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The face of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick looks out over the garage area from the side of her trailer at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, February 24, 2012. This year, all eyes will be on the Daytona 500 as Danica Patrick begins her first season as a full-time Sprint Cup driver. (BRIAN BLANCO/REUTERS)
The face of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick looks out over the garage area from the side of her trailer at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, February 24, 2012. This year, all eyes will be on the Daytona 500 as Danica Patrick begins her first season as a full-time Sprint Cup driver. (BRIAN BLANCO/REUTERS)

Motorsports

The top stories to watch in car racing this year Add to ...

While it might feel like the 2012 racing year just ended, there are only a couple of weeks to go before the start of the 2013 racing season with the 51st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona in late January.

Who will win the historic 50th event on the weekend of Jan. 26-27 becomes the first question to be answered in the 2013 racing season, but there are several other storylines that fans might also follow this year.

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Change will be one of the focal points of 2013, with new cars, new race formats and some new faces, and here are some of the stories to watch as the season unfolds.

Spengler looks to repeat in DTM while Wickens hopes to find the winner’s circle

Bruno Spengler from St-Hippolyte, Quebec will be the defending DTM champion in 2013 and looking to make it two in a row. With former Formula One driver Jaime Alguersuari rumoured to be moving to BMW’s Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters team, he will likely offer a good challenge to Spengler, who quickly became the manufacturer’s leader last year. It may also be a critical year for Robert Wickens, who hopes to move to a top Mercedes team this year. There’s no doubt that the pressure will be on to deliver results. Wickens took three points finishes last year in a satellite team but should be better placed to challenge for wins once he gets full factory support. 2012 marked the first year in his racing career that he did not score a win.

Racing fans in this country might also want to call, e-mail, and tweet to the two sports networks asking for DTM to be shown on TV in Canada. There are as many Canadians racing in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters series as there are in IndyCar, so maybe it’s time the series gets some exposure on TV in this country. The series is available through some live streams, but they are often unreliable. With two home grown drivers in the field, you’d think one of the sports networks in Canada would be happy to pick it up and one of the three manufacturers in the series would be more than pleased to use it as an advertising platform to sell their cars.

NASCAR’s new Generation6 vehicles

The boxy, unloved Car of Tomorrow (CoT) finally gets tossed aside in 2013, with the series now featuring “Gen6” vehicles that look more like the ones the manufacturers in NASCAR sell on the showroom floor. Introduced in 2007, the CoT was a key piece in NASCAR’s reaction to the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in an accident during the 2001 season opening Daytona 500. Now the stock car series goes back to its roots with the three manufacturers unveiling cars that look like the names they carry: the Chevrolet SS, Fords Fusion, and the Toyota Camry.

This may also be great news for fans of NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who never really got to grips with the CoT. In just over six seasons driving it, Earnhardt had two wins in 194 starts, suffering through three complete seasons (2009-2011) without finding Victory Lane. In his 275 NASCAR starts before the CoT arrived, he had 17 wins, which works out to an average of one victory in every 16 starts. Having Earnhardt in the winner’s circle can only help the series too.

Danica goes to Cup full-time

All eyes will be on the Daytona 500 as Danica Patrick begins her first season as a full-time Sprint Cup driver. Time will tell whether or not that’s a premature move for a driver who ended the 2012 season 10th overall in the second tier Nationwide Series in a field where only 13 drivers started all 33 races. There’s no doubt that Patrick is popular and NASCAR will be counting on her appeal to attract younger viewers to the series. Unfortunately, she arrives in the same year that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moves up to the big series as the reigning double Nationwide champion and he will likely overshadow her – on the track at least – in 2013.

IndyCar doubleheader in Toronto

Fans at the Honda Indy Toronto will get a double dose of IndyCar racing this year as the series’ new doubleheader format makes its debut on the streets of Exhibition Place. Fans will see full race distance events with full points on both Saturday and Sunday in a weekend that promises to have plenty of action. One thing is for sure: The teams will need to bring plenty of spare parts. The Toronto race on the tight 11-turn, 2.824-kilometre circuit usually features plenty of wheel-banging action and an endless stream of smashed carbon fibre. With teams now facing 170 laps of the track over two days, the Toronto IndyCar weekend just might be one of the most costly of the year.

Vettel goes for four

No Formula One driver won his first three world championships consecutively before Sebastian Vettel accomplished the feat in 2012. With his Red Bull team continually coming up with a car capable of winning the championship, there’s little to suggest that a four-peat isn’t possible. With the technical regulations remaining mostly unchanged for 2013, the McLaren of 2009 world champion Jenson Button should be the quickest car out of the gate with Vettel’s Red Bull close behind. Look for Lotus driver Kimi Räikkönen to get stronger after an impressive season in his return to F1 for two years away in rally racing. The big question mark is whether Ferrari can finally deliver a competitive car to double world champion Fernando Alonso from the start of the season for the first time in his four years with the scarlet team. If the Scuderia can get its act together, Vettel may have an even tougher time making it four straight.

Firsts and lasts at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park The racing schedule at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park will feature the last appearance in Canada for the American Le Mans Series, which will be swallowed by NASCAR’s Grand American Rolex Sports Car offering at the end of the year. A new combined series will make its debut in 2014. On the other hand, the track will host the first NASCAR Camping World Truck race on a road course in 13 years and the maiden appearance in Canada for the series. With track co-owner Ron Fellows likely looking for a ride in the Labour Day truck race, he may also become the first winner of the event.

For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)

Twitter: @jpappone

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