Our NASCAR offseason analysis series continues with a look at Stewart-Haas Racing, where Danica Patrick is set to embark on her first full season of running the Sprint Cup Series.
2012 In The Rearview
After Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman combined to win three of the first six races, 2012 appeared to have all the makings of being Stewart-Haas Racing's year. But that thought quickly went south, as the team won just once more and was never able to maintain its early season magic.
Stewart ended the year a rather mundane ninth overall, while Newman suffered through an 11-race stretch where he finished no better than 12th and missed the Chase for the fifth time in seven years.
2013 Driver Lineup
Danica Patrick (No. 10 Go Daddy Chevrolet); Tony Stewart (No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet); Ryan Newman (No. 39 Quicken Loans/Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet)
After dipping its toes in the water last season, in 2013 SHR is expanding to three cars on a fulltime basis. That new team, of course, is the one Danica Patrick will be driving for and will be led by Tony Gibson, who had served as the crew chief for Ryan Newman until he was reassigned late in the year.
Replacing Gibson atop the 39 pit box will be Matt Borland, who has experience working with Newman when the two were at Penske Racing. Borland's task will be seeing if he can lead Newman to Victory Lane more than once a season -- something he hasn't accomplished since 2004.
Stewart's 14 team returns intact, with Steve Addington back as crew chief.
Biggest Offseason Question
As is always the case any time she hits the track, all eyes will be focused on Danica Patrick as she embarks upon her first full year in Cup.
But with just one full season of stock car racing under her belt, and with tepid success in the Nationwide Series, is Patrick biting off more than she can chew? The easy answer is yes. However, while she will undoubtedly struggle at times -- especially early in the year -- there is reason to think that she will do better than expected.
In the short amount of time she has worked with crew chief Tony Gibson, Patrick's performance jumped up noticeably, highlighted by a career-best finish of 18th at Phoenix. And she has quickly adapted to running at Daytona and Talladega, and in Nationwide she has had her best results on intermediate tracks.
Now, while this doesn't necessarily mean Patrick is going to be named Rookie of the Year, it does mean that the potential is there for her to snag a couple of top-10s and not completely embarrass herself.
With Newman working on a one-year contract and uncertain whether he will return next season, accompanied with Patrick's fulltime arrival and with the addition of Kevin Harvick in 2014, this appears to be a year of transition for SHR. And it's easy to think all that's going on behind the scenes will have some sort of effect on what happens on the track and prove to be a determent to all involved.
However, if there is someone immune to outside distractions it would be Stewart, who should again win a couple of races and find himself in the Chase. But outside of the three-time Cup champion there isn't a lot at SHR to inspire confidence, as Newman is too streaky and Patrick too raw to have any sort of dramatic impact in 2013.