Four to look forward to in 2013

Eldora Speedway will host the first NASCAR dirt race since 1970 when it presents the Camping World Truck Series Mudsummer Classic on July 24. - Jared C. Tilton

In anticipation for the upcoming season, we are going to take a look at four things fans should be excited for once the NASCAR season begins in February. New cars, new tracks and driver changes highlight what could be the most dramatic season in recent memory.

1. Next generation Sprint Cup car reintroduces brand identity, aims to deliver better racing

While it’s a small sample size, the competition test for the new car at Charlotte Motor Speedway showed a lot of promise. The importance of clean air appears to have taken a backseat to mechanical grip and the right tire compound could encourage more passing during speedway races.

The fact that brand identity has been restored with the Gen Six car is just an added bonus. The cars look like their showroom counterparts and are already more fashionable than the Car of Tomorrow.

While the old car was able to produce 17 different winners and two different champions over the last two seasons, the COT will largely be remembered for the dominance of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. The new car will reset the playing field and promises parity and closer racing.

At least, that’s the plan.

2. Silly Season offers drastically different Sprint Cup roster

Silly Season has really shaken-up the appearance of the Sprint Cup Series and that, combined with a new car, may drastically change the NASCAR landscape next season.

Brad Keselowski won his first Sprint Cup championship in a Dodge and will defend that title in a Ford.

Matt Kenseth spent 12 years at Roush Fenway Racing and won 24 races, including two Daytona 500s and the 2003 Cup championship. He moved to Joe Gibbs Racing during the off-season and is expected to add experience and pedigree to the young but talented Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

Joey Logano was the next big thing for Gibbs but fell out of favor after not making the Chase a single time with the team that won two championships with Tony Stewart. He gets a change of pace at Penske Racing and will benefit from working with Keselowski.

In short, new faces in different places makes for an unpredictable season.

3. Camping World Truck Series Mudsummer Classic

Let's face it.

Outside of the Daytona 500, the Eldora Mudsummer Classic is perhaps the most anticipated event on the schedule. The race will be held on July 24 -- the Wednesday night before the Brickyard 400 and is expected to draw some of the biggest names in racing. Upwards of 50 drivers have expressed an interest in competing and they range from the Sprint Cup Series to pro-level dirt sanctions.

This race essentially replaces the Prelude to the Dream all-star Late Model event but will count towards the Truck Series championship.

The 20,000-seat facility will likely be standing room only and its weekday primetime date could garner some mainstream attention. NASCAR will benefit from the visual of a packed house and the fans will be rewarded with some of the best racing of year.

4. Nationwide Series shakeup produces wide-open championship

The NASCAR Nationwide Series has over 10 drivers who can boast a realistic opportunity at winning the championship this season. That was the long term plan when NASCAR enacted a rule that required drivers to select just one championship to chase and gain points towards prior to the 2011 season.

The rule has slowly changed the complexion of the Series with non-Sprint Cup drivers winning 15 of 33 races last season. In comparison, 2010 saw just two of 35 races won by Nationwide Series regulars.

Defending two-time champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has graduated to the Sprint Cup Series but leaves his team in the capable hands of Trevor Bayne in 2013. Bayne finally gets his long-awaited chance to chase a championship and retains crew chief Mike Kelley, who is looking to win a third-consecutive title.

Championship runner-up Elliott Sadler and Brian Scott essentially swapped seats at Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing and the exodus of Cup Series drivers looking to win a Nationwide crown continue with the full-time return of Brian Vickers (JGR) and Regan Smith (JR Motorsports).

Toss in the returning Sam Hornish Jr., Austin Dillon, Michael Annett, Cole Whitt and Parker Kligerman and there are your 10 sure-fire Nationwide title threats.

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That’s it for us in 2012. If you have something to add, feel free to leave it in the comments section below. Happy New Year and here’s looking forward to a great 2013.

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