver in the last generation of the sport. The Hendrick Motorsports star has 66 victories in his 12 full seasons of competition. He's only finished outside the Top 5 of the driver standings once in those dozen years of racing. The fact is that if you hope to win the Sprint Cup Series championship, the path to that title runs through the backyard of Mr. Johnson. The No. 48 team is the outfit to beat year-in and year-out, and that will remain the case as long as Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus remain paired at this strong racing organization.
2. Kevin Harvick - Harvick surprised everyone with his strong performance at Richard Childress Racing in his swan song of 2013. He capped his 13-season career at RCR with four victories, 21 Top-10 finishes and a stellar third-place finish in the final driver standings. That gave Harvick three seasons out of the last four with Top-3 points finishes. Now he heads to Stewart Haas Racing and the No. 4 Chevrolet team. The change of scenery could easily propel Harvick from being good to being excellent. We saw that with Matt Kenseth and his move to Joe Gibbs Racing last season. A similar scenario could easily play out for Harvick in 2014. Considering that Harvick dominated the track in December testing at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he's quickly developing good chemistry with his new race team.
3. Matt Kenseth - While Kenseth's 2013 season fell just short of the championship that he hoped would come, it was still an incredibly successful campaign. The veteran driver posted a career-best seven victories and finished runner-up in the final driver standings to champion Jimmie Johnson. There was no denying the dominance of this team last year, especially on the intermediate ovals where Kenseth won five of his seven victories. It will be hard to deliver a comparable encore performance in the upcoming season but we believe he'll come pretty close. Crew Chief Jason Ratcliff and Kenseth hit the ground running in 2013 and there's no reason to believe they won't do it again in 2014. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota was a championship contender last year and he'll be one again in the new season.
4. Brad Keselowski - The defense of his 2012 Sprint Cup Series championship proved too much for young Keselowski and the No. 2 Penske Racing team. The change from Dodge to Ford in a championship-defense season was an unfortunate circumstance, but one that likely led to Keselowski's struggles. However, the Penske star and his crew chief, Paul Wolfe, began to figure things out down the stretch run of last season. Keselowski won race No. 31 at Charlotte and he picked up Top 10s in four of the final six races of last season. It all points north for the 2014 campaign and this strong race team. Keselowski has championship-winning talent as he showed us two seasons ago, and there's no reason to believe he can't return to that level in 2014.
5. Kyle Busch - Busch is his own worst enemy. At times, it's easier for the Joe Gibbs Racing star to beat himself than for other drivers on the track. That being said, he still rang up four wins last season and cracked the Top 5 in the driver standings for the second time in his nine-season career. Now 28-years-old, the maturity that only comes with time for young, aggressive drivers is starting to set in. We saw more patience from the driver of the No. 18 Toyota last season and it led to a wonderful campaign for the JGR driver. Busch's three pole positions and 22 Top-10 finishes were both career-best marks. This should be the theme rolling forward with this driver. Busch is getting older, smarter and more patient and that should have everyone in the Sprint Cup Series garage area a bit concerned.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Victories are still hard to come by for the No. 88 Chevrolet team, but Earnhardt's consistency is unquestionable. In 2013 he posted his second consecutive season of 20-plus Top-10 finishes and cracked the Top 5 of the driver standings for the fourth time in his career. Still, this team and driver's inability to win races is all that separates them from championship contention and Earnhardt knows that. He and crew chief, Steve Letarte, have been a good combination the three seasons they've been together. Earnhardt has 54 Top-10 finishes over that span and three berths in the Chase. We should see more of the same in 2014; a ton of Top 10s and lots of consistency. If Earnhardt ever finds the key to victory lane again, look out!
7. Denny Hamlin - Last season was a complete loss for Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team. The star driver hit the wall hard in race No. 5 at Fontana while battling for the win with Joey Logano. The incredible impact with the inside wall there left Hamlin with a fractured back and four-race hiatus from the seat of his ride. When he returned in April at Talladega, it was painfully obvious that he was not 100 percent. Hamlin struggled through the remaining races to only seven Top-10 finishes, with four of those coming in the last six races of 2013. But there's good reason for hope going into the upcoming season. Hamlin won last year's season finale at Homestead in a pretty dominant performance. The health of his back will always be a concern, but for now, it looks like Hamlin feels as close to 100 percent as he has in the last three years.
