The Front Row with Jerry Hitchcock February 19, 2013 - Coeur d'Alene Press: Sports

The Front Row with Jerry Hitchcock February 19, 2013

NASCAR gets off the COT

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Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 12:00 am

NASCAR has come to its senses, allowing teams to build cars that more closely resemble what is available at dealerships once again.

Yes, the Car Of Tomorrow is now the Car Of Yesterday. In its place is what's called the Generation 6, or Gen-6 platform.

All brands will have new bends in the sheet metal, with most coming with swoopy, aggressive front ends. Gone are the car numbers over the headlight stickers, and NASCAR will allow a sponsor's sticker on the back end of the roof.

Chevrolet rolls out the Chevrolet SS, with deep recesses in its hood and a large grill and radiator openings. Ford has a mean-looking Fusion, with long, horizontal louvers in the grill and plenty of racy angles down the sides. Toyota's Camry looks the most like its street car brethren, but still is all business.

Apparently, the 2013 season will commence without Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon discussing what transpired during last year's race in Phoenix, when Gordon slowed on the track to intentionally wreck Bowyer, leading to a dustup in the pits between the two crews. Bowyer went on to finish second in the points to Brad Keselowski, while Gordon faded to 10th in the final standings.

Will the two tangle early in the season? It'll probably depend on what type of opportunity presents itself. I doubt very much you'll ever see Bowyer slow to wait and take out Gordon, but stranger things I've seen on the track.

Crowd favorite Danica Patrick, who got off to a roaring start on Sunday by capturing the pole for the Daytona 500, will run a full schedule for Stewart-Haas Racing in Sprint Cup, after a year in the Nationwide Series, where she ended up 10th in points. She'll be a pioneer, as the first woman to compete full time in NASCAR's top series.

New cars and/or new drivers on the track this season include Nationwide Series champ Ricky Stenhouse, driving the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford previously piloted by Matt Kenseth, who jumped ship and will unseat Joey Logano in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Toyota.

Logano moves to the No. 22 from Penske Racing.

Patrick will bring the familiar bright green GoDaddy.com paint scheme to a Stewart-Haas-prepared No. 10 Chevrolet.

David Stremme will take over the No. 30 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota after Mikey has his fun at Daytona.

2000 series champ Bobby Labonte will apparently be back full time in 2013, piloting the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota.

Austin Dillon will take the reins of the No. 33 for grandfather Richard Childress. The plan for now is to retain Dillon's rookie status for 2014, but things have a way of changing ...

Stenhouse and Patrick are the odds-on favorite to tangle for this year's Rookie of the Year. The two recently revealed that they are dating, adding another wrinkle to the battle for the ROY title.

Kurt Busch lands in the seat of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevy, after spending time racing the No. 51 James Finch entry.

Predicting NASCAR's top finishers is a little like being deep in the pack mid-way through a race at Daytona: You can prepare all you want, but luck might have more to do with your finish than skill.

And there's always a surprise or two each season.

Last year's case in point was the emergence of Brad Keselowski, who rode roughshod through the Chase and took home the Sprint Cup after five wins and 23 top-10 finishes. Brad will be racing Fords this season, after Penske switched from Dodge, which exits the Sprint Cup Series on top.

Another surprise would be Bowyer, who ended up in second, winning three races and also notching 23 top 10s.

As for perennial up-front veterans, you can't rule out the dynamic duo of Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus. A third-place finish last year would excite most crews, but not the 48 bunch. His 24 top 10s and five wins say he's still in top form.

Look for Matt Kenseth to do some damage for Joe Gibbs, and I find it hard to believe that Kevin Harvick (8th last year, 1 win, 14 top 10s), Tony Stewart (9th, 3, 16) and Jeff Gordon (10th, 2, 18) won't be fighting for classifications in the top five during the season.

The head scratchers are Kyle Busch (23th in points 1 in, 20 top 10s) and Carl Edwards (15th, 0 wins, 13 top 10s). Both ran up front often up until this last season. We'll see what kind of momentum each can generate early this year.

The wild card for me this year is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior had a strong 2012 campaign (12th place, 1 win and 20 top 10s), but sat out a couple Chase races with problems from two concussions suffered during the season. He came back at Homestead and posted a 10th-place finish. If he drives at Daytona healthy (and there's no evidence he won't), he's likely to give 88 fans much more to cheer about, barring any more pinball-like wrecks.

Jerry Hitchcock is a sports writer for The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2017, or via email at jhitchcock@cdapress.com

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