While we are weeks away from the 54th Annual Daytona 500, it is never too early to speculate as to who might be rising up the charts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Certainly last year’s top two drivers, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, one ones to watch, there are definitely a few more who are heading up the charts quickly.
6. Jeff Burton–What happened to Jeff Burton last year? I’ve not seen anything definitive to describe what went wrong in 2011 with the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet of Richard Childress Racing. Burton doesn’t have a lot of years left and a new chief may definitely be the answer. A 20th place finish will be easy to improve on…right?
5. Kasey Kahne–No one doubts Kasey Kahne’s ability to drive a car, but his situations the last few years have been unsteady at best. Moving to Hendrick Motorsports will provide the stability and quality to battle for a spot in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Combine HMS horsepower with Kenny Francis, Kahne’s crew chief, and this is a strong one-two punch that could be one of the big success stories of 2012.
4. Jimmie Johnson– I have no idea how five time Sprint Cup champion, Jimmie Johnson, and his crew chief finished out of the top five in 2011 points but I am definitely not expecting it to happen again. With only two wins in 2011, this was the result of a year that didn’t measure up to the success the No. 48 team has had in the past. I’d be shocked if Johnson and the Lowe’s Racing team aren’t in the hunt for a sixth championship right down to the checkered flag being dropped at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
3. Kyle Busch–One of these days, a light will go on and Kyle Busch is going to finally understand his situation. Could 2012 provide that light? He is one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR. His reputation as such is his…if he wants it.
2. Jeff Gordon–2011 looked liked it might be Gordon’s year for a fifth championship, he had three wins to prove he was ready, but somehow it fell apart during the Chase. No at 40 years old, there aren’t very many attempts left for another championship? Will 2012 be the end of Drive for 5 for Gordon?
1. A.J. Allmendinger–In some ways, this seems like a no-brainer. Here you have Allmendinger moving into a ride that has been a regular in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with Kurt Busch- but with a new drivers and crew chief, the team will need to gel quickly and that might be easier said the done. Allmendinger showed some signs of promise last year at Richard Petty Motorsports, but this move to Penske Racing is his biggest changed to move into elite status and make the Chase. It this lightening in a bottle?
Tags: A.J. Allmendinger Jeff Burton Jeff Gordon Jimmie Johnson Joe Gibbs Racing Kasey Kahne Kenny Francis Hendrick Motorsports Kyle Busch NASCAR Sprint Cup Penske Racing Richard Childress Racing Richard Petty Motorsports