It’s time once again to try and predict some of the outcomes of the NASCAR season. Each year I do this, and sometime I actually get close on a few of the categories. It can be tough to make predictions two weeks before the season even starts, but overall everyone has a decent feel for who should do well, and who may struggle. Some drivers got hot at the right time last year to make the chase or finish the season strong, and others struggled when it was crunch time and they needed to perform. Can drivers like Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Kasey Kahne keep the momentum they built in 2011? Will drivers like Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, and Joey Logano carry their struggles from 2011 into 2012? Some of that could happen. Let’s take a look at specific categories to see how things may play out.
Champion: Matt Kenseth
Lots of people may be going for Jimmie Johnson on this for obvious reasons, or picking Tony Stewart to repeat. Others may say Carl Edwards was so close in 2011, how can he not be a top pick to win in 2012? Since the chase began in 2004, of the 7 drivers that finish 2nd in points, the best that they have done the next season is finish 4th. Four of them didn’t even finish in the top ten the next season. Because of that I can’t pick Carl Edwards to win the championship. Since 2005 NASCAR has only known two champions; Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. That should change this year.
Matt Kenseth is always a contender and won the championship in 2003. He has finished in the top five 4 times since the chase format was adopted. 2012 will be his year to prove he can win races and take home the top prize once again.
Most Disappointing: Kasey Kahne
Kahne could be one of the drivers with the most pressure on him. He had a strong finish to the 2011 season finishing 14th in points and is now driving for one of the best teams in Hendrick Motorsports. Anything outside of making the chase will be a big disappointment for this team. Kahne has all of the resources necessary to win races and make the chase, but that is not what will happen. Kane has made the chase twice (2006 & 2009) but he fizzled instead of taking advantage of the opportunity, which is what will happen in 2012. Kahne has not showed that he’s an elite driver. Last year after he was out of chase contention with no pressure he started to do well. There will be pressure on Kahne all season to finish in the top 10 or 15 like his teammates. We’ll see how he handles it, but my prediction is that it won’t be good, and he’ll fail to qualify for the chase yet again.
Most Surprising: Joey Logano
Logano is in the final year of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing. He needs to prove to the team and others in NASCAR that he belongs. He was brought up with a ton of hype and promise that has been unfulfilled. His best points finish was 16th in 2010 when he averaged a 16.8 place finish. That’s not good enough to be considered a top driver, but 2012 could be different. Gibbs has brought in a new crew chief (Jason Ratcliff) for Logano after Zipadelli left to join Stewart’s team. Both Ratcliff and Logano have something to prove and should gel this season. Logano will be the feel good story of the year, similar to Keselowsi in 2011, and make the chase to show he can compete with the big boys.
Rookie Of The Year: Josh Wise
NASCAR has announced the guys officially running for Rookie Of The Year. It’s Timmy Hill and Josh Wise. Probably not names you have heard of, but they do have experience at other levels of NASCAR. I don’t think NASCAR’s website it up to date since it says both Hill and Wise have 77 Nationwide starts with 2 top five and 6 top ten finishes each. Too much of a coincidence if you ask me. Either way, I give the edge to Josh Wise since he did start four Cup races in 2011.
Comeback Driver: Jeff Burton
2011 was one of the worst in Jeff Burton’s career. His finish of 20th in points was the worst of his career while driving a full season. 2 top five, and 5 top ten finishes are also among the worst of Burton’s career. It was pretty much an embarrassment all around. Don’t look for that to be the same in 2012. Burton is way too good of a driver and there is no way he’ll have two seasons in a row of doing so poorly. Making the chase may not happen, but he will definitely be contending for the chase and hanging around the top 13 in points most of the year.
Most Wins: Kyle Busch
Remember the days when the FOX broadcast team couldn’t stop talking about Kyle Busch and how great he was? He’s kind of fell out of favor the past couple years, but the guy still knows how to win races. Busch has said that he will compete in fewer Truck races in 2012 so he can focus on the Cup series. Smart move by Busch and should help keep him more sharp and focused come Sundays. This is why he’ll win the most races in 2012. I’m not saying he’ll have a great season, but winning 5 or 6 races would sure help.
Leave a comment and tell everyone your own predictions.