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2014 NASCAR Preview: Stewart-Haas Racing

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COMMENTARY | One of the teams to watch this season, both on and off the track, will be Stewart-Haas Racing. Ring leader Tony Stewart returns from the broken leg that sidelined him late in the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season, and brings a few friends along for the ride: Danica Patrick, the only driver other than Stewart who was with the team in 2013; Kevin Harvick, bringing Budweiser and a few other sponsors over from Richard Childress Racing; and Kurt Busch, a last-minute addition by team co-owner Gene Haas, creating a four-car team when Stewart said he wasn't ready for that many. Smoke, the GoDaddy Girl, Happy and the Outlaw - this should make for a fun season.

Tony Stewart - "Smoke" will be officially cleared to race beginning with practice for the Sprint Unlimited on February 14th, the first time he'll be in a race car since breaking his leg in a sprint car accident in August 2013. The three-time Cup Series champ will have three teammates for the first time, each with their own personalities and each with something to prove. Stewart will be out to prove he's back to 100-percent, which may take a few races, especially since Stewart is notoriously known as a mid- to late-season performer. He'll also be trying to prove himself at the 2.5-mile superspeedway - he has four Cup Series points wins at Daytona, but none of them have come in the Daytona 500.

Danica Patrick - The "GoDaddy Girl" won the pole for last year's Daytona 500, and scored her only top 10 finish of the season - and thus far her career - in the race. Patrick was 27th in points last year and finished second in the rookie standings to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.; she has yet to see, however, the "success" she had in the IndyCar Series - that coming in the form of a win, which it took her four seasons to get in the open-wheel series. Patience is key for Patrick, who will improve with more trips to some of these tracks; Martinsville seems to be a good track for her to break through at next, as she earned 13th- and 17th-place finishes there in 2013.

Kevin Harvick - "Happy" had enough of RCR, where he was still looking for his first championship after 13 seasons with the team and three third-place finishes in points in the last four seasons. Harvick and his wife, DeLana, have long been good friends of Stewart's, but the opportunity to add one good friend to the team came at the expense of another close friend, Ryan Newman - no worries though, as Newman ended up at RCR as the replacement for Jeff Burton. Harvick has two wins at Daytona, including one in the 500, but it's the second track he'll visit this season where he has excelled in the past - Phoenix, where he is a four-time winner, including the last two fall races.

Kurt Busch - "The Outlaw" proved that he can behave and that he is still a contender, making Furniture Row Racing the first single-car team to earn a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He came close to winning a number of times in 2013, and the boost of being with a multi-car team again should put him back in victory lane. Busch is still looking for his first Daytona win, but watch for him to come alive in March, when the series visits Bristol Motor Speedway, where he has five wins and finished fourth in last year's March event.

Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.

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