8. Jeff Gordon - Gordon silenced all his critics with a great performance in 2013. Anyone who thought the 41-year-old was over the hill was greatly mistaken. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet racked up one victory and 17 Top-10 finishes en route to a strong sixth-place finish in the final point standings. Gordon was actually in the thick of the championship battle mid-way into last season's Chase after an impressive win at Martinsville. However, the No. 24 team lost some ground in the final half of the Chase and slid to sixth in the standings. He'll set out again in 2014 in pursuit of that elusive fifth championship. While it's not likely Gordon will claim it, he'll be among the elite in the Sprint Cup Series once again in the upcoming season.
9. Kurt Busch - The rebound driver of last year was easily Busch. He revived his flagging Sprint Cup Series career with an outstanding effort for Furniture Row Racing. He led the single-car operation to 16 Top-10 finishes and a first-ever berth in the Chase for the Cup for this small race team. These efforts didn't go unnoticed or even unrewarded. By late summer, rumors began to emerge that Busch had already signed with a new race team. When it was revealed that Stewart Haas Racing had put together a deal to get the veteran driver into a new car at the organization, it came as no surprise. Busch has learned to control his emotions (and outbursts) and it's led to a new lease on his NASCAR career. We expect to see Busch back up the Chase lineup of drivers again in 2014.
10. Kasey Kahne - In a lot of ways the 2013 campaign was very disappointing for Kahne and his Hendrick Motorsports race team. The veteran driver won two races, but he only claimed 14 Top-10 finishes, his lowest total in the last three seasons. Kahne did make the Chase field, but he was never really a factor after claiming only three Top 10s in the 10-race playoff that crowns the Sprint Cup champion. We expect the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet to make some gains in 2014, but not all at once. He and crew chief Kenny Francis have a lot to figure out to get back into top form, and it's going to take some time. Two victories again should be in the cards, but Kahne should push his Top10 total back up into the 15-16 range.
11. Clint Bowyer - With 2013 and the unfortunate incident for Michael Waltrip Racing altering the outcome at last fall's Richmond race now well in the rear view mirror, Bowyer sets out to start fresh with a clean slate. Despite all the distractions for this driver and team during the Chase, he still finished strong with two Top 5s and six Top 10s in those final 10 races. The No. 15 Toyota team now takes the undisputed lead role at MWR with the departure of Martin Truex Jr. Virtually all the team focus will be on keeping this driver and team performing at a high level. Bowyer has the experience to succeed, but the organization has been shaken to the core by the loss of some sponsors, funding and integrity. The veteran driver will set out to right these wrongs in 2014, but it would be unwise to think that performance won't be affected to some degree.
12. Carl Edwards - Roush Fenway Racing experienced a down season last year. Edwards was respectable with two victories and 16 Top-10 finishes, however, he had a forgettable Chase for the Cup and finished last among the playoff drivers in 13th-place overall after Homestead. That was the second-straight season for the No. 99 Ford team finishing outside the Top 10 in the final driver standings. Edwards will hope to erase these pains in 2014, but the level that his organization is performing at is far from ideal. We see similar results for Edwards in the upcoming season. The potential to win races will be there, but the inconsistency and DNF's that have plagued the team the last couple seasons will make Edwards a borderline Chase driver again in the coming year.
13. Joey Logano - At times last year it looked like Logano was the veteran at Penske Racing and Brad Keselowski was the newcomer. The driver of the No. 22 Ford posted career bests in Top 5s and Top 10s with 11 and 19 respectively. Logano also made his first Chase for the Cup and finished an impressive eighth in the final driver standings. It will be tough for Logano to measure up to those accomplishments again in 2014. He will once again team with crew chief Todd Gordon and attempt to build on the gains they posted last season. While Logano is incredibly talented and he has a strong team, it will be tough to measure up to those stats again in the upcoming season. The young Penske Racing driver will be strong yet again, but could be among the bubble Chase teams once we get to Richmond in September.
14. Greg Biffle - Biffle made the Chase for the second consecutive season in 2013, but it was a down year statistically with only 13 Top-10 finishes. He picked up a lone win at Michigan in June, but that was all the trophies he could muster last season. The No. 16 Ford team has fallen into a bit of an up-and-down pattern the last few years, and this could be a down campaign according to that record. We could see another 13-to-14 Top 10 season taking shape, but one that would put him in jeopardy of making the Chase by the time race No. 26 rolls around. Biffle has always been strong on the intermediate and larger ovals, so that we can rely on. However, his short track and super speedway racing have always seemed to be a weakness. Those are points to keep in mind for weekly lineup leagues.
