report-cardNASCAR set the body rules package for the 2014 cars, aside from the restrictor plate races. So the new rules package will take effect at Phoenix.  We’ll talk about that, and also give you some more driver report cards for the 2013 season.

After testing, the changes to the body rules package include:

• statically setting the race car ride height and eliminating the pre- and post-race front height rules and inspections
• a square leading edge on the splitter
• side skirt and rear fascia adjustments
• an eight-inch rear spoiler
• a 43-inch by 13-inch radiator pan

Bobby Labonte has also announced he will try to qualify a second car for Phoenix Racing in the Daytona 500. Even if he fails to qualify on speed, he can use his past champion’s provisional should owner Scott decide to run the car.

OK, back to driver report cards for 2013 (you can read Part 1 and Part 2):

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. garnered more press for sating Danica Patrick than for what he did on the track for Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse did get one pole this year at Atlanta, but he finished 16th that race. His lone top 5 came at Talladega and other top 10 finishes included Chicago and Richmond. He also had no DNFs. I think a lot more was expected of Stenhouse at Roush after wining two Nationwide titles. But finishing in the top 20 isn’t all that bad considering a lot more seasoned drivers did not finish that high. Next year he will need to step it up – along with the entire Roush Fenway organization. If Stenhouse does not finish in the top 16, I would say that would be a failure for 2014. He should also be far more competitive than he was in 2013.  I think he should have at least 5 top 10 finishes and 2-3 top 5. But if the entire organization can’t find speed and finishing power, a bad year for Stenhouse is the least of their worries. Grade: C

Jeff Burton may not have know that 2013 was his final year at RCR, but his performance was no better than 2012. That my friends, is called the writing on the wall. Especially when the owner has a grandson in waiting. With Kevin Harvick leaving the fold, RCR may have been able to keep Burton on if he had been winning and attracting sponsors. As it was, his performance has dropped precipitously in the past few years and he is 5 years removed from winning a race. That means it is time for a change. Unfortunately for Jeff Burton, the “mayor” of the garage area, he has little to fall back on for a ride in 2014. He will be racing a few races for Michael Waltrip Racing and is still trying to line up more. He claims he will be involved in the sport in some way or anther in the future. That means he could wind up in the booth or even with NASCAR in some capacity. A heck of a nice guy, but his grade for 2013: Grade: D

Another driver leaving the ranks of NASCAR is Juan Pablo Montoya. After another poor season at Earnhardt Ganassi racing, he is heading back to open wheel and Indy racing with Roger Penske. Montoya had his best season in 2009 but hasn’t finished better than 17th in any other season. In seven full years of Cup racing, he has only 2 wins and those two stats are just not good enough to sustain you in Cup racing. Target deserved far better than it got for the money. An accomplished racer, Montoya had a few close calls to an oval win but never was able to close the deal. While 2013 was marginally better than 2012, he still gets a grade of: D-

Denny Hamlin had a season to forget. He finished outside the top 15 for the first time in his career and nearly went winless for the first time as well. Hamlin broke his back early in the season but continued to drive after a brief break. But 19 races outside the top 20 and 8 DNFs (3 of them engine failures) could not overcome the injury of the lackluster performance of the FedEx team. Many called for Hamlin to stop racing and get better but he stubbornly stayed in the car till the end. If his back is fully healed in 2014, I expect him to return to the Chase. If he isn’t healthy, it could be more of the same. Grade: D

Casey Mears had a better year than 2012 with a single top 10 but he finished more laps and improved his overall finishing position by 3 spots. His starting position did not improve over 2012 and if they can get that figured out, he could be flirting with a top 21 finish in 2014. While having 3 DNFs isn’t terrible, it doesn’t help when you are a team struggling to finish in the top 20 every week. None of those were mechanical failures so they are related to where you are racing and whom you are racing around. Getting a better starting position should help with that. Grade: C

Mark Martin started the season with Michael Waltrip and finished the season for Tony Stewart. Bet he never saw that one coming. Martin raced in only 28 races and switched teams at Bristol after Stewart was hurt in a sprint car race. With Waltrip, he finished 4 races in the top 10 but with Stewart, only 2. He led only half as many laps as in 2012 and had measurably worse stats than 2012. Martin will continue to test for Stewart Haas and has said he is looking forward to – well, he never did use the “R” word. Is he retiring? Who knows. With 5 runner up title spots, he deserves a rest after a great career. But for 2013, his grade: D

No write up would be complete without a note on Danica Patrick. She started out with a bang, grabbing the pole, leading 5 laps and finishing 8th at Daytona. After that, it was all downhill. Other notable finishes were Martinsville (12), Michigan (13), Daytona 2 (14) and Martinsville 2 (17). She has a sponsor that continues to back her because of her marketing power. This year she will have Harvick and Kurt Busch as teammates. That will be an interesting garage. Finishing 25th isn’t all bad considering she has very little time in stock cars compared to other drivers. She wasn’t much worse than Montoya at the end of the day. Next year she should improve. Should. Grade: C-

OK, that’s enough for this week. Everyone have a great Christmas and an awesome New Year. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, enjoy the holiday season as best you celebrate it. Be safe driving!