2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Team Previews

2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Team Previews

BK Racing, Germain, TBR and More
By: Dustin Long
Racingone.com

A new season brings new hope but for many lower-funded teams scheduled to compete in every NASCAR Sprint Cup race this season, the goal is to make progress.

Rookies are prevalent among these teams and that could make it more challenging to see positive results early. Some teams have tried to balance that inexperience by adding crew chiefs who have won Cup races. For many of these teams, a finish in the top 20 will be considered a good day and anything better will be looked up on as an exceptional day.

Team: BK Racing

Drivers: Alex Bowman and Ryan Truex

Crew Chiefs: Dave Winston (Bowman) and Dale Ferguson (Truex)

Key Numbers:

2 - NASCAR K&N Pro Series East titles won by Ryan Truex (2009 & ’10).

3 - Combined Sprint Cup starts by Alex Bowman (0) and Ryan Truex (3) entering this season.

23 - Number for Alex Bowman’s car, a switch from the No. 83 that the  team used last year.

What’s New: Driver lineup leads the changes at BK Racing. Alex Bowman and Ryan Truex replace David Reutimann and Travis Kvapil.

Keys to the Season: To learn each week. Team faces challenges as a low-budget organization with rookie drivers. Thus, the key is to make steady progress throughout the season.

Observations: Neither of BK Racing’s cars finished in the top 30 in car owner points last season. Cracking the top 30 should be a goal. Bowman showed speed last year in the Nationwide Series. Truex, who is on loan from Richard Petty Motorsports, spent most of last year watching from the sideline because of lack of funding. There is plenty of work ahead for both drivers and teams. 

Team: Germain Racing

Driver: Casey Mears

Crew Chief: Robert “Bootie” Barker

Key Numbers:

1 - Top-10 finish (ninth at Daytona in July), first top-10 result for Mears since 2009.

3 - Green-flag laps Mears led last season.

15 - Lead-lap finishes last season compared to six such finishes in 2012.

What’s New: Team switches from Ford to Chevrolet and has a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.

Keys to the Season: The technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing should help this team move forward. This will be the third full season Mears and Barker have been together and that should play a role in better results.

Observations: Furniture Row Racing’s appearance in the Chase last year gives Germain Racing something to aspire to as a single-car operation. Furniture Row Racing, though, likely will be the exception. Mears finished 24th in the points last year, gaining five spots from the previous season. A similar jump should be a team goal but that will not be easy to achieve.

Team: Tommy Baldwin Racing

Drivers: Michael Annett and Reed Sorenson

Crew Chiefs: Kevin Manion (Annett) and Todd Parrott (Sorenson)

Key Numbers:

1 - Top-10 finishes for the organization last season (J.J. Yeley was 10th in the Daytona 500).

5 - Career wins for Tommy Baldwin as a crew chief, including the 2002 Daytona 500.

36 - Combined career wins for crew chiefs Todd Parrott (31) and Kevin Manion (5).

What’s New: Team joins technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing and brings in two new crew chiefs, along with changing its driver lineup.

Keys to the Season: Making the most of what they have. Tommy Baldwin is battling to climb from the ranks of a small team. That spirit will again be needed this season.

Observations: The additions of Kevin Manion and Todd Parrott could prove significant for this team. Key, as it is for most teams, is finances. If enough sponsorship can be found, Tommy Baldwin can start pointing toward top-20 finishes on a regular basis as a goal. If not, then the goal is to finish in the top 25.

Team: Swan Racing

Drivers: Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt

Crew Chiefs: Steven Lane (Kligerman) and Randy Cox (Whitt)

Key Numbers:

18 - Finish at Texas in November for Parker Kligerman, his best result in two races with the team.

27 - Finish at Dover for Cole Whitt, his best finish in seven races with the team late last year.

33 - Place team finished in the car owner standings in 2013.

What’s New: New driver lineup and expansion to two-car operation for owner Brandon Davis’ team.

Keys to the Season: Gain experience and grow. Just like BK Racing, this team features two rookie drivers. It won’t be easy heading in this direction but it could prove to be beneficial later.

