The 2012 season will bring new twist and turns of excitement. Photo by: Valli Hilaire / Flickr.com
Devin Smrekar, the newest reporter to TheRacingExperts.com, debuts with his 2012 NASCAR Team predictions. Front Row Motorsports will improve, Hendrick becomes an even bigger powerhouse, and Danica Patrick will shine at Daytona. But according to Smrekar, who will be the 2012 champ?
Roush Fenway Racing:
After a somewhat disappointing 2011 season (Yes I just said that), RFR looks to rebound after only having one driver win more than one race and only one in championship contention. With the departure of the David Ragan, Roush is down to three cars full-time. I believe this is good for the company as a whole because they can now put more emphasis on the three cars (Edwards, Kenseth, Biffle) that are all proven race winners. Kenseth is the 2003 champion and Edwards battled Tony Stewart to the bitter end in 2011 and came up just short. Well actually he didn't come up short...he tied with Stewart. Tony's five wins proved to be the winning factor. So look for all of Roush to step up their game in 2012. It looks certain that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will run multiple races for the team in the six car. He will be locked into the Daytona 500 thanks to the points rolling over from 2011.
Carl Edwards: (3 wins)
Matt Kenseth: (2 wins)
Greg Biffle: (1 win)
* Wood Brothers* Trevor Bayne: (No wins)
After a “setback” season for the entire Hendrick camp, I believe this is the team to beat in 2012. With Mark Martin gone, Kasey Kahne is now in control of the No. 5 car. He was able to bring over long time crew chief in Kenny Francis over with him. We now have four winning crew chiefs teamed up with four winning drivers. The No. 24 team was stout during the summer months, and fell off during the Chase... along with the 48 and 88 team. Jeff Gordon would be shutout of winning a fifth series title, plus Jimmie Johnson didn't get his 6th in a row... yikes that's just amazing to think about. Earnhardt didn't win a race, however there was a major improvement from the past two mediocre seasons and put himself into position to win. If not for some bad luck at places like New Hampshire and Dover, could have easily finished top 5 in points. Mark Martin didn't have much to show for all year, but is still a fan favorite. 2012 will be a huge year for the Hendrick boys.
Jimmie Johnson: (3 wins)
Jeff Gordon: (4 wins) (2012 Champion)
Kasey Kahne: (1 win)
Dale Earnhardt Jr: (2 wins)
Joe Gibbs Racing:
The team who I think will present the toughest challenge to the Hendrick Powehouse this year is Joe Gibbs Racing. Kyle Busch is one of if not the best driver out on the circuit; he just needs to harness his frustration issues. Denny Hamlin had an offset year, but now he has the latest champion crew chief on top of the pit box, Darian Grubb. He will win again this year. Joey Logano is quite possibly on the hot seat this season, heading into a contract year. I do expect Busch to duke it out with Johnson, Gordon, Edwards, Stewart for the championship. JGR will be tough as always in those horsepower packed Toyotas.
Kyle Busch (4 wins)
Denny Hamlin( 2 wins)
Joey Logano (1 win?)
Stewart- Haas Racing:
Tony Stewart won five races en route to a third Cup title. Photo by: Jerry Edmundson / Flickr.com
In only its 3rd year of existence, SHR brought home a championship. Ryan Newman had a pretty disappointing year compared to fellow Chasers and Tony was having a subpar season heading into NASCAR’s Playoffs. Tony then had possibly the greatest 10 race spree in the history of the Chase. Winning half of the Chase Races, it was barely enough to get by Carl Edwards. In fact he tied Edwards, but his wins gave him the championship. Tony is this generation’s A.J. Foyt for sure, very old school guy and he will win at least two more championships before he is said and done. Danica Patrick is now signed on to run ten races for the team in the No. 10 car. Danica showed not only strength in Daytona during the test, but confidence. Confidence should be hard to come by when you’re facing the best race car drivers in the world, but she has it. Look for much better things out of this team overall this year.
Tony Stewart (3 wins)
Ryan Newman (1 win?)
Danica Patrick (No wins) But Watch out at Daytona, boys.
Richard Childress Racing:
"The Closer," Kevin Harvick, won his first three races of 2011 with a total of nine laps led. Photo by: likeaduck / Flickr.com
The team with the most shake up during the winter months was without a doubt RCR. Clint Bowyer is now gone, and everybody seems to be switching team members. Harvick had a pretty solid year winning a few races early on. Jeff Burton had his worst year in past memory and Paul Menard had a pretty good year with his new team, after all he did win the Brickyard 400. Bowyer had a decent year, but not what he was looking for. With RCR down to three teams, look for consistency in 2012. Jeff Burton will be back, and Paul Menard will shine.
Kevin Harvick (2 wins)
Jeff Burton (1 win)
Paul Menard (1 win)
Photo By: Ed McDonald / Flickr.com
After three seasons of racing for Richard Petty Motorsports, A.J. Allmendinger might be sitting pretty in 2012 at Penske Racing.