15. Austin Dillon - After a 12-season hiatus the famous No. 3 of Richard Childress Racing returns to the track in 2014. Dillon, grandson of team owner Richard Childress, will have the distinction of returning the number to the race track that the late Dale Earnhardt made famous. That is tremendous pressure and focus on the young driver, but he's been groomed for this role since his early teens. The two-time NASCAR champion (Trucks and Nationwide) will be given every inch of equipment, knowledge and team support to succeed right away in NASCAR's top division. Sure, lack of experience will be an Achilles' heel, but Dillon has the talent and resources to flourish immediately in the Sprint Cup Series. We have high expectations for the black No. 3 team in their return to action.
16. Ryan Newman - Neman makes the exciting jump from Stewart Haas Racing to Richard Childress Racing in 2014. The veteran driver has been a borderline Chase driver for the last several seasons, but he was in the playoff field this past year. Six of his 18 Top-10 finishes in 2013 came during the Chase, so Newman did end the year strong. He'll attempt to carry that momentum to his new No. 31 team at RCR. Newman will team with crew chief Luke Lambert and attempt to return that team to Chase contention. They have not participated in the playoff since Jeff Burton took them there in 2010. Newman has all the tools to succeed in this situation but a small hit in performance could occur. We expect him to fall around an over/under of about 12 Top 10s with his new team.
17. Tony Stewart - The three-time Sprint Cup Series champion had a lost season in 2013. Performance was an issue even before his broken leg in a Sprint Car accident in August of last year. The injury was more than your garden variety broken leg and required three surgeries over the last half the year to properly mend and heal. Stewart is expected to be up and running come Daytona, but it's going to be a photo-finish on his rehab. He has complained about the pain and sensation in the leg all throughout the healing process. At this point it's difficult to imagine we'll see a 100 percent Stewart by the time the engines roar to life in Daytona. So that's why we're erring to the side of caution for the owner/driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet. Smoke's upcoming season could be more likely one of rehabilitation and shaking off the rust than winning races and contending for the championship.
18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - The reigning Rookie of the Year will set out to make big strides in his sophomore season in Sprint Cup Series racing. Stenhouse was consistent but unspectacular en route to finishing 19th in the final driver standings last year. He should up the ante a bit in the coming season. Stenhouse did grab his lone pole position and three Top-10s in the final third of the season. So things did end positively for the No. 17 Ford team. While we expect the Roush Fenway Racing driver to build on these accomplishments, they will be more incremental than leaps and bounds. As you may recall, prodigy Joey Logano made very small steps in his first three seasons in the Sprint Cup Series. We expect a similar scenario to unfold for Stenhouse. He'll be a star some day, but not right away.
19. Martin Truex Jr. - With the controversy at Richmond last season, and subsequent loss of primary sponsor NAPA, Truex found himself out of a ride at Michael Waltrip Racing. He will start fresh with up-and-coming Furniture Row Racing in 2014. The single-car team is coming off their first appearance in the Chase with veteran Kurt Busch in 2013. So you could say things are looking very optimistic for this race team as they switch from one seasoned driver to another in the coming year. Truex is coming off a campaign that saw one win and 15 Top 10s. Chase-worthy numbers but short of the playoff due to the tampering penalty that the team was assessed. He will set all that controversy clearly behind him and move forward with the No. 78 team. Making the Chase is a lofty goal, but not unachievable. Truex is more likely going to be among those handful of drivers jockeying just outside the Chase.
20. Paul Menard - Menard and the No. 27 team has grown comfortably predictable the last few seasons. That may not be satisfactory for this driver, but it does make his ceiling easy to forecast for fantasy racing purposes. Menard has posted standings finishes of 17th-, 16th- and 17th-place the last three years and he's claimed an average of 8.5 Top-10 finishes over that span. What it will take for this driver and team to get over this “hump” is not yet known, but it seems that the invisible wall may be insurmountable for Menard. He'll remain paired with crew chief Slugger Labbe in 2014, so at least team chemistry shouldn't be changed. Unless a major breakthrough occurs, we expect Menard to be in store for another eight or nine Top-10 finish campaign, with victory lane dancing just outside his reach.
