1. Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards was very classy after just losing the Sprint Cup Championship in Homestead at the end of last season. But after having the strongest Chase run of anyone in history (he had a 4.9 average finishing position), he seems poised to finally capture his first Sprint Cup Championship. Hopefully he can avoid the team breakdown that occurred after finishing second in the points standings to Jimmie Johnson in 2008.
|Carl Edwards in the garage during Daytona Preseason Testing (Photo courtesy Associated Press)|
The "Drive for Five" has been going on ever since Jeff Gordon's fourth championship back in 2001. Unfortunately for Gordon fans, he will fall just short of tying protege Jimmie Johnson in 2012. Gordon will have a fantastic season in 2012, but will fall just short of Edwards. Gordon will keep it close heading into Homestead, but the power of Edwards and his Roush-Fenway Racing team will prove too much for Gordon and the 24 team to overcome.
3. Matt Kenseth
The Roush-Fenway cars were strong at the end of 2011, and that should translate into strong cars in 2012. Matt Kenseth seems to have returned to championship form, but it may not be enough to overcome Edwards and Gordon. But Kenseth will have one of his best seasons to date, and he will once again own the nickname "Mr. Consistency."
4. Jimmie Johnson
"Five-time" will not win a sixth championship in 2012. After a disappointing 2011 season (by "disappointing" I mean that they didn't win a sixth consecutive championship), Johnson will turn it around in 2012. Though he may get the ship righted in 2012, he and crew chief Chad Knaus will continue to bicker over the radio, and this bickering will affect Johnson's championship run.
5. Kasey Kahne
After proving he can win in sub-par equipment at Red Bull Racing, Kasey Kahne will flourish at Hendrick Motorsports. I believe Kahne will have multiple wins for the first time since 2009. He will become a force to be reckoned with on the racetrack in 2012. Look for Kahne to do big things this year, and even bigger things in 2013.
|Kasey Kahne and Kenny Francis find themselves at Hendrick in 2012 (Photo courtesy Associated Press)|
Why is the defending Sprint Cup Champion so far down this list? Two words: Steve Addington. Sure, Addington has proved that he can win with the Busch brothers, but he was never able to elevate them to championship-caliber status. Addington and Stewart will have some missteps and stumbles in 2012, and they will prove costly when it comes to the championship. It is very unlikely this first-year combination will make much noise in the Chase.
7. Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch ran into trouble in 2011, and he seeks to put that behind him in 2012. He will, and will have his best season to date with Joe Gibbs Racing. He won't win the title, but he won't get into any major trouble either. Busch will use this season as a stepping stone to 2013, where he will challenge for the championship.
|Kyle Busch during Daytona Preseason Testing (Photo courtesy Associated Press)|
After finishing third in the points the past two season, Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 team will falter in 2012. Harvick will get one or two wins this season, but he will no longer be called "The Closer." He will also run into some trouble early on in the Chase, and that will spell out the end to his championship run.
|Kevin Harvick with RCR Teammate Jeff Burton (Photo courtesy Associated Press)|
Greg Biffle missed the Chase last year for the first time since 2007. He was winless in 2011, but he will make both his return to Victory Lane and the Chase this year. But he, like Harvick, will run into trouble early in the Chase and it will greatly affect his championship hopes. At ninth place in points, he will also be far behind his Roush-Fenway teammates of Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While Dale Earnhardt Jr. will return to Victory Lane in 2012, he will come nowhere near hoisting the Sprint Cup Trophy. I believe the No. 88 team will completely break down in the Chase, and Earnhardt Jr. will once again be relegated to the bottom half of the Chase field. Earnhardt Jr. will make it into the Chase using a wild card spot.
|Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks to return to Victory Lane in 2012 (Photo courtesy Associated Press)|
Denny Hamlin will continue to be plagued by bad luck in 2012. Even with new crew chief Darian Grubb, Hamlin will not be able to rekindle the magic that Jimmie Johnson stole from him in 2010. Hamlin will find himself on the outside looking in when the series gets to Richmond, and he will have to settle for a wild card spot in the Chase.
12. Jeff Burton
Richard Childress Racing and Jeff Burton will get it turned around just enough to get Burton into the Chase, but no more. Burton will just squeak into the Chase, and will prove to be a non-factor as the Chase rolls on. Burton will simply not be able to keep up with everyone else that will be in the Chase.
Hopefully some of these predictions come true, so that I look a little bit smarter than I actually am. And if not, I think I left my explanations vague enough that I have some room to back out of my arguments. Is it time for Daytona? I know I'm ready to get the season underway, and I can't wait to see how the season unfolds!
|The Daytona 500 is February 26th (Photo courtesy Associated Press)|