Observations: Expect this team and its drivers to go through some rough times - as often is the case with rookies with smaller teams. The payoff will be on those good days. The question is how good will those good days will be. Likely a top-20 finish.

Team: Fas Lane Racing

Driver: Terry Labonte (for Daytona 500), rest of driver lineup TBA

Crew Chief: Dan Stillman

Key Numbers:

4 - Different drivers in the No. 32 car last year - Terry Labonte, Ken Schrader, Timmy Hill and Boris Said.

5 - Races Terry Labonte drove for the team last year with a top finish of 19th at Daytona in July.

19.7 - Average finish for Terry Labonte in the Daytona 500 the past three years for the team.

What’s New: Fas Lane Racing has partnered with Go Green Racing to field the No. 32 car this season.

Keys to the Season: Needs strong finishes in some of the big money races, including the Daytona 500, to help supplement the team’s finances.

Observations: Just like many small teams, this organization is looking for a way to succeed and climb the ladder. Reality is it won’t be easy.

Team: Phil Parsons Racing

Driver: Josh Wise

Crew Chief: Gene Nead

Key Numbers:

9 - Finish in the Daytona 500 for the team’s top result last season.

19 - Top finish for Josh Wise last year, coming at Talladega.

25 - Times team finished 40th or worse last year.

What’s New: Josh Wise joins the team, replacing Michael McDowell, who joined Leavine Family Racing this season.

Keys to the Season: Making sure they get in all the races to collect their race earnings.

Observations: This team looks to survive and Wise gives them that chance. He knows about the pressures of qualifying for races when there are more than 43 cars at a track. That will help.

Team: HScott Motorsports

Drivers: Justin Allgaier and Bobby Labonte

Crew Chiefs: Steve Addington (Allgaier) and Jimmy Elledge (Labonte)

Key Numbers:

12 - Different drivers who competed in the No. 51 car last season including AJ Allmendinger, Austin Dillon, Jacques Villeneuve and Kyle Larson.

20 - Career wins for Steve Addington as a crew chief.

30 - Place in the car owner points the team finished last year.

What’s New: The team has a new name after being previously known as Phoenix Racing. Justin Allgaier joins the team and Bobby Labonte is scheduled to run a second car in the Daytona 500 and other races.

Keys to the Season: Stability. Justin Allgaier will be in the No. 51 car the whole season and that should help the team’s performance instead of changing drivers as often as it did last year.

Observations: Harry Scott Jr. bought the team last year from James Finch. Scott has played a role in building Turner Scott Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. He looks to do the same with this Cup program but it will take time.

Team: Hillman Racing

Driver: Landon Cassill

Crew Chief: Mike Abner

Key Numbers:

22 - Finish for Landon Cassill at Talladega in May, his best result of the season.

32 - Average finish for Landon Cassill in both the No. 33 and No. 40 cars for the team last season.

38 - Finish in the car owner points for the No. 33 car last season. 

What’s New: A new season provides a new outlook but the challenges will remain the same for this small team.

Keys to the Season: Cassill finished 30th or worse in 24 of the 33 races he ran last year for the team. The key is to get better and score more top-25 results.

Observations: Even with its connections to Richard Childress Racing, this small team faces big challenges. More consistent finishes in the top 30 would be considered a step forward.

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Re: 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Team Previews

JTG Daugherty Racing
By: Pete Pistone
Racingone.com

JTG Daugherty Racing comes into the season with a new look and fresh outlook. Team co-owners Tad and Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty have made significant changes in hopes of improving the organization's mediocre performance record.

AJ Allmendinger, who ran a limited number of races for the team last year, replaces veteran Bobby Labonte behind the wheel of the No. 47. A change in manufacturers from Toyota to Chevrolet as well as an alliance with Richard Childress Racing also is in place. The moves have given the team high hopes for what could be a break through season in 2014.

