NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
 
           === The Inside Line: NASCAR's next generation is here ===
 
 By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
 
 Daytona Beach, FL (Sports Network) - The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season
 has arrived and so has the new Generation-6 car.
 
 After extensive testing during the offseason, the much-anticipated Gen-6 makes
 its competition debut this weekend at Daytona International Speedway. However,
 the new car is only one of several storylines to follow this season.
 
 A lot of attention will be focused on Sprint Cup rookie of the year candidates
 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick ... not just on the track but off the
 track as well.
 
 Brad Keselowski will attempt to defend his series championship in a Ford this
 season after giving Dodge a huge going-away present in 2012, while Matt
 Kenseth and Joey Logano are among those who have new rides this year.
 
 So start your engines and let's get rolling into the next season.
 
 
 GEN-6
 
 Say goodbye to the Car of Tomorrow and hello to Gen-6.
 
 NASCAR's new car for its premier series has probably been more publicized than
 any one of its previous five generations of cars.
 
 Unlike the COT, which was used from 2007-12, NASCAR and the original equipment
 manufacturers (OEMs) incorporated brand identity to the Gen-6, allowing them
 to resemble the models of the Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry
 passenger cars.
 
 Here are a few features of the Gen-6:
 
 -The total weight of the Gen-6 is 150 pounds less than the COT. Furthermore,
 the length of the new car is 2.3 inches shorter but has 3 inches more width
 than the previous one.
 
 -Paint scheme changes include: driver's last name on windshield, sponsor on
 roof and step and repeat designs behind the number of the car.
 
 -Each manufacturer -- Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota -- will now run unique panels
 that better represent their production counterparts.
 
 -NASCAR added roof structure for increased driver safety, and the hood and
 decklid have been constructed from carbon fiber. The hood tether squares are
 no longer visible as they were on the previous car.
 
 Sprint Cup teams tested the Gen-6 at Charlotte Motor Speedway twice and
 Daytona once during the offseason. Drivers and teams have been pleased with
 the car, and NASCAR has high hopes it will increase the competition.
 
 "I really believe we're going to see some of the most competitive, intense and
 exciting racing that we've seen in quite some time," NASCAR vice president of
 competition Robin Pemberton said.
 
 The Gen-6 has everybody in the series pumped up heading into this season.
 
 "With this car, we have a chance to do something great and really make a big
 impact," said Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was voted
 NASCAR's most popular driver for the 10th consecutive season last year. "I
 think the racing is as exciting as it has been in a long time. You look at
 some of these old races and look back at some of the events that we had in the
 '80s and the '90s ... it always is changing and it always will, but I think we
 have improved it."
 
 But there are some unknowns about this car, particularly in race conditions.
 
 "That's the one thing leaving the test is they drive good, they darn sure look
 good, but I just don't have that sense of what they're going to race like,"
 said Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer, who finished second in the
 2012 Sprint Cup point standings. "Only time will tell. I don't think anybody
 can tell you right now it's going to race like this, and it's going to put
 this show on for our fans."
 
 Speeds are expected to reach up to or over 200 mph at Daytona, but pack racing
 during competition there will be a bit of a mystery with this car. During last
 month's testing at Daytona, a multi-car wreck occurred when Marcos Ambrose
 spun around in a pack of 18 cars after Earnhardt Jr. was attempting to bump
 draft Ambrose on the backstretch. Twelve of the 18 cars riding in a pack at
 the time were involved in the accident.
 
 It's likely NASCAR will make some tweaks to the car during next week's
 SpeedWeeks activities at Daytona.
 
 
 DANICA & RICKY
 
 Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be battling for the rookie of the
 year title in Sprint Cup this season. But Patrick and Stenhouse graduating
 from the Nationwide Series to full-time rides in Cup this year is just a small
 storyline compared to what we learned about the two last month. They're
 dating.
 
 Just weeks after she filed for divorce from husband Paul Hospenthal, Patrick
 revealed that she and Stenhouse were an item. The 30-year-old Patrick also
 posted on her Twitter account, "Thanks everyone for all of your nice messages,
 and the bump drafting jokes are cracking me up! Let the fun begin."
 
 Patrick and Stenhouse, 25, waited until last month's NASCAR media tour in
 Charlotte had wrapped up to confirm their relationship. The two will certainly
 be a hot topic during SpeedWeeks.
 
