5 DRIVERS I’M WATCHING IN 2012

What an offseason! There hasn’t been this much movement since lightning hit the revival tent. With all the postseason silliness and some of the goings on out on the track, there’s plenty of suspense going into 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

With great interest, here’s what this observer is watching….

 

1. Jimmie JohnsonThe 5-time champion has blazed many new trails, but now finds himself in uncharted territory: starting a season among the masses after an historic run of dominance. How will his season go? Will he come back with renewed focus, and his team having shored up the weaknesses, returning to form as the Johnson of old? Will he press to prove that he’s not slipping, and in trying to do too much, and get off to a rough start? What the heck was the end of last season all about? It’s hard to say. He hasn’t been in this position in a while. While not one to doubt him, I’ll go on record as saying there’s still bugs to work out, but Jimmie will be in the mix at the end with a top five finish for the year.

2. Kasey Kahne- Expectations will run high for ever-popular Kahne now that he’s running for the New York Yankees of NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports. The move proved an age defying elixir for Mark Martin just two short seasons ago. Even in the worst of times, Triple-K hasn’t needed a GPS to find victory lane. What’s more, highly regarded crew chief Kenny Francis is coming with. For his legion of fans, 2012 could be the year that launches Kahne to new heights. At least that what many are hoping.

3. Clint Bowyer- The move of Bowyer from Richard Childress to Michael Waltrip has certainly raised more than one eyebrow. Will Bowyer lift MWR up, or will they bring him down? There’s no real body of work to go off of, because (in I mean this in the most respectful terms) so far, the likes of Mikey’s boys- such as David Reutimann, Martin Truex Jr. and Waltrip himself- could best be described as journeymen drivers. Bowyer, even in his worst years, has at least been on the cusp of Chase contention. As has been said on these pages before, we may this year learn how much of the winning equation is the driver, and how much of it is the car.

4. Joey Logano- It seems like every year, Joey Logano makes the list; and the following year, we’re still waiting for that break out. Will this be the year Sliced Bread lievs up to his potential? There’s no need to panic, but then again, there’s just enough mix of hungry, rideless veterans, and eager youngsters waiting in the wings should Coach and J.D. lose patience.

5. Kurt Busch- His early performance during testing at Daytona only adds to the anticipation. The former champion and erstwhile Penske cast off is acting he has a new lease on life, like one of those rowdy veteran football players Al Davis used to sign up to play for the Raiders back in the day. Of course, that’s now, in the pre-season; let’s see what happens when K.B. blows an engine on lap 50. He may be a changed man with nothing to do but just be wild and crazy in pursuit of a win. This season for Busch and Phoenix Racing could just as easily be fireworks as it could be a nuclear meltdown.

It’s that kind of speculation that keeps us coming back for more. Between these stories and Trevor Bayne wanting to be the Tim Tebow of NASCAR, Jeff Gordon’s “Drive For Five,” Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s pursuit of his first win in nearly four seasons, and Carl Edwards quest for that elusive first Cup title, there’s a ton of intrigue to pique the interest of many a fan in 2012.

Other articles by Jim McCoy include:

What Is The NASCAR Nationwide Series?
The NASCAR Classifieds
2012 and the Car vs. Driver Question