Team: JTG Daugherty Racing

Driver: AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Chevrolet)
Crew Chief: Brian Burns

Key Numbers:

0 - Combined top-five and top-10 finishes recorded in 28 starts by Bobby Labonte in 2013
3 - Teams Allmendinger drove for in the last three seasons (Penske, Phoenix, JTG)
43 - Team co-owner Brad Daugherty's number during his NCAA and NBA basketball careers

What’s New: After making a handful of starts for JTG Daugherty in 2013, Allmendinger moves into the No. 47 ride for the full season. The team also shifted from Toyota to Chevrolet and has signed a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.

What They’re Saying

Daugherty: “The last couple years we got our butt kicked. But the moves we made bringing in AJ and aligning ourselves with RCR really gives us the chance I think to go out and kick some other butts this year.”

Allmendinger: "This is a good place that I can hopefully be at for a long time. They don’t make me feel like I’m only a racecar driver, but they make me feel like I’m part of this family. This season is all about putting things together, piece by piece, and hopefully that translates into wins and success.”

Keys To Season

Both the team and Allmendinger will benefit from having a chance to work together at least on a limited basis last year. The comfort level between Allmendinger and crew chief Burns is high. Making the switch from Toyota to Chevrolet and aligning with RCR should give the organization a step up in the competition level from last season. Avoiding mechanical issues and accidents is vital for the small team to succeed and thrive.

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Re: 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Team Previews

Front Row Motorsports
By: Dustin Long
Racingone.com

NASCAR’s new Chase format is appetizing for smaller teams such as Front Row Motorsports.

Had the new Chase format been in place last year, David Ragan’s victory at Talladega Superspeedway last May would have qualified him for a chance at the championship.

“This could be a game-changer for our team,’’ Ragan said. “This could help jumpstart a team like Front Row Motorsports to get to that next level if we could make the Chase for a couple of years running.’’

Car owner Bob Jenkins is excited about the possibilities if his team can duplicate last year’s win.

“It’s certainly a long shot, but if we could figure out a way to win another race this year it elevates us potentially into the Chase and then we’d have to re-think everything,’‘ Jenkins said. “We’d obviously have to go out and do some crazy things to be more competitive in the Chase, but it does open the door to teams like ours to have some success, and I think it’s good for the sport.”

Team: Front Row Motorsports

Drivers: David Ragan (No. 34 Ford), David Gilliland (No. 38 Ford) and Eric McClure (No. 35 Ford for the Daytona 500)
Crew Chiefs: Jay Guy (Ragan), Frank Kerr (Gillilland) and Todd Anderson (McClure/No. 35 car)

Key Numbers

1 - Wins for organization after Ragan led Gilliland across the finish line at Talladega in May.

7 - Ragan’s ranking in points on restrictor-plate tracks in 2013 (Gilliland ranked eighth), ahead of such drivers as Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch.

58 - Positions Ragan gained in the last 10 percent of all races last season, second-best in Sprint Cup behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. (68 positions gained).

What’s New: The key figures remain the same but the team has added sponsorship and that’s critical for a smaller operation. The No. 35 car, which Josh Wise ran last year, is expected to be run by multiple drivers this year, beginning with McClure at Daytona.

What They’re Saying

Ragan: “It is fun to talk about the win last season and the Talladega experience that David (Gilliland) and I had, but we can’t rest on that forever. We’ve got to move on.  We’ve got to do it again to have something else to talk about.’’

Gilliland: “Just feel really, really good. Probably the best I’ve felt going into a season in I can’t remember how long - a long time.’’

Keys to Season

Maximizing success. Ragan and Gilliland each scored top-10 finishes in both Talladega races. They also had moderate success on short tracks. The 1.5-mile speedways, though, were where they struggled. The team did not finish in the top 15 in races on such tracks and had only two top-20 finishes on the 1.5-mile speedways.

Observations

The restrictor-plate tracks again will be this team’s best chance to shine and even score a win. Work remains on the short tracks. The lack of success on 1.5-mile speedways is not surprising for a lower-budget team that doesn’t have all the resources as bigger teams. A top-20 finish looks to again be a good finish for this group this season.