 Driving the No. 10 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, Patrick made her Sprint
 Cup debut in last year's Daytona 500 and then went on to compete in nine more
 races in the series. Her best finish of 17th came in the season-ending race in
 November at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
 
 "I think all the experience I had last year, of course, is going to make me a
 little more comfortable moving into this year," Patrick said. "I think just
 the little things like fitting in the car and just the stuff you're constantly
 messing with when you first get in with a team, that's all gone and you can
 really hit the ground running as far as how does the car feel, how do I
 improve it.
 
 "Obviously, I'm familiar with the people who work at Stewart-Haas, and that
 just makes it all easier when you get going for the next year. We still have a
 lot to do, though, and there's a lot of stuff I haven't experienced yet. I'm
 still in Cup for the first time, full-time, so that's going to be difficult in
 and of itself."
 
 Stenhouse, who won his second straight Nationwide championship last year,
 moves into the seat of the No. 17 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing after Kenseth
 drove that car for the past 13 years.
 
 "The Gen-6 car is a perfect time for me to come in," Stenhouse said. "It
 doesn't give me an advantage, but it does help me out a little bit as far as
 everybody learning the new car."
 
 
 TITLE DEFENSE
 
 Since all teams are starting from scratch this season due to the Gen-6, it's
 difficult to pick a preseason favorite for the Sprint Cup champion as well as
 making predictions on the 12-driver field for the championship Chase.
 
 After an intense battle with Jimmie Johnson during last year's Chase,
 Keselowski won his first Sprint Cup title. But Keselowski will be faced with
 some challenges this season. Penske Racing has switched from Dodge to Ford and
 now receives engine support from Roush-Yates Engines.
 
 So, what is Keselowski's game plan now?
 
 "I think you stick to what got you where you're at, and that was a lot of hard
 work and dedication," he said. "I'm not happy being a guy that wins one
 championship and then goes away quietly. I want to win multiple championships,
 and I'm gonna work as hard as I can to make that happen."
 
 Just a few weeks after winning the championship, Keselowski had his first time
 in a Ford during a test session at Charlotte. His testing time at Daytona was
 cut short, as he headed home earlier than expected after being one of the 12
 drivers involved in the crash. His team was one of many that didn't have a
 backup car since the Gen-6 car was in short supply at the time.
 
 "It was really interesting for us at Daytona and the Charlotte test that we've
 had to date to be able to know where we stack up," Keselowski said. "That's
 something we missed before, and I think it's an incredible opportunity for us
 to have that little bit more depth, and that's where we're going. Depth has
 been part of our success, whether it's in people or parts, manufacturers,
 whatever it might be, and we continue to add that here at Penske Racing. I
 know that if we keep checking off those items on the list, we're bound to be
 successful."
 
 
 NEW RIDES IN '13
 
 Kenseth's move to Joe Gibbs Racing highlights the driver changes in Sprint Cup
 this year. Kenseth is the 2003 series champion and two-time winner of the
 Daytona 500, including a victory in last year's race, which was delayed one
 day due to rain. He is taking over Logano's seat in the No. 20 Toyota, while
 Logano has joined Penske to drive the No. 22 Ford and team with Keselowski.
 
 "I'm really looking forward to it," Kenseth said. "This was a big move for me.
 I feel like it's really a new beginning. I feel like it's a great opportunity
 to work with (Sprint Cup teammates) Denny (Hamlin) and Kyle (Busch) and all
 these people at Joe Gibbs Racing. I hope to go out there and compete for some
 wins and hopefully put us in a spot to try to race for a championship again."
 
 Furniture Row Racing might be a team to watch this season, as Kurt Busch is
 the driver of the No. 78 Chevrolet. The big question will be: Can Busch keep
 himself out of trouble with NASCAR?
 
 Last year, Busch had a one-year verbal agreement with Phoenix Racing to drive
 the No. 51 car, but the 2004 series champion was suspended by NASCAR for the
 June race at Pocono after officials determined he violated his probation when
 he verbally abused a news reporter following the completion of the Nationwide
 event at Dover. Busch departed James Finch's team in October and joined
 Furniture Row to replace Regan Smith in the No. 78 for the final six races.
 
 Smith is running a full-time schedule for JR Motorsports in Nationwide this
 season. He is also sharing driving duties with A.J. Allmendinger in the No. 51
 car in Sprint Cup.
 
 
 02/14 08:40:35 ET

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