CHARLOTTE — This is the final installment of a three-part preview of each manufacturer’s full-time entries in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season.
It was an atypical season for Chevrolet during 2012.
Yes, Chevy won its 10th consecutive manufacturers’ championship in NASCAR’s top series and 11th in 12 years, but for the first time since 2004, it failed to win the driver’s title.
Prior to Brad Keselowski’s championship last season for Dodge, Chevrolet drivers Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson had racked up seven consecutive titles between them.
Regardless, Chevrolet again enters a season loaded.
Hendrick Motorsports likely will lead the way again with Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. looking to repeat their performance of year ago when all four made the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Johnson will be looking for his sixth championship and Gordon his fifth.
Stewart-Haas Racing might face its most difficult test. Stewart returns, but Ryan Newman is only signed to a one-year contract and Danica Patrick continues to struggle in her move to NASCAR. In addition, all three teams need some primary sponsorship.
Kevin Harvick will depart Richard Childress Racing after 2013, which could provide an interesting farewell season.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing will be looking to recover from a dismal 2012.
Kurt Busch, the last non-Chevy driver to win the Cup title prior to Keselowski, is competing for Chevrolet with the Furniture Row Racing team, which is looking become a weekly contender.
Dave Blaney plans to run a full season with Tommy Baldwin Racing again, and Phoenix Racing hopes to field the No. 51 Chevy in every race.
Q&A with Jimmie Johnson
Q: Does the offseason feel longer when you are not the champion?
I wasn’t ready for the season to end. Sure, I would have loved it to end after Texas when we had the points lead and we could be champions, but I honestly had more in the tank when the season was over.
Q: How much more is Hendrick Motorsports playing catch up than any other team?
Our situation is a lot like anyone else. We’ll be able to hopefully get prepared faster than most and where we are most concerned is if we get into the season and we start crashing cars.
Q: How different will this car be from the last model?
If the downforce package stays like it is, they will be easier to drive in some respects and a lot faster.