21. Brian Vickers - After two seasons of part-time racing for Michael Waltrip's organization, Vickers gets his big break and return to full-time racing at NASCAR's top level. He'll pilot the No. 55 Toyota that he's shared with Mark Martin the last couple years in pursuit of the Sprint Cup championship. There are some factors to take into consideration when looking at this driver and team. First and foremost, Vickers' health is a concern. The veteran driver had the same blood clot condition that sidelined him in 2010 crop up again in October of last year and cut his season short. He's been receiving treatment and should be ready to go by Daytona, but this problem is ever-present. Secondly, crew chief Rodney Childers is gone. The duo combined for one victory and 11 Top-10 finishes in their 25 starts together. If Vickers is going to succeed it's going to have to happen with newcomer Billy Scott calling the shots. This team and driver situation has become less than ideal.
22. Jamie McMurray - McMurray returns for his fifth season at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. He will once again pilot the No. 1 Chevrolet with a strong sponsor lineup at EGR. McMurray will look to build on the gains this team made in 2013, but according to his historical stats this may be tougher than most can imagine. The veteran driver posted a strong campaign last season with a late-year win at Talladega, nine Top-10 finishes and a respectable 15th-place finish in the championship points. For the past several years this has been the ceiling for this driver and team. McMurray will set out with a new crew chief after the departure of Kevin Manion. Keith Rodden comes over from Hendrick Motorsports and will now call the shots for McMurray. We expect some bumps in the rode before growth can begin for this new duo.
23. Kyle Larson - The 20-year-old has been on a whirlwind ride to the top. Larson surprisingly made headlines last fall with the news that he'd take over the No. 42 Chevrolet of Juan Pablo Montoya. The young driver's resume is short but it's filled with successes. Larson has a K&N Pro Series East championship to his credit, one Camping World Truck Series victory, and a NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year of 2013 award. He finished eighth in the final driver standings of that series last year. Larson will take over EGR's premiere ride with the Target Chevrolet. It will be a pressure cooker for the young driver without a doubt, but he's yet to encounter an obstacle in racing that has defeated him. Larson should be a good challenger to Austin Dillon's hopes to win 2014 Cup Series Rookie of the Year.
24. A.J. Allmendinger - The former Penske Racing driver successfully revived his stock car racing career in 2013 with great efforts in part-time racing. Allmendinger picked up a couple Nationwide Series road course wins for his former boss Roger Penske, and he accounted well of himself in a part-time Sprint Cup schedule that included 18 starts split between Phoenix Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing. The journeyman driver performed so well down the stretch run of last season that JTG let Bobby Labonte go and gave Allmendinger the No. 47 ride. The team will switch to Chevrolets in 2014 and form a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. This similar arrangement paid big dividends for Furniture Row Racing, who made their first Chase field last season. While we don't expect to see Allmendinger in the Chase in the upcoming season, he should be a solid performer for this improving race team.
25. Marcos Ambrose - The driver of the No. 9 Ford returns for his sixth season at Richard Petty Motorsports. Ambrose had about as tough a season as he's had his entire career in 2013. He was held out of victory lane on the road courses, and he finished 22nd in the final championship standings, a three-year low. Ambrose will try to get back to the level he was at in 2011 and 2012 when he was winning races and challenging, albeit from the outside, the Chase field. Those goals will be pretty lofty in a series that just continues to get stronger, especially in light of the deep and talented rookie class we have this season. Ambrose will have the same team support and guidance from Drew Blickensderfer, but Ford has a lot of ground to make up in the manufacturer race before Ambrose can once again climb this standings ladder.
26. Aric Almirola - Almirola looked like he was just getting things figured out in 2013 when a series of setbacks hit the No. 43 team. The veteran driver claimed a career-best six Top-10 finishes and ended up a career-best 18th in the final driver standings. However, much of that success came thanks to crew chief Todd Parrott. Unfortunately, he was dismissed from the team and the sport late in the year when he failed a banned substance test. Almirola finished out the year in unspectacular style with an interim crew chief. Now we start the new season and he'll have to adjust to yet another crew chief. In December, Trent Owens was promoted from within RPM to the crew chief position of the historic No. 43 team. Almirola will need to quickly develop chemistry with his new leader, if he hopes to achieve anything in the upcoming campaign. It's a situation that could easily lead to a slow start for this driver and team.
