“Gentlemen--start your engines!”
Yes, ladies and gentlemen; it’s that time of year again. Time to break out the ear plugs, ice down the cooler, and wash the mullet—the 2012 NASCAR season is upon us!
After the way the 2011 season ended, expectations are high for 2012. Carl Edwards looked like he was finally going to get that elusive first championship. Going into the final race of the season, the Ford 400 at Homestead, he had a three-point lead over Tony Stewart who had been on fire during the Chase for the Cup. Alas, for Edwards it wasn’t meant to be; Stewart won the race (his fifth during the Chase) and the championship (his third).
In 2012 the racing looks to be fast and furious yet again. Looking forward there is a number of storylines that fans are going to want to keep an eye on:
Jimmie Johnson regain his dominant form once again? Ever since he started racing full-time in 2002 he has been one of the most successful racers on the track. While he was still a man to be reckoned with, he was only able to win two races last year (lowest of his career); his sixth place finish in the standings is a career high as well.
Johnson has already spoken publicly about his desire to best the all-time NASCAR championship mark (seven) held by racing legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. Will he get back on track by winning No 6 this year?
No one is going to lie down and let Johnson cruise back to Victory Lane. Defending champion Tony Stewart is going to be out to prove that his win wasn’t a fluke. As the Chase drew near last season he was barely on the cusp of making the Chase and didn’t have a win under his belt. He got hot at the right time though, and the rest is history.
The Busch Brothers, Kyle and Kurt, are always tough competitors, but their volatility will likely keep them from being serious contenders. If Denny Hamlin can regain the form he has in 2010 (when he won eight races) he could be in the running. Carl Edwards will undoubtedly compete for the title again as well.
Will Jeff Gordon ever win another championship? Gordon is one of the most successful drivers still on the track; he hasn’t finished outside of the top 10 since 2005 (11th). With just two top five finishes since then and only four wins in the last four seasons is he starting to run out of gas?
Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. end his win-less streak? The offspring of the Intimidator is one of the most popular drivers in racing, but has not been one of the most successful in recent years. His last win was way back in 2008 at the Lifelock 400 at the Michigan International Speedway 129 races ago.
The man is a marketable presence and a definite moneymaker for Hendricks Motorsports so he is not in danger of losing his ride. That will not stop the speculation on when the non-winning streak will finally end.
How will Danica Patrick do racing with the big boys this year? Ms. Patrick is easily the most successful woman in the history of open wheel racing. She is a marketing juggernaut and one of the hottest women on the planet. In 25 career Nationwide races she has finished in the top five once and top ten three times. So what makes anyone think she’ll succeed in the Sprint Cup Series?
Fans will likely point to her 3rd place finish in the 2009 Indianapolis 500 when it comes to her racing potential; flimsy support for her case to say the least. Whether she’ll succeed is a huge question mark, but there is one thing that will not be in question—the woman is hot!
Other story lines to follow include: the use of electronic fuel injection; an increased presence for the sport in social media; no more secret fines.
Article by Travis Pulver