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Re: 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Team Previews

Richard Petty Motorsports
By: John Singler
Racingone.com

Richard Petty Motorsports heads into the 2014 Sprint Cup Series with hopes of building early-season momentum after slumping down the stretch last year. Drivers Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose combined for just two top-10 finishes over the final two months of the season.

With the post-season Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup expanding to 16 drivers this season, a fast start would go a long way toward positioning both Almirola and Ambrose for their first appearance in the 10-race title series.

The Ford Fusions they’ll drive got a NASCAR-approved “nose job” in the off-season. To address concerns about debris collecting on the lower radiator inlet, the screen has been bumped out and is now flush with the front bumper.

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

Drivers: Aric Almirola (No. 43 Ford), Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 Ford)
Crew Chiefs: Trent Owens (Almirola), Drew Blickensderfer (Ambrose)

Key Numbers

3 – Almirola is embarking on his third full season with RPM and Ambrose is looking for his third career Sprint Cup Series victory after winning back-to-back races at Watkins Glen International in 2011 and 2012.

18 – Where Almirola finished in the final 2013 Sprint Cup Series standings, an improvement of two positions over where he wound up in his debut season with RPM in 2012. Last year, Almirola missed a spot in the post-season Chase by 87 points.

200 – Ambrose, who finished 22nd in the final 2013 standings, is on track to make his 200th career Sprint Cup Series start on April 26 in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

What’s New: Almirola has signed a contract extension, as has sponsor Smithfield Foods to continue as a partner on his No. 43 Ford. Almirola also has a new crew chief. Trent Owens moves over to RPM after leading Kyle Larson’s Nationwide Series program at Turner Scott Motorsports.

What They’re Saying

Richard Petty: “We’re probably in the best shape we’ve been in the last three or four years. Last season was a lot more stable and that’s what we’re trying to do now with our new sponsorships. We feel like we’re doing the right thing.”

Almirola: “It’s great to have the U.S. Air Force back and Smithfield Foods has stepped up in a huge way for us. The commitment they’ve made to Richard Petty Motorsports allows us to go out and hire more people. We’ve got a lot of momentum on our side.”

Ambrose: “The growth of RPM has really invigorated this race team. We’ve created an R&D program and that’s the first time that’s happened since I’ve been here. At the end of the day, we’re all racing to put Richard Petty back in Victory Lane.”

Keys to Season

According to CEO Brian Moffitt, Richard Petty Motorsports hopes the addition of new sponsors and contract extensions for existing partners will translate into a robust research and development program that’ll produce improved results on the track.

“The winning tradition of the Petty name is to be up front, win races and compete for championships. That’s what we’re in this for,” said Moffitt – noting the presence of development drivers Dakoda Armstrong, Corey LaJoie and Ryan Truex as key components in the team’s growth plan. “We’re looking forward, poised for the future.”

Observations

With back-to-back wins at Watkins Glen International in recent seasons and strong runs in Sonoma, Calif., Ambrose has proven his mettle in Sprint Cup Series road-course events. He must now translate that expertise to sustained success on NASCAR ovals, where he’s been fast but not always able to finish.

The 2012 season was Almirola’s first as a full-time Cup competitor and he placed 20th in points. He improved two spots in 2013 and a similar advance this year could put him in position to challenge for a post-season berth. Best chance for a victory could come on the flat one-mile ovals such as Phoenix and New Hampshire, where Almirola posted a season-best fifth-place finish last summer.

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Re: 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Team Previews

Chip Ganassi Racing
By: Jeff Wackerlin
Racingone.com

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has undergone a number of changes in the last decade - from drivers, personnel and manufacturers to the engine department.  Now, the team is looking to build its future with more change as they bring in some new faces to the team that include rookie Kyle Larson.

Larson, who has been praised by the likes of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart as one of the best up-and-coming talents, will team with Jamie McMurray for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

"He's (Kyle) a very special racecar driver," said Felix Sabates. "He's used to driving anything that you can put him in. I think he will be ... better than all the other rookies coming to the series. I want to say that so I can put some pressure on him."