27. David Ragan - This Front Row Motorsports driver was the center of one of the more interesting stories of last season. Ragan used a push from teammate David Gilliland on the final lap of Talladega's spring race to charge to the lead and win the Aaron's 499. It was the second career victory for Ragan and the first-ever Sprint Cup win for the Front Row Motorsports organization. Ragan proved to be very proficient at super speedway racing last year and in seasons past, but the No. 38 team was nothing short of inconsistent on the circuit's short tracks and intermediate ovals. That is an area Ragan hopes to work on in 2014. Still, if there's nothing else you take away from this driver and team, it's their incredible talent at restrictor-plate race tracks like Daytona and Talladega.
28. Casey Mears - Germain Racing returns for their sixth season at the Sprint Cup Series level. Once again Mears will pilot the team's No. 13 Toyota in a full schedule in NASCAR's top division. This team made some strides in 2013 with Mears finishing a team-best of 24th in the overall driver standings. The single-car operation will look to improve some more in the upcoming season. They have moved from Ford to Chevrolets for 2014 and formed an engine alliance with Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines. With these changes we expect some performance enhancement for the team. With Mears, a veteran of 380 Sprint Cup Series starts, behind the wheel some improvement should materialize.
29. Danica Patrick - To say that Patrick's 2013 season was a disappointment would be a big understatement. After starting the year strong with a pole position and Top-10 finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, the rest of the 36-race schedule was all downhill. In fact, the No. 10 SHR team picked up only four Top-15 finishes all season long as opposed to five DNF's. Many times Patrick found herself starting poorly due to bad qualifying efforts and unable to pull away from the rear of the field once the races started. She's going to have to work on both those issues in 2014 in order to improve. Once again, Tony Gibson will call the shots from atop the team's war wagon. His veteran presence will be calming, but at the same time motivating. We expect very little improvement for Patrick in the new season.
30. David Gilliland - The veteran driver is the second prong of Front Row Motorsports' one-two punch. Gilliland will return for his fifth season at the No. 38 team and FRM. He posted a career-best finish of second-place in last season's Aarons 499 at Talladega. Gilliland pushed his teammate David Ragan to the victory that day at the big track in Alabama. He too is a very skilled and experienced super speedway driver. Outside the restrictor-plate race tracks, you'll find that this driver and team are going to be somewhat inconsistent. The intermediate ovals will be better venues for Gilliland than the short tracks. 2014 should hold more success on the big tracks, while he'll struggle on the short track circuit.
31. Justin Allgaier - Allgaier will make the jump to Sprint Cup Series racing in the upcoming season and make a bid for Rookie of the Year with the No. 51 Phoenix Racing team. The 27-year-old has 174 Nationwide Series starts to his credit, so he comes to the big show more experienced than most rookies. Allgaier made four Cup starts late last season with this team in order to get some seat time in the Cup car. Those results were a bit mixed with one Top-25 finish and two finishes outside the Top 30. Respected crew chief Steve Addington was recruited away from Stewart Haas Racing so the future is bright with this small team. With Addington calling the shots and a proven talent in Allgaier behind the wheel, this team has some considerable upside in the year to come.
32. J.J. Yeley - Tommy Baldwin Racing will keep journeyman driver Yeley behind the wheel of the No. 36 Chevrolet in 2014. Their efforts were a mixed bag last season with only one Top-10 finish vs. eight DNF's. The one big thing Yeley accomplished last season was putting the team in the Top 35 of the final driver standings. That will help them get a good start to the upcoming season. Yeley should have pretty much the same team, sponsors and support as he had last year so the pressure will be on him to improve. We would like to imagine a higher ceiling for this team this year, but the deep rookie class and increased competition is a concern. Yeley will find himself going head-to-head with a lot of young guns this season and it will be very tough to get good finishes.
33. Michael Annett - In a surprising turn of events, Annett was signed to drive the No. 7 Chevrolet of Tommy Baldwin Racing. The team cut ties with veteran Dave Blaney, and opted for the 27-year-old Annett. He comes over from six seasons and 163 starts in the Nationwide Series. His best season over there netted 17 Top-10 finishes and a personal best of fifth-place in the final standings of 2012. Although Annett was held winless through those six seasons of Nationwide racing, he proved his talent with consistency and performance for some of the smaller teams in that division of NASCAR. He brings primary sponsor Pilot Oil Co. to his new gig at TBR, which will make things a bit easier. However, Annett's lack of any experience with Sprint Cup cars has to be concerning going into this season.
