And just in case you were worried about complacency, the
teams will have to deal with a new variable in the form of
electronic fuel injection, plus an all-new 2013 Cup car to test
and tweak. At Daytona and Talladega, NASCAR has taken
draconian steps to break up the two-car tandem draft — a.k.a.
the Two-Car Tango or the Beast with Two Backs.
Yet, for all the utter chaos this past o;-season – and there
has been more tumult and bombast than a Republican
primary debate – there is a certain element of plus ca change, plus
c’est la meme chose about the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Here’s who to look for in the top 10 at the end of the year:
works at Stewart-Haas Racing, he won’t
be atop Stewart’s pit box, a job he held
during Stewart’s first two championships.
Instead, he’ll be turning the wrenches
for NASCAR’s only full-time female Cup
racer, Danica Patrick. Stewart’s new
chief is Steve Addington, who cut his
teeth during 15 years in the Nationwide
Series before four years of purgatory as
1. KEVIN HARVICK The planets are lining up for a serious
championship run by Harvick, the two-time NASCAR
Nationwide Series title holder. For one thing, Happy’s
finished third in points two years in a row, so his Richard
Childress Racing team is clearly pretty close already. And with
Clint Bowyer shipped o; to the perpetually mid-pack Michael
Waltrip Racing squad, Harvick clearly is the lead dog at RCR,
at least until Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon, moves up to
Cup full time in 2013.
But the secret weapon for Harvick is new crew chief Shane
Wilson. With Wilson at the helm, Harvick won the 2006 NNS
championship by a staggering 864 points, a record that almost
certainly will never be broken. Harvick and Wilson are
talented, confident and ready to get it done. In all likelihood,
this is their year.
show. Kahne unquestionably will thrive
in the Hendrick system and should be an
immediate championship contender,
with anything other than a top-three
points finish a disappointment.
2. KASEY KAHNE This just in: Kasey Kahne is in a stable
situation for the first time since Ray Evernham decided to sell
his team to now-discredited sports-maven-wanna-be George
Gillett. Kahne, of course, moves to the powerhouse Hendrick
Motorsports squad this year along with his brilliantly talented
crew chief Kenny Francis. Together, Kahne and Francis only
have to be cogs in the Hendrick machine and not the whole
3. JIMMIE JOHNSON Last year,
Johnson literally had the worst year of
his decade-long Sprint Cup career,
finishing sixth in points and winning
just twice, both personal worsts, albeit
worsts that a lot of drivers never reach.
And, as his Hendrick Motorsports
teammate Je; Gordon can attest, once
you quit winning Cup championships,
it’s awfully hard to regain title form.
Then again, Johnson is the greatest
driver of his era and his crew chief
Chad Knaus the best pit boss, too.
Underestimate Johnson’s talent and
resolve at your own peril. It’s hard to
imagine Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 not
being firmly in the mix again this year.
RACER.com MARCH 2012 43
If the NASCAR Sprint Cup springs as many
surprises in 2012 as it did last year, we’re in for a
treat, starting at the Daytona 500. (MIDDLE) Expect
Harvick and RCR to be one of the very strongest
combos but reigning champ Stewart and new crew chief
Steve Addington should form a strong bond (TOP).