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

Drivers: Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Chevrolet) and Kyle Larson (No. 42 Chevrolet)
Crew Chiefs: Keith Rodden (McMurray) and Chris Heroy (Larson)

Key Numbers

3 - Races Rodden served as crew chief as a replacement for Kenny Francis in 2007 at Evernham Motorsports.

58 - Larson will become the 58th driver to race for Chip Ganassi Racing among all the series the team competes in.

85 - The number of points McMurray has scored in the last two restrictor-plate races, the most of any driver.

What’s New: Along with a new name (dropping Earnhardt) and the addition of Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is changing up some members on the No. 1 team ... including bringing in Rodden as crew chief.  He comes to CGR from Hendrick Motorsports, where he served as a lead engineer on Kasey Kahne's No. 5 team.

What They’re Saying

McMurray: "Quite a few changes to the '1' car this year, a lot of new crew guys, new engineer, a new car chief and a new crew chief.  The transition to Keith coming in has gone better than what I expected.  He’s really fit into our shop.  One of the best parts of Keith coming in is that he already somewhat understood the simulation program we had.  So there’s all good stuff on that side."

Larson: "I’ve been a rookie a lot and I never really thought it was that great of an award (Rookie of the Year).  But this year, since I'm going up against drivers like Austin Dillon - who's won a Truck Series championship and then the Nationwide championship last year, that makes it more special to me.  So it will mean that much more than it has in the past to win this thing and hopefully, we can pull it off."

Keys To Season

McMurray was able to score one win and finish 15th in points last season - the first with Hendrick engines, knowing at the end of the year he was going have a new crew chief and a new teammate.  A proven winner, McMurray will now play the veteran role on the team to keep the momentum rolling and help Kyle Larson in his first season in Cup.  The last time McMurray had a crew chief change was in 2010 and it turned out to be his best season based on wins, with three.  The new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format could play right into CGR's hands with McMurray looking to make his first career post-season run and a hungry Larson, who is not afraid to get up on the wheel.  With new crew members and drivers, it's time for the team to start building continuity for the long run.

Observations

With the extra horsepower in the Cup cars, watch out for Larson on the 1.5-mile and 2-mile tracks, where he can search around for grip similar to dirt-track racing, where he's had success.  The older track surfaces like Atlanta Motor Speedway could benefit Larson, too, as he won on one of the roughest sufaces in the Camping World Truck Series at Rockingham Speedway.  The restrictor-plate tracks could be key for McMurray as four of his seven career wins have come on those types of tracks, including his last at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2013.

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Re: 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Team Previews

Furniture Row Racing
By: Dustin Long
Racingone.com

Martin Truex Jr. is on his own but not alone.

After NASCAR penalized Michael Waltrip Racing for its actions at Richmond, the result was that Truex was knocked out of the Chase. That episode eventually cost the team its sponsor, forcing Truex to go elsehwere. He’s found a new home at Furniture Row Racing.

“A lot of things happened last year, and I think that the best thing for me was to move on and try to forget about it,’’ Truex said. “I think this helps that process.’’

With the move, Truex goes from a three-car team to a single-car operation, but he won’t be truly on his own. Furniture Row Racing’s technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing has benefits both sides and allows Truex to interact with RCR’s drivers - Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon and Paul Menard, who was Truex’s teammate at Dale Earnhardt Inc.

“It’s going to help me get used to the new cars,’’ Truex said of consulting the Childress drivers. “If you’re having a bad weekend and you’re way off and one of their guys is running decent, you can get some help.’’

And if he’s fast, he can help them.

Team: Furniture Row Racing

Driver: Martin Truex Jr.

Crew Chief: Todd Berrier

Key Numbers

1 - No. 78 car’s victory total in NASCAR since late in the 1955 season - a victory scored by this organization in 2011 at Darlington.

4.0/13.5 - Martin Truex Jr.’s average finish at Texas in the spring race (4.0) and the fall race (13.5) for the past two years.

9 - Front-row starts by the team last year with Kurt Busch as driver.

What’s New: Martin Truex Jr. joins the team, replacing Kurt Busch. Also many of Truex’s pit crew from last season at Michael Waltrip Racing followed him to Furniture Row Racing.

