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2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup preview

Silly season comings and goings

Driver 2013 car/team 2014 car/team

Justin AllgaierNationwide No. 51 HScott Motorsports Chevy

AJ AllmendingerPart-time Cup/IndyCar No. 47 JTG Daughtery Chevy

Michael AnnettNationwide No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Chevy

Dave BlaneyNo. 7 Tommy Baldwin Chevy No. 77 Randy Humphrey Ford

Alex BowmanNationwide No. 23 BK Racing Toyota

Kurt BuschNo. 78 Furniture Row Chevy No. 41 Stewart-Haas Chevy

Austin DillonNationwide No. 3 Richard Childress Chevy

Kevin HarvickNo. 29 Richard Childress Chevy No. 4 Stewart-Haas Chevy

Parker KligermanNationwide No. 30 Swan Racing Toyota

Kyle LarsonNationwide No. 42 Chip Ganassi Chevy

Ryan NewmanNo. 39 Stewart-Haas Chevy No. 31 Richard Childress Chevy

Reed SorensonNationwide/part-time Cup No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Chevy

Martin TruexNo. 56 Michael Waltrip Toyota No. 78 Furniture Row Chevy

Ryan TruexPart-time Cup/trucks No. 83 BK Racing Toyota

Josh WiseNo. 35 Front Row Ford No. 98 Phil Parsons Chevy

Media notes

• NBCSN debuts NASCAR America at 5 p.m. Monday with Rick Allen as host and Sprint Cup veterans Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, Ken Schrader and Kyle Petty among the contributors to the daily 30-minute show. Burton is set to be a full-time analyst in 2015 when NBC airs the second half of the Sprint Cup schedule, which is now on ESPN. This season, Burton also will drive in the Cup series part time for Michael Waltrip Racing.

• This will be the first full season of NASCAR Race Hub on Fox Sports 1. The one-hour show airs at various times (most often at 4 p.m.), and reruns air on Fox Sports 2. FS1 also will air every trucks race but one (Talladega). FS1 and FS2 debuted in the fall. They replaced Speed, the former all-motorsports channel.

• Fox Sports' attempt to modernize the scoring crawl is going back in the garage for repairs. The network ditched the rolling leaderboard at the top of the screen for a rectangular box on the right side of the screen during the Sprint Unlimited race on Saturday night and the Daytona 500 pole qualifying on Sunday. Eric Shanks, Fox Sports chief operating officer and executive producer, said Tuesday that changes were coming after fans complained the new scoring screen blocked a portion of the on-track action. He said the network has "some tweaks" that will adjust the layout for Sunday's Daytona 500.

Chemistry experiment

One of the most-watched elements of this season will be the makeup of the Stewart-Haas team. The four drivers — team co-owner Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and newcomers Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch — could work spectacularly well together, be the most combustible team in the garage or both.

Last year, the team mulled over adding Busch as the fourth car, which mostly was co-owner Gene Haas' pro­ject. Harvick, a close friend of Stewart's who arrives from Richard Childress Racing, endorsed the move.

"He's going to be good for the company from a competition standpoint, to drive the performance of the race cars to be better," Harvick said this week of Busch. "And that's why we are all here — to be fast and win races."

Busch won the 2004 series title but was close to being regarded as a journeyman after losing top-line rides, partly to personality conflicts. He revitalized his career in 2013, leading small, single-car outfit Furniture Row Racing to a surprising berth in the Chase for the Championship.

Busch was on pretty good behavior throughout the year and says his teams learned, "I wasn't such a bad guy after all."

"It's funny. You work with people and the first thing they tell you was, 'Wow! I expected worse.' Perception is reality," he said. "I had to work on that. I couldn't continue to fight it."

Stewart recently told a media gathering: "The majority of you guys are leaning on that angle of, 'It's got a great opportunity to be a disaster,' (but) we look at it as a great opportunity to be a huge positive. We're a great support system for each other."

Chasing the right formula

The biggest talking point of the offseason is yet another tweak to the Chase for the Championship introduced by NASCAR chairman Brian France.

Now there will be 16 drivers advancing to the 10-race Chase instead of 12. Drivers will be knocked out at various stages, and only four will be eligible for the title by the time the finale at Homestead rolls around. In that race, there are no points carry-overs. The first one to the finish line wins.

Carl Edwards expressed reservations last month, telling USA Today: "You don't want someone to win 35 races, have a blown tire in one race and not be the champion. That would seem kind of odd juxtaposed to how we've crowned a champion; not just in NASCAR, but but auto racing."

Daytona track president Joie Chitwood, a Tampa native whose Daytona 500 is on the opposite end of the schedule from Homestead, said he finds the change exciting.

"It's not a tweak here or a tweak there. It's, 'We're going to do something significant. And we're going to base it on something that's important to the sport, and that's winning,' " Chitwood said. "You don't really want to see people happy with an eighth-place finish or a 10th-place finish. If I'm (track president) Matt Becherer in Miami, I'm excited. I give Brian (France) credit. This is not his grandfather's NASCAR anymore."

2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup preview 02/19/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 8:43pm]
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