By far the biggest season of the offseason was the "mutual agreement" that led to the separation of Kurt Busch and Penske Racing. This left the No. 22 ride open and with everyone knowing how fast that car is, many drivers went after it. Most notably David Ragan, who in fact did not get the ride after A.J. Allmendinger was released from Richard Petty Motorsports and signed with the team. Now with two young hungry drivers, Penske is ready to fully develop both of them into championship contending drivers. Brad Keselowski was one of the bigger surprises last year as he got red hot at the end of the summer. He won multiple races and finished in the top-5 in points. “The Dinger” had a decent season with RPM, but nothing spectacular. Not sure what to expect out of Allmendinger, but I know that blue deuce will visit Victory lane more than once.
Brad Keselowski ( 2 wins)
AJ Allmendinger ( 1 win?)
Michael Waltrip Racing:
After yet another year of under-performing race cars, MWR looks to rebound with a new team and driver lineup. David Reutimann is now gone but Martin Truex Jr. is there to stay with plenty of sponsorship from Napa Auto Parts. Michael Waltrip has said himself he is pretty much done with racing, but will continue to drive a couple races a year. Continuing that, Waltrip will split the driving duties of the No. 55 Aarons' car with Mark Martin. Martin fresh off his run at Hendrick, is beginning to wind down his career as well. Maybe the biggest free agent signing of the off-season is the arrival of Clint Bowyer in the No. 15. With majority Sponsorship from 5 Hour Energy, Bowyer is going for the Cup championship with his new team at MWR. I truly believe there is magic with this pairing and I fully expect Clint Bowyer to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Glad to see Martin Truex get another chance, he can go fast folks! Can't wait to see what comes out of this team this year. I also hope that Michael can find a way to race in the Daytona 500.
Clint Bowyer ( 1 win)
Martin Truex Jr ( 1 win)
Mark Martin/ Michael Waltrip (No wins) Each with a pair of top 10's.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing:
2011 was an utter disappointment in 2011 for EGR. Many expected McMurray and Montoya to win races. Neither of them came even close. Montoya didn't do even do anything at Indianapolis, which was probably one of the bigger surprises. McMurray has become one of the better restrictor plate drivers in the Sport, but didn't do anything at those tracks either. I don't see much improvement in 2012 unless something spectacular happened in the off season. I mean, Montoya wrecked in pre-season thunder. That's never a good sign is it?
Jamie McMurray (No wins)
Juan Pablo Montoya (1 win?)
Richard Petty Motorsports:
With the departure of A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola is now the main man at RPM as he takes over the legendary #43. A.J. didn't have the most impressive stats, but he ran solid most of the time as Petty's driver. Aric was able to "revive" his career when he drove the 88 car in the Nationwide series for JR Motorsports. Aric in fact ran for RPM before. He drove the No. 9 car at the end of the 2010 season after Kahne was let out of his contract. Good things are possible here folks, especially at the cookie cutters.
Aric Almirola (1 win)
Front Row Motorsports:
David Gilliland scored Front Row Motorsports' best run to date with a third in the Daytona 500 this past February. Photo by: likeaduck / Flickr.com
After an impressive finish by David Gilliland in the Daytona 500, some expected the 38 team to have many more quality runs. That didn't happen other than on the Superspeedways. The team ran especially well at Talladega. Besides that, the team didn't do much in 2011. The team has 2 cars this year being ran fulltime with David Gilliland in the #38 and David Ragan in the #34. Not expecting too much out of the team this year.
David Gilliland (No wins)
David Ragan (No wins) (Multiple top 15's)
Furniture Row Racing:
Regan Smith was one of five first time winners in 2011. Photo by: likeaduck / Flickr.com
One of the more underfunded teams in Sprint Cup, Furniture row continues to pop out top 20-25 finishes every single week. With driver Regan Smith, the team won on strategy at Darlington early in 2011. I believe Smith is one of the most under-rated drivers in the Cup Series. Smith moved over to Furniture row in the 2009 after DEI shut down the No. 01 team. This team runs particularly well on the Superspeedways as we saw this year especially. He ran up front at Daytona with Kurt Busch as his partner and had top 10 cars both times at Talladega. He won at Darlington like I mentioned earlier, which wasn't exactly a shock to a lot of us based on the team's performance. We definitely were not expected a win, but we expected good runs every once in a while. Qualifying was the team's strong point for a good portion of 2011, with over half of his starts inside the top 25. Look for another solid year from this team and possibly a win if the cards fall in place.
Regan Smith (1 win?)
With Landon Cassill out and Kurt Busch in, the name of the game is very simple for the team and the driver at Phoenix. Phoenix removed Landon Cassill not because of his skill level, because James Finch wanted to win races. Landon was just not ready to win races. I think Landon could do very well in the Nationwide Series if the ride avaliability comes around. He would easily be a championship contender in my opinion.
After losing a major ride for the 2nd time in his Sprint Cup tenure, Busch ended up in the Hendrick powered 51 car for James Finch and Phoenix Racing. This deal is make or break for Busch because if his temper gets out of hand, Finch said he will not hesitate to remove him from the driver’s seat. The equipment Busch is in is fast, but certainly not like his Penske equipment was. We see this team run up front at Superspeedways every time they show up at them. Keselowski even won a race at Talladega in 2009 driving for Finch as most of you know. Phoenix is in it to win it with Busch, perhaps the riskiest move of the offseason. It will be fun to see how this plays out.
Kurt Busch: No wins (Multiple top 5's)
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.