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For most part, Sprint Cup field set for 2014

Jeff Birchfield • Dec 21, 2013 at 6:15 PM

There will be a different look to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series when cars take to the track at Daytona in February.Rookie Austin Dillon bringing back the No. 3 Chevrolet to Sprint Cup competiton highlights the changes. It will be the first time the No. 3 has raced in NASCAR’s top series since Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500.Dillon, driving for his grandfather Richard Childress, will be teammates with Paul Menard in the No. 27 Chevrolet and Ryan Newman in the No. 31 Chevrolet.Kevin Harvick, who was the lead driver for Richard Childress Racing the last few seasons, will now be in the No. 4 Chevrolet at Stewart-Haas Racing. Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR champion, will be in the No. 41 Chevrolet, while Danica Patrick remains in the No. 10 Chevrolet.Daytona will also mark the return of three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart after missing the last part of 2013 with a broken leg. However, there will be a new man on the pit box for Stewart with Steve Addington gone, and Chad Johnston, formerly crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., taking over.Truex was the odd man out at Michael Waltrip Racing after the organization tried to manipulate the finish at last year’s Richmond race. NAPA dropped sponsorship following the controversy and Truex was booted from the Chase.Truex has moved over to the No. 78 Furniture Row team following Busch’s departure. The driver lineup at Michael Waltrip Racing has Clint Bowyer still in the No. 15 Toyota and Brian Vickers coming back from illness to race the No. 55 Toyota. A third car will see limited action with Michael Waltrip and Jeff Burton running partial schedules. Burton, will also serve as a test driver for Vickers, while he recovers from blood clots in his legs. In addition, Burton will begin the transition to television, set to join NBC in 2015.Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing has a major change with rookie Kyle Larson taking over the seat of the No. 42 Chevrolet, which Juan Pablo Montoya has occupied for the past seven seasons. Larson, Justin Allgaier in the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, and Michael Annett in the No. 7 Toyota, are Dillon’s rivals for Rookie of the Year, while Montoya headed back to open-wheel racing to drive Roger Penske’s Indy Car.Penske’s NASCAR team will feature 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski along with Joey Logano. Ryan Blaney should make a few appearances in the No. 12 Ford.Bobby Labonte, the 2000 NASCAR champion, will race for the Phoenix Racing team at Daytona, while the lineups for Richard Petty Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports remain intact. There are some questions surrounding BK Racing, while Swan Racing will look to become a bigger player in the the sport with rookies Cole Whitt and Parker Kligerman.At the top of the mountain, there are no major changes at Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush-Fenway Racing.Obviously, those teams will again be powerhouses with the biggest storyline surrounding Jimmie Johnson’s pursuit of a seventh NASCAR title, which would tie him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most all-time.The Sprint Unlimited (formerly Busch Clash and Budweiser Shootout) is less than two months away. It’s just 64 days until the Daytona 500 and 84 days until the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.———One of the greatest race car drivers of all-time, an innovator and a legendary storyteller make up the latest class of the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame.Mario Andretti, Ray Evernham and Steve Waid will be inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame in a Jan. 25 ceremony in Concord, N.C.Heading up the list is Andretti, the only man ever to win the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the Formula One World Championship. While Andretti’s versatility is legendary with wins in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Pikes Peak Hill Climb mixed in, the Hall of Fame induction is based on Andretti’s stock car racing merits. Andretti began his career in stock cars on a half-mile dirt track in Pennsylvania. He won in his debut on May 2, 1959, and won 20 races over his first two seasons. Recently, Andretti got to drive a replica of his first race car, a 1948 Hudson Hornet, for the “Gran Turismo 6” video game. Andretti won the 1967 Daytona 500 in only his second start in NASCAR’s top series. Later that year, he drove the same No. 11 Holman-Moody Ford to victory in a USAC Stock Car race on a road course in Canada. In 1979, he won the International Race of Champions ahead of NASCAR legends Neil Bonnett, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison.Evernham won 47 races and three championships as crew chief for Jeff Gordon before bringing Dodge back to NASCAR as a car owner. Evernham, now an analyst for ESPN, had 13 victories as a car owner with drivers Bill Elliott, Jeremy Mayfield and Kasey Kahne.Waid has covered NASCAR more than four decades. He worked for daily newspapers, notable for his stint at the Roanoke Times, before joining the staff at Grand National Scene and later becoming publisher of Grand National Illustrated. Known for his sharp wit, Waid won the Henry T. McLemore Award for outstanding lifetime achievement in motorsports journalism in 1989.It is one of two Hall of Fame ceremonies scheduled in the Charlotte area that week. The fifth annual NASCAR Hall of Fame induction is set for Jan. 29 where Tim Flock, Jack Ingram, Dale Jarrett, Maurice Petty and Fireball Roberts will be honored.

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