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A shakeup in Sprint Cup lineup

2/16/2012 - NASCAR

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Coming to you from the big white tent outside the front grandstands of Daytona International Speedway, it's the annual gathering of organized chaos -- otherwise known as media day.

Like leaves turning colors is an indication of fall, this is the first true indication that the NASCAR season is here.

It's not quite as whacky as Super Bowl media day, where players are asked everything from whether they can name the three Kardashian sisters to what species of tree they would be, but it can get silly at times.

There are only so many ways you can ask Dale Earnhardt Jr. if he'll win a race, Kurt and Kyle Busch if they can stay out of trouble and Danica Patrick if she can become the first driver to wear 6-inch stilettos and win the Daytona 500.

It can't all be Woodward and Bernstein.

But what makes this media tour different than those in the recent past is the number of drivers with new teams. Between shrinking teams and drivers in need of shrinks, the number has grown from the typical two or three to 10 -- and that's just those with names you might recognize without Wikipedia.

You almost need a scorecard to keep track. Is that really AJ Allmendinger over there in a yellow Shell Pennzoil firesuit, or is he just pretending to be Kurt Busch? You get the picture.

It often takes a few months -- or years -- for a driver and his new team to become competitive. You don't have to wait that long. I'm here to tell you now who will have the biggest impact.

Remember, it's not all about wins.

Here's my scorecard:

1. Kurt Busch (No. 22 Penske Racing to No. 51 Phoenix Racing) -- Busch has 24 Sprint Cup wins, with at least one in each of the past 10 seasons. He won the title in 2004 and he's a regular in the Chase.

Landon Cassill has no wins, no top-5s, no top-10s and has an average finish of 28.8 in 48 Cup events.

You see where I'm going here. No organization got a bigger upgrade than Phoenix Racing.

If the anger demons that led to Busch's "mutual" parting from Penske Racing can be exorcised, owner James Finch goes from also-ran to Chase contender.

Few drivers in the garage are more talented than Busch, who by the way has Hendrick Motorsports engines and chassis.

"They're not going to surprise me," team owner Rick Hendrick said of Busch's team. "He's got something to prove. Finch has something to prove. That car is going to run really well."

Count on it.

2. Kasey Kahne (No. 4 Red Bull Racing to No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports) -- It's not so much the impact Kahne will have as much as it is crew chief Kenny Francis. Over the past few years Francis has worked on Dodges, Fords and Toyotas. He'll be able to bring information and insight into the HMS camp like nobody else.

Remember, he did help put Kahne in Victory Lane for lame-duck Red Bull Racing last season.

Kahne's not so bad, either. He's won 12 races in less-than-stable conditions since entering the sport in 2004. When his situation was most stable, in 2006 at Evernham Motorsports, he won six races and finished eighth in points.

With the stability Kahne has now, anything less than three wins and a spot in the Chase will be a disappointment. Some will argue he should contend for the title.

"Oh, man, stability," Kahne said. "That's a great word. Good word to hear. It's definitely nice to have it; makes you feel pretty good about where you're at."

He should.

3. Danica Patrick (No. 7 IndyCar to No. 10 Tommy Baldwin Racing/Stewart Haas Racing) -- Remember where I said it's not all about wins? This is the place.

The enormous impact Patrick will have, not only on TBR and SHR but the entire sport, could have thrust her to the top of this list. But since she's running only 10 races and not competing for the title, she gets bumped to No. 3.

Still, more eyes will be on Patrick than any other driver in the Daytona 500. And she'll have more written and said about her than any other driver, including Earnhardt.

But Patrick wants to be more than a sexy marketing arm. She wants to be recognized for performing well. She is giving herself the best opportunity, joining a team with championship equipment and with a championship crew chief in Greg Zipadelli.

Plus, she's taking it slow.

"When I had a dream team in mind about what I thought would work well in my situation, both from a business perspective as well as the people involved, I just thought it would be an environment that would be a positive environment; it would be a lot of fun," Patrick said of SHR.

"I found the more fun I'm having, the better I perform on the racetrack. This was a dream scenario."

It is for everyone involved.

4. David Reutimann (No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing to No. 10 Tommy Baldwin Racing/SHR) -- If Patrick is No. 3, then Reutimann is 3A. It is his duty to keep the No. 10 in the top 35 in owners points so Patrick won't miss any starts outside of Daytona, where she's already guaranteed a spot because of the unique points deal between SHR and Tommy Baldwin Racing.

Reutimann is the perfect fit here. He has little ego, and he has enough talent that he put MWR in Victory Lane twice when no other driver there could.

5. Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Richard Childress Racing to No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing) -- Now we can get back to winning. No driver outside of Kahne who swapped seats has a better chance of getting to Victory Lane than Bowyer.

The talent is there, as we saw in 2007 when he finished third in points and in 2008 when he was fifth.

Were it not for sponsorship and money issues, he likely still would be at RCR. No offense to Reutimann, the driver Bowyer replaced at MWR, but this is a definite upgrade.

"This is a chance for me to prove myself and my talents on the racetrack, and leadership and everything," Bowyer said. "If I make the Chase for a company that has never done that, that builds my brand and makes me look like a better asset."

He will.

6. AJ Allmendinger (No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports to No. 22 Penske Racing) -- He hit the lottery during the offseason without even buying a ticket.

Allmendinger was under contract to drive the 43 for RPM this season, but when sponsor Best Buy left he was given the opportunity to explore options. The No. 22 vacated by Busch was without a doubt the best option.

Penske Racing gives Allmendinger his best opportunity to succeed after stints with RPM and Red Bull Racing. It wouldn't surprise many if he gets his first Cup win and contends for the Chase.

7. Mark Martin (No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports to No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing) -- Martin isn't interested in winning a championship, but the 53-year-old driver could help MWR win a title. His experience may be just what Martin Truex Jr. and the rest of the young organization need to elevate to the next level.

"What they need to do is win races," said Martin, who has 40 wins in Cup and 49 in the Nationwide Series. "With the commitment they've made, they should be a contender to win races. … They need the results."

8. David Ragan (No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing to No. 34 Front Row Motorsports) -- The upside of contraction in the garage is that it gives lower-tier teams a chance to upgrade in talent. Ragan, who lost his job at RFR due to lack of sponsorship, is an upgrade for Front Row.

It's not where he hoped to be. He had an offer from Phoenix Racing before replacing Busch at Penske became an option. When that didn't pan out, he became an option for the 43 at Richard Petty Motorsports.

Now that he's at Front Row, the winner of last year's July Daytona race hopes to make the best of it.

"I'm comfortable with the Ford Fusions and the power from Roush-Yates engines, so all the ingredients are in place," Ragan said. "It's just making it happen. I will not be surprised if we won any or all of the races at Daytona."

He'd be the only one.

9. Aric Almirola (No. 88 JR Motorsports NW to No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports) -- RPM entertained signing Busch, but the price tag was too high. It got Almirola at a bargain, but bargains don't usually put you in Victory Lane.

As much promise as Almirola showed in the Nationwide Series, he remains a project.

10. Landon Cassill (No. 51 Phoenix Racing to No. 83 TBD) -- When you join a team before it announces its name, that tells you this is a work in progress.

But at least Cassill has the points that Brian Vickers accumulated last season at Red Bull Racing, so he's guaranteed starting spots in the first five races.

You've got to start somewhere.

Back to organized chaos.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DNewtonespn.