Kevin Harvick (3rd): Starting his 14th Sprint Cup season, but his first outside of Richard Childress Racing and the shadow of Dale Earnhardt.
Kurt Busch (10th): It's rare that a racer gets a second chance after falling so far off NASCAR's top tier.
Danica Patrick (27th): After a dramatic season-opening eighth-place run at Daytona, she failed to score a top-10 in the remaining 35 races.
Tony Stewart (29th): Estimates his right leg, broken in an Aug. 5 sprint car race, will be at 65 percent for the Daytona 500.
On paper, this mashup of hothead loners should be a chemistry nightmare. But that's also what they said about the Avengers. "I laugh when I hear how we all have short tempers and we're all too much alike," says Stewart, who lured longtime buddy Harvick from RCR. Team co-owner Gene Haas surprised Smoke by signing Busch and vowing to underwrite the effort. "Passion, drive, speaking your mind -- all the stuff that people say will tear us apart -- I think is all the stuff that's going to make us fit together as a team."
4. Roush Fenway Racing
2013 Stats: (3 cars) 3 wins, 32 top-10s, 2 DNFs
Greg Biffle (9th): At 44, the Biff's shots at becoming NASCAR's first triple Trucks/Nationwide/Cup champion are running out.
Carl Edwards (13th): Finished the 26-race regular season as the points leader, but finished 10th or worse in eight of the 10 Chase races.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (19th): Last season's Rookie of the Year is being reunited with crew chief Mike Kelley, with whom he won Nationwide titles in 2011 and 2012.
It was a curious year for the Ford Racing flagship, having lost longtime cornerstone Kenseth to JGR and taking on the additional engine needs of new corporate partner Team Penske. Reliability wasn't an issue, with an amazingly low two DNFs among the three drivers. Unfortunately, excitability was an issue, limited to three wins and Chase irrelevance. The team's winter weeks were spent reorganizing car construction and the management structure. "You notice the boss isn't here," Edwards pointed out during January's preseason media tour, referring to notorious workaholic Jack Roush. "He's at Disney World with his grandkids. See? I told you things were different."
5. Team Penske
2013 Stats: (2 cars) 2 wins, 35 top-10s, 6 DNFs
Joey Logano (8th): Finally fulfilled the promise (and curse) of being Sliced Bread by making the Chase field. Brad Keselowski (14th): Bad Brad's embarrassing title defense led to a total overhaul of the Blue Deuce pit crew. For decades, team owner Roger Penske kept his legendary IndyCar organization separate from his NASCAR teams, keeping one in Pennsylvania and the other in North Carolina. Eventually, they moved in together but still kept the processes apart. Now "the Captain" is vowing to blend all of his racers into one streamlined organization. Thus the NASCAR name change to his old Indy moniker of Team Penske. "It's not as much technical or mechanical as it is cultural," explains the 77-year-old, pointing to the pit crew changes. "Past that, our driver lineup is unchanged for the first time in, well, it seems like forever. That's a good thing."
6. Richard Childress Racing
2013 Stats: (3 cars) 4 wins, 36 top-10s, 6 DNFs