34. Parker Kligerman - Kligerman joins the rookie class of 2014 and he'll be driving for Swan Racing and their newly expanded effort. The 23-year-old is a proven performer and a rising star of the NASCAR's lower divisions. Kligerman had a nine-win season in 2009 in the ARCA Series en route to finishing runner-up to the champion. He also has 100 combined starts between the Nationwide and Truck Series with one victory and 43 Top-10 finishes in those starts. Kligerman will join a small but growing organization in Swan Racing. At this point we don't know who will be crew chief for the rookie but you can bet the team will have some ups-and-downs since Kligerman has only two career starts in NASCAR's top division.
35. Cole Whitt - Despite his 14 career starts in the Sprint Cup Series, Whitt will be racing for Rookie of the Year this season. He'll return to the team he raced part-time for in 2013, Swan Racing. The 22-year-old has a short resume but it does have its highlights. Whitt claimed fourth-place in the 2010 K&N Pro Series East final standings. He then graduated to the Camping World Truck Series in 2011 and promptly cracked the Top 10 of that series' standings in his rookie season. Whitt has made over 50 Nationwide Series stars the last four seasons, so his learning curve continues to point up. He'll be challenged to have an impact in NASCAR's top division in light of this quickly growing team and field that just gets tougher each season.
36. Landon Cassill - As of late December 2013, Cassill's plans are still unannounced. He spent much of last season racing for owner Joe Falk and the No. 33 Chevrolet team. It wouldn't be at all surprising to see this association continue into 2014. Cassill made 33 starts last year with an average finish of 32.3 and eight DNF's. Not ideal performance by any stretch of the imagination. The good news is that Cassill has 117 career starts at NASCAR's top level, so experience is not an issue at all. The bad news is that this race team is barely better than a start-and-park effort. The Circle Sport team needs to take a tremendous leap forward in equipment and funding before Cassill can climb the standings ladder.
37. Michael McDowell - McDowell makes the jump from Phil Parsons Racing to Leavine Family Racing this season. With close to 150 starts in the Sprint Cup Series, McDowell is no longer a green driver at NASCAR's top level. He's a seasoned journeyman, and he continues to search for the right ride to take him to the top. McDowell was little more than a start-and-park pilot in his time at Phil Parsons Racing. The move to LFR should bear some fruit. The small team is entering their fourth season in the Sprint Cup Series and coming off a campaign that saw the team's first Top 10 with Scott Speed driving at Talladega. McDowell should help this team to continue their upward growth this season.
38. Josh Wise - Phil Parsons Racing filled the void in their No. 95 team with journeyman driver Wise. The team is coming off a start-and-park campaign that was their third in the Sprint Cup Series. The team will change to Chevrolet from Ford and performance should improve somewhat, but funding will be a larger issue. Wise brings over 200 combined starts of experience between NASCAR's top three divisions. All the pieces are in place for Wise and the No. 95 team to break into the critical Top 35 of the standings, but it will largely fall on the shoulders of team owner Mike Curb to sell some sponsorship. Otherwise, they'll be start-and-parking once again in 2014.
39. Jeff Burton - Burton makes the jump from full-time to part-time racing in 2014, and the move from Richard Childress Racing to Michael Waltrip Racing. The 21-year veteran is starting to shift towards the broadcast booth, but he'll have a few more trips around the circuit in the upcoming season. Burton will share the No. 66 Toyota with team owner Michael Waltrip in a part-time schedule. As of this writing he'll make an undetermined number of starts beginning in Las Vegas in March. We would expect at least eight-to-ten starts for Burton, sponsorship permitting. As he showed down the stretch during the Chase with one Top-10 and five Top-15 finishes during the final 10 races, he's more than capable of piloting a Sprint Cup car at this point in his career.
40. Trevor Bayne - Wood Brothers Racing enters their fourth-straight season of part-time racing with Bayne behind the wheel. The 22-year-old is coming off a an unremarkable year with 12 starts and no Top-10 finishes to his credit. It was the worst of his three part-time Cup campaigns. The No. 21 Ford team hopes to run at least as many races, if not more, in 2014. If sponsorship can be found they'd like to add to the 12-race effort they performed last season. Veteran crew chief Donnie Wingo is expected to return and guide the young driver again in the upcoming season. Bayne has lots of talent, but the potential is limited due to this team's part-time status.
