Thursday, January 19, 2012

10 NASCAR drivers fans should watch during the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season after off season changes.

After a two month active off season that featured several announcements and changes, last week, NASCAR teams were hard at work at Daytona International Speedway for NASCAR’s Winter Testing. SPEEDtv.com and SPEED TV televised the 3 day event live and in watching most of the coverage, this was the first time for fans and media to see most of the off season changes at work.

1. A.J. Allmendinger: In 2012, I truly believe that this is just about AJDinger’s last chance to find success in NASCAR’s elite series, but I really do like what I have seen so far with testing with A.J. Allendinger driving the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge for Penske Racing. I believe that this is the year for him to break out and win his first Cup Series race. He has the talent, the equipment, the people and a good teammate in Brad Keselowski, so let’s see what he can do.

2. Jeff Burton: Burton hasn’t been very successful in the Cup Series in the last few years now, but he does have a new winning crew chief joining him in 2012, Drew Blickensdefer. And RCR is going back down to a 3-car team in 2012 with the removal of the #33 team due to lack of sponsorship. I look for good things out of RCR and Jeff Burton in 2012.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: In 2011, Dale Jr. had a successful season of rebuilding and despite going winless, Dale Jr. and the #88 team did make the chase and finish 7th in the final point standings. But what will 2012 bring, hopefully victory lane and making the chase again.

4. Joey Logano: Logano has had a tough go in the Cup Series so far over the last few seasons now despite one victory in New Hampshire back in 2009 (a race I was in attendance for), but with a new season comes renewed effected to win and a new crew chief with Jason Ratcliff. I look for Logano to be a consistent top 15 driver.

5. David Reutimann: After MWR released Reutimann at the end of last season, Reutimann was able to pick up a new Cup Series ride with TBR that as of now is just for 2012 and several races. Sponsorship seems to be a keep sticking point. I’ll be interested to see what Reutimann can do with TBR in 2012.

6. David Ragan: After being released from Roush-Fenway Racing at the end of last season, Ragan was able to land a ride at Front Row Motorsports in 2012. But honestly I would say the goal here would be for Ragan to make all the 36 races, finishes races, finish inside the top 25 in points, gain experience and stay clean. Other than that, Ragan is a question mark.

7. Denny Hamlin: After a 2nd place finish in points in 2010, 2011 is a season that both JGR and Denny Hamlin will want to forget despite making the chase. However in 2012, Hamlin will be joined by a new crew chief (last season’s championship winning crew chief) Darian Grubb. This will be an interesting combo for sure and maybe a victory or two along with making the chase are in the cards???

8-9. Michael Waltrip Racing comes into the 2012 NASCAR season with two new drivers, Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer. Both drivers bring experience and victories with them.

- Mark Martin: After running full-time for the last few seasons, Martin now finds himself back to where he wants to be, running a 25 race part-time schedule for MWR in the #55 Toyota. This will be hard for me to follow in some ways, Mark Martin in Toyota, oh brother. But I do believe that Mark Martin can give MWR the help and guidance they need to contend for wins on a regular basis, which could result in wins???

- Clint Bowyer: After being unsuccessful in getting a sponsorship at RCR, Bowyer was able to land a ride at MWR in the #15 5-hour energy Toyota.

10. Kasey Kahne: In 2012, I truly believe that this will be Kasey Kahne’s season to win races and make the chase. Kahne with his longtime crew chief, are finally joining Hendrick Motorsports in the flagship ride, the #5.

I like to be optimistic when it comes to a New Year and new season especially in NASCAR. I’m really looking for 2012 to be a banner year in NASCAR for several drivers, but right now, it’s all about the Daytona 500 in last February to kick off a new season. Let’s go racin’.