What They’re Saying

Truex: “I think the coolest thing about this team is that they’re such a close tight-knit group of guys. They’ve come so far as a race team.’’

Berrier: “The motivation is there from every person to press on through and prove that we can do it better than last (year).’’

Keys to Season

Team officials have said that one of the benefits of being a single-car operation is that when they find something, they can implement quickly on their cars. Last year, the team found a way to keep the car low to the track and it showed with several great qualifying efforts. Come race time, the car didn’t always handle as well. If they can maintain that speed and find a way to be better in traffic, this could be a team to watch.

Observations

The expanded Chase will help this team but the quest remains to get to Victory Lane - something it didn’t do last year even with Kurt Busch. No doubt Martin Truex Jr. is hungry after a penalty knocked him out of the Chase. The key is if this team can take what it learned last year and prove it’s not just a one-hit wonder by having another strong season.

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Re: 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Team Previews

Stewart-Haas Racing
By: Pete Pistone
Racingone.com

The spotlight will shine brightly on Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 after the team's off-season makeover.

Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch join SHR holdovers Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick as former teammate Ryan Newman moves to Richard Childress Racing.  Three new crew chiefs in Chad Johnston, Rodney Childers and Daniel Knost also join the effort.

Stewart is still recovering from the broken leg he suffered in a sprint car crash last August and said he won't be 100 percent when Budweiser Speedweeks rolls around.  Harvick and Busch add a veteran presence to the organization and with Patrick back for her second full Sprint Cup Series season, there's definitely a high wattage of celebrity electricity around SHR in 2014.

SHR struggled with the Gen-6 car last year.  Along with Stewart's absence, there were personnel changes when veteran crew chief Steve Addington was let go.

Team: Stewart Haas Racing

Drivers: Tony Stewart (No. 14 Chevrolet), Danica Patrick (No. 10 Chevrolet), Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Chevrolet), Kurt Busch (No. 41 Chevrolet)

Crew Chiefs: Chad Johnston (Stewart), Tony Gibson (Patrick), Rodney Childers (Harvick), Daniel Knost (Busch)

Key Numbers4 - SHR has doubled its size from a two-car operation to four in less than three years.

11 - Number of top-five finishes for newcomer Kurt Busch last year as a member of Furniture Row Racing.

26.1 - Danica Patrick's average 2013 finishing position.

What’s New: The addition of Harvick and Busch to the stable give SHR an expanded and veteran look.  But the two drivers aren't the only new wrinkles in the organization.  Three crew chiefs make their debuts with SHR this season as Johnson and Childers make the move from Michael Waltrip Racing, and former engineer Knost gets his first shot atop the war wagon to call the shots for the newly created No. 41 team and Busch.  Veteran Mark Martin has also been brought in as a test driver and consultant.

What They’re Saying

Stewart: "What everybody is overlooking is the fact that we have four alpha drivers here with four alpha personalities, and the great thing is that we all have the advantage of understanding each other.  The first thought of everybody is probably the opposite of what the reality is – we’re a great support system for each other.  Every one of us has had our battles at some time, either with each other or (the media) or whatever the group has been.  But we all understand and can relate, so every one of us can understand what each is going through and it’s a great support system."

Harvick: "From a competition standpoint, you want to race and you want to do the right things.  I've been around this thing long enough to where you know when you’ve said something, done something, made a mistake on the track or need to do something better.  For the most part, you know it’s pretty obvious what you need to do."

Keys to Season

Some people feel a key to SHR's is just being able to survive until season's end.  The "alpha personalities," as Stewart calls the quartet, will all have to get along with one another to ensure a harmonious atmosphere.  But there's also the chemistry that will need to happen among three new pairs of driver-crew chiefs.  SHR needs to get better results from Year 2 of the Gen-6 car than it did during its debut season in 2013.  Stewart has to return to full physical strength after his layoff due to injury.  And Patrick has to step up in her sophomore campaign after a mediocre rookie season.  There's a lot on SHR's plate in 2014.