41. Michael Waltrip - The patriarch of Michael Waltrip Racing will once again stay active in the sport, and do what he does best which is super speedway racing. Waltrip made all four starts on the restrictor-plate tracks in 2013 and collected a pair of impressive Top-5 finishes. The 50-year-old certainly has made a living off the large ovals and it just continues well into the twilight of his NASCAR career. He should run the same schedule once again in 2014 in a timeshare of the team's No. 66 Toyota with veteran Jeff Burton. Waltrip will once again show that he's much more than a casual start on these high-speed race tracks. He'll certainly be worthy of weekly lineup consideration when the series visits Daytona and Talladega.
42. Travis Kvapil - While BK Racing has not announced their driver lineup for 2014 as of this writing, it is expected that Kvapil will return to the No. 93 Toyota team. The nine-season veteran had a decent season in 2013 with this small race team. Kvapil posted five Top-20 and 10 Top-25 finishes but the nine DNF's tempered those performances. BK Racing is looking to climb the ladder and improve so they could stick with veteran Kvapil or opt for a young driver in the upcoming season. Things look sketchy for him at this point, but Kvapil has 246 career starts at NASCAR's top level and that should keep him active in the sport even if BK Racing cuts him loose at some point.
43. David Reutimann - Reutimann is in much the same situation as his teammate Travis Kvapil at BK Racing. The team has not announced their driver lineup for 2014 as of this writing. The veteran driver kept the team in the Top 35 of the driver standings to finish the year, which is the good news. However, they didn't register one Top-10 finish in 2013 and that's the bad news. The nine DNF's the team experienced cast a cloud on anything positive Reutimann was able to accomplish behind the wheel of the No. 83 Toyota. The five Top-25 finishes fell well short of his teammate, and in our opinion puts Reutimann more on the hot seat that Kvapil heading into 2014.
44. Bobby Labonte - Labonte made headlines in December when it was announced that new Phoenix Racing owner, Harry Scott, and old Phoenix Racing owner, James Finch, would field a second team in 2014 and put Labonte behind the wheel. The 2000 Sprint Cup Series champion will race in the Daytona 500 and more events during the upcoming season. As of late December there are a lot of details yet to be announced, like car number, sponsors and the number of races Labonte will attempt. We can only guess that the number would be less than 10, so the 22-year veteran will have very little impact this season.
45. Joe Nemechek - The owner/driver of the No. 87 Toyota is expected to return in 2014. The 22-year veteran has been mostly a start-and-park driver the last several seasons and we wouldn't expect to see that change in light of the sponsorship difficulties the team has faced. Nemechek finances a lot of this team out of his own pocket and that shows in their performance. With only three finishes inside the Top 30 last season and 15 DNF's in 33 starts, it's clear that this team is not racing competitively at NASCAR's top level.
46. Ryan Blaney - One of the stars of tomorrow could make his first foray into Sprint Cup Series racing in 2014. Blaney, the son of NASCAR veteran Dave Blaney, will likely get a handful of starts in the third Penske Racing entry, the No. 12 Ford. The 19-year-old brings 47 combined starts between the Nationwide and Truck Series as his resume into the upcoming season. With two pole positions, three victories and 28 Top-10 finishes in those 47 races, the talent is obvious. However, it's the experience that is short. Blaney will get his first taste of racing in the big leagues this season and likely a setup for a rookie campaign somewhere down the road.
47. Mike Bliss - The veteran of 161 Sprint Cup Series starts will likely racing for the No. 19 team of Humphrey Smith Racing once again in 2014. While the plans have not been announced as of this writing it is expected they will return. Bliss was a start-and-park driver for this underfunded and underequipped team last year. With seven DNQ's last season, the team even falls well short of making the field each week. That status is not likely to change this season.
48. Sam Hornish Jr. - Hornish is still a driver without a team. His Nationwide Series gig dried up at Penske Racing, and even after a runner-up finish in the standings last season. It's clear that Hornish still has some juice left in stock car racing, but his future is going to be dependent on signing with a team in January and hopefully one in a good situation with funding. The 34-year-old driver has 130 Cup starts and 99 Nationwide starts to his credit, so he has marketable talent in light of his one win and 25 Top-10 finish season last year. Hornish is on the Sprint Cup Series radar screen as we enter the new year, but his ultimate placement in the rankings will be largely tied to the team that could sign him.