Ready for NASCAR season

With the death of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR officials made a swift change on the design of the NASCAR.

While this reaction was not a knee-jerk one, as safety was at the forefront, they took uniqueness away from the manufacturers and made a standard template.

That “Car of Tomorrow” caused many a yawn on race Sundays and sent race teams scrambling for answers.

This has all changed with the new Generation 6 car. These cars are stylish, fast and provide the race teams a chance to fine tune their rides.

Look for the 2013 season to be a memorable one. Let’s take a look at the driver rankings for this season, which starts today with Daytona:

1. Jimmie Johnson: Led or was tied for the lead in wins, poles, top-five finishes and top 10s in 2012. Average finish since 2008 11.3.

2. Denny Hamlin: One of three drivers to lead over 1000 laps in 2012. Average finish since 2008 14.1.

3. Kasey Kahne: Move to Hendrick Motorsports will only add to his strong second half of last season. Average finish since 2008 16.2.

4. Matt Kenseth: The most underrated and appreciated man in NASCAR. Moves to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. Average finish since 2008 13.4.

5. Kyle Busch: “Mr. Excitement” not thrilled about missing Chase in 2012. Will he drive the wheels off today at the 500? Average finish since 2008 13.5.

6. Brad Keselowski: 2012 champ proved his doubters wrong. Has every opportunity to go back to back. Average finish since 2008 16.4

7. Jeff Gordon: Will the four-time Series champ retire after this season?Average finish since 2008 13.1.

8. Clint Bowyer: Can he break the “runnerup curse” in 2013? This guy can be an elite driver. Average finish since 2008 14.0.

9. Tony Stewart: Will all his time into getting Danica Patrick up and running cause his driving to suffer? Nah, nothing seems to faze the three-time Series champ. Average finish since 2008 13.1

10. Greg Biffle: Led the standings for much of 2012. Can he put this Ford on top of the charts in 2013? Average finish since 2008 13.9

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Solid finishes (12.8) since getting crew chief Steve Letarte. This does little to quench his thirst for wins and top-five finishes. Average finish since 2008 16.3.

12. Kevin Harvick: This guy has been “Bad Fast” at Speedweeks. Will Lame Duck status hurt his chances to be champ? Average finish since 2008 12.8.

13. Carl Edwards: Only has himself to blame for the biggest slump on the circuit. Wrecked five cars since the start of Speedweeks. Wow. Average finish since 2008 12.3

14. Martin Truex Jr.: Coming off his best season ever. Still has more DNFs (Did Not Finish) than top fives. Average finish since 2008 17.9.

15. Joey Logano: Move from JGR to Penske will be a plus. Lost much of the attention running with Busch. Average finish since 2008 18.7

16. Paul Menard: Provides and huge upside. The 2011 Brickyard 400 champ could crash the chase party in September. Average finish since 2008 21.0.

17. Ryan Newman: The “Rocketman” no longer is an elite driver. Still good for a few poles and 15 top 10s a season. Average finish since 2008 16.0.

18. Mark Martin: Veteran who finished 26th in points in only 24 starts. Average finish since 2008 15.3

19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: The two-time Nationwide Series champ begins first fulltime Cup Series. Look for some bumps along the way.

20. Kurt Busch: Ending tumultuous 2012 season with three starting top 10s. Bounce back year with Furniture Row Racing? Average finish since 2008 17.5

Tandem driving is finally gone at Daytona, as multi-car drafting returns. Staying on the high line has been prevalent throughout Speedweeks. Can two cars team up to pass down low? Look for a fantastic race. Does the winner lay in the back and drive around until the last 10 laps? Or, does clean air out front prevail? My predictions:

Daytona 500 winner: Gordon

2013 Series champ: Kenseth

Craig Andros is an occasional contributor to Voice of the Fan.