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January 2, 2013

Drivers to watch in 2013

NASCAR Sprint Cup season opens Feb. 24.

With the start of the 2013 NASCAR season a little more than a month away, there have been a number of changes among the established teams.

With the move of Matt Kenseth from Roush Fenway racing to Joe Gibbs Racing, there will be a number of questions to be answered beginning with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 24.

How will Kenseth get along with teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin during the year?

At Roush Fenway, Kenseth was the unspoken leader of the team, particularly when Carl Edwards struggled last year.

Taking Kenseth’s place at Roush Fenway is Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is coming off consecutive Nationwide Series titles.

Stenhouse, who got his start in open-wheel racing, is probably the most talented driver to enter the Sprint Cup ranks in a number of years. He can be aggressive behind the wheel, which is normally a good thing, but will have to learn some patience to consistently post top-10 finishes.

This is probably the make-or-break year for Joey Logano, who left Gibbs Racing for Penske Racing.

Penske is coming off the championship year of Brad Keselowski and is also changing from Dodge to Ford for the new season.

When Logano entered NASCAR several years ago, there were big things expected of him, a promise of success that really was never obtained.

Logano has never made the Chase field and although he wins in the Nationwide Series, that has not been the case in Sprint Cup competition.

Unless Logano can show marked improvement with Penske, he could be headed back to a full-time Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series ride in the near future.

In many ways Juan Pablo Montoya is in the same position as Logano. Although Montoya continues to have the support of team owner Chip Ganassi, his performance in NASCAR has been mediocre at best. Montoya has to show that the team can compete for wins on a weekly basis or it might be time for a return to IndyCar racing.

Of course, everyone is going to watch Danica Patrick’s first full season in Sprint Cup racing with Tony Stewart-Haas Racing.

With the new qualifying format where the majority of the teams have to make a race on speed, there will be tracks that Patrick will struggle to make the field.

Patrick could be the odd driver out as the team concentrates on making Stewart a contender for the championship again and stepping up the program of Ryan Newman a notch.

In other racing news

• New Castle’s Caleb Armstrong recently tested an ARCA car for Venturini Motorsports at Daytona and set the fast time during one of the practice sessions.

Armstrong is a cousin of Dakota Armstrong, who is a past winner with ARCA and competed in the Camping World Truck Series on a limited basis in 2010 and 2011.

• After just one season with IndyCar, Rubens Barrichello is leaving to race stock cars in his native Brazil. Barrichello was never a factor for IndyCar that I anticipated when he signed with KV Racing.

KV Racing has signed Simona DeSilvestro to replace Barrichello in 2013. This will be the first time DeSilverstro gets the chance to compete in first-rate equipment.

She showed the talent to be competitive at times during 2010, but last year in an underpowered Lotus car was never able to showcase her talents.

Ken de la Bastide may be reached at ken.delabastide@kokomotribune.com or 765-454-8580.

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