Coming off one of the best years in NASCAR history, the 2012 season will have a lot to live up to. The historic chase run by Tony Stewart and fighting Carl Edwards for the Sprint Cup championship and Stewart winning his first championship as a owner. The drama and conflict between Kyle Busch vs Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch vs Ron Hornaday, Kyle Busch vs Richard Childress, Kurt Busch vs Dr. Jerry Punch. Seems to have a common theme there.
With the addition of the Chase to the Championship, it has made every year since much more exciting adding the additional pressure for every driver to make it to NASCAR’s version of the playoffs and then the usual struggle of winning a championship.
With all of the driver changes this year like Kurt Busch being replaced by AJ Allmendinger at Penske, Kasey Kahne joining Hendrick, and Clint Bowyer leaving Childress and joining Michael Waltrip Racing, this year will be another exciting year.
Just Missed The Chase- Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano.
12.- Greg Biffle, 16 3M Ford Roush Fenway Racing
With Roush now dropping to a three car team, there will be more pressure on each of the remaining cars. Coming off a disappointing 2011 campaign going winless and not making the Chase, Greg will change both of those problems by winning at least one race and just squeaking in to the playoffs. I expect him to struggle when the Chase begins and he will fade away rather quickly. Usually a couple drivers do each year.
11.- Matt Kenseth, 17 Valvoline/Best Buy Ford Roush Fenway Racing
Coming off his best statistical year since 2006 it will be tough for Kenseth to repeat the success. Matt won three races and finished fourth in the Chase. Matt basically forced NASCAR into creating a playoff system after his 2003 title only winning one race in the process. 2012 could be Kenseth’s last year with Roush as his contract is up after the season. Just like his teammate Biffle, Kenseth will fade in the Chase and finish near the bottom of the standings.
10.- Dale Earnhardt Jr., 88 National Guard/ Diet Mountain Dew Chevy Hendrick Motorsports
After having absolutely embarrassing years in 2009 and in 2010, NASCAR’s most popular driver had a comeback year in 2011 nearly breaking his winless streak that now stretches over three years and making the Chase finishing 7th. With the addition of Kasey Kahne at Hendrick, Dale now becomes the 4th best driver in their stable and now even if it seemed impossible, there is more pressure on him. He will win at least one race this year im calling it. Being competetive in the Chase? Not just yet.
9.- Kasey Kahne, 5 Farmers Insurance Chevy Hendrick Motorsports
Kasey was put in a odd position last year. Driving for a dying race team with Red Bull Racing and only racing with a one year contract and signing up for this ride two years ago, Kasey knew what his future held so going into the 2011 year and with all of the awkwardness that existed, Kasey one a race and almost made the Chase. Imagine what he could do now with a great team and fantastic equipment. Give this group a year and Kasey will be competing for the championship, but this year making the Chase and winning a couple races will do just fine.
8.- Kyle Busch, 18 M&M’s Toyota Joe Gibbs Racing
After all of the drama last season, everyone hopes that Kyle has learned to grow up and actually control his temper. Obviously his race team and his sponsors are losing their patients with him and he needs to change for good. He has talent but that can only get you so far. I think he is learning to control his temper but still will continue his Chase struggles and finish in the middle of the pack.
What a year Tony had last year. After barely making the Chase, Tony went on a crazy run leading to his 3rd Championship and winning his first as a owner/driver. He will have a lot to live up to. Adding defending his championship on top of owning his team and now managing Danica Patrick’s start in NASCAR, this will be a difficult year for Tony. But if anyone could do it Tony can. But he wont this year.
6.- Brad Keselowski, 2 Miller Light Dodge Penske Racing
What a year Brad had as well. Surprising everyone, Brad won 3 races last year and made the chase finishing 5th. Now he takes over as the no 1 driver at Penske as Kurt Busch was let go after his tirade about Dr. Jerry Punch after the season ending Homestead race. Some people think that Brad will regress after a breakout year but he will win races and compete in the chase.
5.- Jimmie Johnson, 48 Lowe’s Chevy Hendrick Racing
Well the run had to end at some point. 2011 just didn’t have the same feeling for Jimmie Johnson as the last five years did, those obviously ending in championships for the 48 team. Now Jimmie will have to do something he hasn’t had to do for years. Not defending the Sprint Cup Championship and having to take it from Tony Stewart. He will have the same group that he had last year and knowing that team they will finish near the top of the standings this year and win several races.
4.- Jeff Gordon, 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevy Hendrick Racing
Its surprising to think that it has been 11 years since Jeff last one a Spring Cup Championship but he has taken a back seat to his teammates dominance over the past 6 years now. But now with a chink in the armor of Jimmie Johnson shown last year, Jeff can use this year as a start to a late career run at another title. Jeff faded last year finishing ninth in the standings struggling in the Chase. He will stay competitive in this Chase and get close to his fifth title.
3.- Kevin Harvick, 29 Budweiser Chevy Richard Childress Racing
Harvick’s year is already off to a fantastic start with the announcement that he will be a father. It can become even greater if it ends with a championship. Happy Harvick has a habit of sticking around in a race quietly and showing up at the end finding ways to win races. Just see his Daytona 500 race win. Harvick is usually a lock for a few wins every year and after finishing third last year in the Chase, tying his previous best, Kevin should be motivated to make a strong run for his first Sprint Cup Championship in 2012.
2.- Denny Hamlin, 11 FedEx Toyota Joe Gibbs Racing
After having a championship slip through his fingers in 2010, Denny Hamlin faltered in 2011. Struggling all throughout the 2011 season managing only one win after winning a career high eight races in 2010, Denny finished ninth in the Chase. Now with Darian Grubb coming over from Stewart Haas after winning a title in 2011 with Tony Stewart to replace Mike Ford as Crew Chief, Denny has a championship winning leader who can push that team over the top. Denny will return to his winning ways and stay competitive all year, falling just short of a title.
1.- Carl Edwards, 99 Fastenal Ford Roush Fenway Racing
After losing to Tony Stewart via a tiebreaker in one of the greatest seasons and finishes in NASCAR history, Carl will have to avoid the second place curse that happens to the second place finishers the next season. Denny Hamlin suffered from it last year, just like Carl did in 2009. Carl put up consistant numbers all year and almost won the championship despite only winning one race in the beginning of the year at Las Vegas. If Carl can put up another consistant year and add a few more wins in during the season, Carl can obtain his first title. He has been a bridesmaid long enough. So my pick for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship is Carl Edwards. Expect a season ending flip.
by: Andrew Isaac