Ring in the new year: Significant moves from NASCAR’s Silly Season

Kurt Busch turned his career around in 2013 and now faces a fresh opportunity at Stewart-Haas Racing with teammates Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick.

Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images

It’s less than two weeks until 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series testing begins at Daytona International Speedway and that means all the unanswered questions of winter will soon start to be resolved.

As always, there was plenty of driver movement over the offseason this time around. Here are some of the most significant plays of Silly Season:

BEST MOVE — Kevin Harvick made a great decision to move to Stewart-Haas Racing. Without question, Harvick achieved impressive results at Richard Childress Racing, usually far surpassing his teammates. With Hendrick Motorsports equipment under him at SHR, look for Harvick to have the kind of breakout season that Matt Kenseth did in 2013. If Jimmie Johnson doesn’€™t win a seventh championship in 2014, Harvick might well win it all.

MOST PRESSURE — By all accounts, Austin Dillon has said and done all the right things as he and RCR prepare to bring the legendary No. 3 back to the Sprint Cup Series. Still, there will be a lot of eyes on Dillon, and RCR needs to pick it up a notch if they want to compete on an elite level. And how much will new RCR driver Ryan Newman help Dillon? That dynamic is something to keep an eye on.

NASCAR Silly Season moves

SOUND INVESTMENT — Chip Ganassi probably saved a small fortune in salary by replacing pricey ex-Formula 1 star Juan Pablo Montoya with rookie Kyle Larson for 2014. But like most rookies, Larson likely will keep the boys in the shop busy repairing wrecked race cars. That said Larson has a huge upside.

ROLL THE DICE — SHR co-owner Gene Haas took a big gamble by signing Kurt Busch and deciding to expand to a fourth car before talking to partner Tony Stewart. Busch is a superb talent, of course, but there’€™s an awful lot of curiosity about whether SHR will function as one united team or two separate factions under one roof. This will be one of the biggest stories of 2014.

BIGGEST SURPRISE — At the start of 2013, no one thought Jeff Burton would end up at Michael Waltrip Racing in a part-time role for 2014. Then again, after Spingate at Richmond, Burton will bring wisdom and sorely needed integrity to the team.

SOMETHING TO PROVE — Because of the antics of his team at Richmond, Martin Truex Jr. lost his ride at MWR, despite doing nothing wrong himself. He’€™ll be looking to have a strong first season with Furniture Row Racing.

MEDICAL WATCH — One of the best stories of the 2013 season was Brian Vickers winning a race as a part-time Cup driver. One of the worst was seeing Vickers sidelined again because of blood clots. Here’€™s hoping his health stays good in 2014, when he’ll be back full-time in Cup driving the No. 55 MWR Toyota.

KEEP AN EYE OUT — Michael Annett moves up from the NASCAR Nationwide Series to the low-budget Tommy Baldwin Racing Cup team, which has slowly built a firm foundation in NASCAR. It will be interesting to watch what Annett can do, and if the team’s fortunes improve.