Opinion: Rich Story Lines Developing for 2014

Tony Stewart

Updates to the Gen-6 car and Tony Stewart's return are among the main story lines for 2014. (Photo: Getty Images)

The 2013 NASCAR season just ended but it’s never too early to look ahead at the new season right around the corner.

As the “offseason” rolls through the holiday breaks of Thanksgiving and Christmas, teams will be hard at work preparing for 2014. There are already several stories shaping up that should make next season pretty interesting:

Gen-6 Car 2.0

The evolution of the Gen-6 Sprint Cup Series car will continue in year two after NASCAR finalizes the 2014 rules package. By and large, the introduction of the much-anticipated machine was a success - certainly from the looks department and goal of connecting race fans to the street vehicle versions of Cup cars. However, the on-track competition showed there was room for improvement, primarily on mile-and-a-half tracks. To that end NASCAR will conduct a second test at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Dec. 9 hoping to enhance the racing product. Spoilers, ride height and tapered spacers to knock some horsepower out of engines are all on the table.

Johnson Sets Sights on Number Seven

Jimmie Johnson will have the opportunity to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for a record seventh Sprint Cup Series championship next year. He’s at least a sure bet to be in the mix for the title, with the No. 48 team already looking like the cream of the crop again in 2014. But as Johnson moves closer to putting his name in the record book, he’ll be under even greater scrutiny from the detractors who don’t want to see him share or eventually break the mark set by the two NASCAR icons. Conversely there are those who embrace the possibility of witnessing the historic moment of Johnson’s seventh championship in the last nine years.

New Look Stewart-Haas Racing

The hopes of the expanded SHR organization rest greatly in the return of leader and co-owner Tony Stewart, who continues his rehab from a broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash in August. The team and, in fact the entire sport, needs a healthy Stewart back behind the wheel in time for the opening bell of 2014. But SHR also has the challenge of adding new blood in drivers Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, as well as juggling the chemistry of crew chiefs Rodney Childers, Chad Johnston and Daniel Knost into the mix. The expansion from three to four teams, as well as the addition of a wide range of talent and personalities behind the wheel and on the pit box, will provide SHR with more than enough questions to be answered next season.

Rookie Race

For the first time in a while (with all due respect to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick), there will be an interesting Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year battle to watch next year. Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson make the move to NASCAR’s top division in 2014 and will fight it out for freshman honors. Both have been impressive in their careers on much smaller stages. But each has the talent and potential to make an impact on the sport for many years to come. Watching the duo perform starting at Speedweeks in February will be fun.

Shrinking Garages

The still tight economy has taken its toll on a number of top-notch organizations in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. Kyle Busch announced his team would suspend Nationwide operations for next year due to a lack of funding and similar scenarios are playing out with both Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing, which will shrink their programs next year. Several Truck organizations including Turner Scott Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing haven’t yet firmed their 2014 plans as the pursuit of sponsorship continues. The sport probably won’t face the prospect of less than full fields next year, but some key players will be missing from the lineup unless additional funding can be found.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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