Observations

SHR will be one of the top teams under the spotlight in 2014.  There seem to be as many people rooting for the organization to succeed as there are who want to see it implode.  There's no argument that the driving talent among the proven trio of Stewart, Harvick and Busch is stellar.  But the questions regarding growing pains in moving from a three- to four-car operation and whether the high-profile personalities can co-exist and work together will certainly permeate the season.

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Re: 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Team Previews

Roush Fenway Racing
By: Pete Pistone
Racingone.com

After a year that saw two of its drivers make the Chase and the third win Sprint Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year honors, you'd think everything was peachy at Roush Fenway Racing. Well despite those 2013 successes, the team readily admits it must become more competitive in order to be the the championship picture this season.

Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle both won races last year and qualified for the Chase. But once the playoff schedule began, neither was able to mount a serious charge to bring team owner Jack Roush a title. So RFR went to work in the off-season to get better.

"We’ve been working really hard on it," said General manager Robbie Reiser. "There are a lot of people talking up here about what we’re doing and where we’re going, but at the end of the day this thing is about winning races and winning championships and putting ourselves in that position."

While most of the Edwards and Biffle teams remain intact, Stenhouse has a new crew chief in Mike Kelley, who helped lead him to consecutive Nationwide Series championships.

There's a foundation to build on from last year's performance and RFR is committed to find what it takes to return to its more competitive days.

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

Drivers: Carl Edwards (No. 99 Ford), Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Ford)
Crew Chiefs: Jimmy Fennig (Edwards), Greg Puccia (Biffle), Mike Kelley (Stenhouse Jr.)

Key Numbers

3 - Number of top 10 finishes by Stenhouse Jr. in his rookie season

10 - Years since Roush Fenway Racing won its last Sprint Cup title (Kurt Busch, 2004)

21 - Number of career Sprint Cup Series wins for Edwards

What’s New: Mike Kelley is reunited with Stenhouse Jr. after the two won a pair of Nationwide Series titles in 2011 and 2012.

What They’re Saying

Edwards: "We did really well in the regular season last year. We won a couple of races, but for Robbie Reiser, Jack Roush, Jimmy Fennig and our whole team our mission is to win the championship."

Biffle: "Winning a title, whether I’ve won the other titles or not, I think the goal of any driver is to win a Sprint Cup title. We’ve come very close a few times. I feel like this year we’re really aligned well. Maybe the new format will play into our hands a little bit."

Keys to Season

The bread and butter of RFR used to be its 1.5-mile program. But that performance has waned in recent years and the new NASCAR intermediate track package will challenge the team's quest in trying to improve. The RFR engine program also needs to pick up in the speed department and allow the Blue Oval brigade to keep pace with their Chevrolet and Toyota counterparts.

Observations

Edwards and Biffle proved they were capable of still winning last year and under the new Chase format that will be enough to get them into the playoff race. But they'll need to find a way to not fall off the radar once September rolls around. The reunion between Stenhouse Jr. and Kelley should up the 17 team's performance as well and a win is also not out of the question. However it remains to be seen whether any of the trio can be considered legitimate title contenders.

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Re: 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Team Previews

Team Penske
By: Dustin Long
Racingone.com

It’s easy to skip over the highlights for Team Penske last season and look at the low points because there were many.

Reigning champ missed the Chase, team’s other Sprint Cup driver involved in last-lap incident where a competitor was injured, multiple penalties, mechanical issues, inconsistent pit stops and more.

While those were issues the team faced, there were some highlights. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano each won a race, and Logano finished higher than any other Ford driver in the points (eighth).

That’s not enough at Team Penske where excellence is expected. The focus this season is to fix the issues from last season and move ahead.

“We need to get to the top and it’s up to us as teams,’’ car owner Roger Penske said. “The rules are the same for all of us and what we need to do is execute.’’

Team: Team Penske

Drivers: Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford) and Joey Logano (No. 22 Ford)

Crew Chiefs: Paul Wolfe (Keselowski) and Todd Gordon (Logano)

Key Numbers

2 - Keselowski became only the second reigning champion to miss the Chase in the Chase era.

