Larry Mac: New combinations build major intrigue for ’14

Danica Patrick (left) and Kevin Harvick (right) make up half of Stewart-Haas Racing's star-studded driver lineup for next season.

Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images

So now the 2013 NASCAR season is in the books. All three major touring divisions have concluded their seasons. This is the time when there are always a lot of changes both from drivers moving on, to crew chiefs and crew members doing the same. We have a lot of new combinations for 2014.

I am anxious to see how the pairing of Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 team works out. The No. 78 team had an unbelievable season. They are a single car team that had fast race cars all year long and even made history this year. They are the first single car team to ever qualify for the Chase.

I think the one everyone is really going to be focusing on is obviously Stewart-Haas Racing. When you boil it all down, probably the only thing that isn’€™t going to change over there during the off-season is Danica Patrick and Tony Gibson.

Big changes at Stewart-Haas

You have two new drivers coming on board in Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. To say both have strong personalities would definitely be an understatement. Kurt is a past champion and Kevin has won about everything but a Sprint Cup championship.

Rodney Childers will be Kevin’s crew chief. Former Truex crew chief Chad Johnston is going to be hooked up with Tony Stewart. Steve Addington has moved on. The biggest question is whether Tony’s rehab from his injury will be completed in time for him to start the season at Daytona. So I think Stewart-Haas Racing is going to be the one a lot of folks are going to be watching once the green flag falls on the 2014 season.

It’s going to take a lot for 2014 to top what we saw in 2013, for sure. It really was an interesting season this year. With this new Gen-6 car we had 19 new track records. In 36 races we had 17 different winners. No one team or organization just dominated the season.

This Gen-6 car, to me, met and exceeded all expectations. We know NASCAR is working on ways to improve from that. There’s actually an already scheduled test at Charlotte Motor Speedway coming up in a couple weeks where NASCAR and the teams are going to try various combinations to make the cars race better. The first goal is to make the cars drive better in traffic, thus allowing for more side-by-side racing. I applaud NASCAR for moving forward with that.

The 2013 season also saw major, major penalties handed down to various race teams for rules infractions. Our reigning champion, Brad Keselowski, didn’t even qualify for the 2013 Chase and so Brad didn’€™t even get a chance to defend his title.

The most notable off-track story this season had to be what went on at Richmond back in September with Michael Waltrip Racing, Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports. The chain of events that came from that firestorm is something we’ll be talking about in our sport for decades. Truex, who was driving for MWR at the time, was removed from the Chase. Ryan Newman, who was driving for Stewart-Haas Racing at the time, was put into the Chase. Then if that just wasn’t enough drama, NASCAR took the unprecedented step of adding Jeff Gordon and his No. 24 car into the Chase as a 13th competitor.

The truth is I applaud NASCAR for the way they handled every situation. Probably the only one I still question them on is whether they penalized Clint Bowyer enough for his role in the MWR/Richmond debacle.

So here we are in our short so-called off-season. Like I said, there is testing coming up at Charlotte. After the Holidays we’€™ll see testing cranking up at Daytona and elsewhere. Then it’ll be time for all of us at NASCAR on FOX to roll out the 2014 season at Daytona. I, for one, can’t wait.