NASCAR already is at full speed with its new-generation race car for the 2013 season. Teams already have tested the new cars, which are supposed to take the sport back to the days when manufacturers have distinctive brand identities.
But before the 2012 campaign disappears, let’s take one last look at last season and remember the biggest storylines, like:
DRIVER OF THE YEAR: Brad Keselowski. He brought a refreshing approach to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, fending off seasoned veterans like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon. He was fun, sometimes brash, but never boring.
DISAPPOINTING DRIVER OF THE YEAR: Carl Edwards. After losing the 2011 championship in a tiebreaker to Stewart, Edwards failed to win a race and dropped to 15th in this year’s standings.
SURPRISE OF THE YEAR: Dodge leaving NASCAR. Despite winning the Sprint Cup title with Keselowski, the manufacturer decided to withdraw from NASCAR after car owner Roger Penske announced he was switching to Ford.
BIGGEST MOVE OF THE YEAR: After spending 14 years driving Jack Roush’s No. 17 Ford, Matt Kenseth announced in June he was moving over to Joe Gibbs Racing. That resulted in Joey Logano leaving Gibbs for a ride in the No. 22 Ford at Penske Racing.
DISAPPOINTING RACE TEAM OF THE YEAR: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray failed to post a single top-five finish.
RACE OF THE YEAR: Bristol night race. Thirteen drivers led at least one lap. The action was spirited, highlighted by Stewart’s helmet toss at Matt Kenseth’s car and Danica Patrick waving her finger at Regan Smith. The race came after the half-mile race track was reconfigured to promote better action.
BEST MOVE OF THE YEAR: Marcos Ambrose went from third to Victory Lane on the final lap of the road course race at Watkins Glen International. Kyle Busch and Keselowski both ran into oil on the final lap, allowing Ambrose to get involved in the frantic finish. There were four lead changes on the final lap with Ambrose finally closing the deal.
WORST MOVE OF THE YEAR: Patrick was upset with Smith at Bristol but her payback backfired when she crashed herself trying to hit him. Not only did Smith get the last laugh, crew chief Greg Zipadelli chastised her for not being smart.
SNAPSHOT OF THE YEAR: Montoya’s fiery collision with a truck pulling a jet dryer during the Daytona 500. The rain-delayed season-opener was pushed back to Monday night. Jet dryers were used to blow debris off the rack in the third turn during a caution period, and as Montoya passed his car suddenly veered to the right and struck it. The dryer erupted into flames. It took five minutes for 200 gallons of jet fuel to burn, and it took more than two hours to repair the track.
PROMISING NEWCOMER: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The two-time defending Nationwide Series champion will move into the No. 17 Ford at Roush Fenway Racing next year. Matt Kenseth won a championship in that car, but Stenhouse has shown he’s got the talent to sustain the winning tradition.