6 - Top-five finishes for Logano on 1.5-mile tracks, second in the series behind Matt Kenseth, who had seven top-five finishes (and four wins) on those tracks.

31 - Points Keselowski lost because of penalties last year (he missed making the Chase by 22 points).

What’s New

A new nose for Ford will help prevent trash covering the grille and should do away with the overheating issues Team Penske faced early last year. A former college wresting coach has been brought into to overhaul an inconsistent pit crew and Keselowski said the culture already has changed in that department.

What They’re Saying

Logano: “We have a lot to be proud of but eighth place (in the points) is nothing to be proud of at the same time. I feel like I have a legit shot at winning the championship this year, and I don’t see anything stopping us but ourselves.’’

Keselowski: “I want to be a multi-time champion. I think I have the team, certainly owner and the sponsors to do it. Just got to put all the pieces together. If you need any more motivation than that, you don’t deserve the seat I’m in.’’

Keys To Season

Team needs to be stronger. That’s not just a better pit crew but also better in the shop to avoid some of the mechanical issues that plagued both cars at times last year. That doesn’t mean everything had to be changed. Only three drivers had more top-five finishes than Logano last season, so Team Penske isn’t far off. Even Keselowski noted that the organization didn’t need to make major changes.

Observations

It’s hard to imagine Team Penske being off a second year in a row, especially Keselowski. Logano is becoming the driver many thought he might become years earlier. This could provide a potent combination. Don’t discount this team.

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Re: 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Team Previews

Michael Waltrip Racing
By: Dustin Long
Racingone.com

Asked to reflect on what became a scandal-plagued season, co-owner Michael Waltrip focused his eyes forward.

“Only a fool would trip over something that’s behind them,’’ he said.

As much as Waltrip would like to forget the penalties his team received last year for its antics at Richmond International Raceway, how MWR responds will be an early storyline.

A strong start by Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers will help the memory of last September fade.

“We are focused on the future and ready to win races,’’ Waltrip said.

The future is now for his team.

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

Drivers: Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Toyota), Brian Vickers (No. 55 Toyota), Michael Waltrip (No. 66 Toyota) and Jeff Burton (No. 66 Toyota)

Crew Chiefs: Brian Pattie (Bowyer), Billy Scott (Vickers) and Chad Walter (Waltrip/Burton)

Key Numbers

26 - Daytona 500 starts for Michael Waltrip.

83.3 - Percent of the 354 laps Clint Bowyer led last season that came at Martinsville, Richmond and Bristol.

2011 - Last time Brian Vickers ran the full Sprint Cup schedule.

What’s New

MWR has downsized and reorganized some of its departments after NAPA left, forcing the organization to go from three full-time to two full-time teams. MWR cut back the number of employees by 15 percent but increased its engineering budget 15 percent. Team also added Jeff Burton to test and drive in select races.

What They’re Saying

Bowyer: “We had a great season in 2012, and I didn't perform to the level that I feel like I'm capable of and, more importantly, our team is capable of (last year), so really looking forward to getting that started over.’’

Vickers: “I’m really looking forward to being back in the car ... going to Daytona, which I haven’t been to in a long time, and also racing for a championship.’’

Waltrip: “(Jeff Burton’s) energy and knowledge of the sport and his desire to help Bowyer and Vickers go faster is motivating. I’m thankful we got him on board.’’

Keys To Season

Is leaner better? Team members note that a two-car organization won the championship two years ago with Brad Keselowski, so Michael Waltrip Racing doesn’t feel overmatched. The key is making sure MWR properly uses its resources and maximizes its effort to perform better this season. If not, then the answer to the question of if leaner is better could be no.

Observations

This organization needs to step up. Clint Bowyer had eight top-15 finishes in the last 10 races last year but it’s doubtful that is strong enough to advance far in the Chase. Bowyer has a great record at Homestead in recent years, but the key is getting him there. Vickers’ win last year at New Hampshire was among the sport’s best feel-good stories. Now can he win in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his Cup career?

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