The best part about winning the NASCAR championship is that you are the top driver in the sport for a year. The bad part about winning the championship is that every other team is trying to take away your title.
Winning a championship in NASCAR is very difficult. Many great drivers raced for years and never won the championship (see Mark Martin). As difficult it is to win one championship, winning back-to-back championships is even harder (unless your name is Jimmie Johnson).
This year Tony Stewart will try to defend his NASCAR championship. During the offseason Stewart made changes in his organization to help him stay on top of the sport. Stewart added Steve Addington as his new crew chief and his old crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing, Greg Zipadelli will serve as the Competition Director for Stewart Haas Racing. It will be interesting to see if these changes make Stewart’s team stronger, or if they backfire on him. One thing is for sure, the other teams want his championship.
Here is a list of 10 drivers I think will compete for Stewart’s championship in 2012...
How can you pick against Five Time?
Jimmie Johnson is one of the best drivers in NASCAR history. He is also one of the most underrated drivers in NASCAR history. Even when Johnson was coming off back-to-back championships, NASCAR writers were picking other drivers to unseat him.
After a disappointing 2011 season, Johnson is being overlooked as the favorite to win the championship. I think that is a mistake. I have to believe Johnson will be as motivated as he has even been this season. Johnson could not have been happy not having anything to race for at the end of the 2011 season. He is a driver who is used to being the leader of the pack. This year I see Johnson returning to his old form.
A driver cannot come any closer to winning a championship without winning than Carl Edwards did last season. Edwards is as consistent as they come in NASCAR. It does not matter what type of track the drivers are racing on, Edwards has a shot at victory.
Last season Edwards only won one race and that was the difference between first and second place in the championship. Edwards must focus more on winning races and quit being content with top five finishes. When he does become more aggressive, he will win his first championship.
Matt Kenseth is the best driver that no one talks about. It seems as though Kenseth is battling for a championship every season, yet the other drivers are the ones who receive the most press. Maybe that is because Kenseth has only won one championship and that was nine years ago.
Kenseth is one of the best drivers on the mile and half tracks. He has had some luck on the superspeedways, but his racing at those tracks has been hit or miss. If Kenseth could improve on the road courses and the superspeedways, he would fall into the category of Carl Edwards and Jimmy Johnson…. a driver who could win on any track.
Kenseth will make the Chase in 2012, and he could be a driver who dominates the mile and half tracks and wins the championship.
Kevin Harvick may be the best driver to have never won a NASCAR championship. Last year Harvick finished third in the points for the second consecutive year. Harvick is always there at the end of the season, he just has a hard time closing the deal.
This could be the year Harvick wins the championship. Shane Wilson will be the new crew chief for the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team. A change on top of the pit box maybe just what Harvick needs to win his first championship.
If championships were given out solely based upon talent, Kyle Busch would have multiple championships.
Busch is one of the best drivers in the sport. His talent behind the wheel is unlike any other driver. The problem is what goes on between his ears.
If Busch could ever get out of his own way, no one could stop him from winning championships. When Busch figures out how to control his emotions and take care of his equipment, he will become a championship driver. I just don’t know if 2012 is the year he does it.
Last year Denny Hamlin came into the season with the second-highest odds to win the championship. Hamlin had 6/1 odds of winning the championship before his disappointing year. Hamlin finished the season No. 9 in the point standings.
Changes were made following the 2011 season for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team. Mike Ford is out as the crew chief and taking his place is last season’s championship crew chief, Darian Grubb. Grubb maybe just what Hamlin needs to win a championship.
I would not count out Jeff Gordon just yet. He is getting older, but he can still race in NASCAR.
Gordon is another driver who can win at any type of track. The chemistry between Gordon and his crew chief, Alan Gustafson is beginning to grow. Last season Gordon won three races and finished No. 8 in the point standings. As long as Gordon is driving the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports car, he has a chance at the championship.
One of the biggest surprises in 2011 was Brad Keselowski. Keselowski was able to win four races last year and finish No. 5 in the point standings. Will this be the year Keselowski takes the next step forward and turns those victories into a championship? He definitely has the talent to do so.
Kasey Kahne has always been one of the best drivers in NASCAR. The problem is he has never had the equipment that other drivers have. Kahne has raced for some good racing teams including: Evernham Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, and Red Bull Racing. Racing for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 will be a step up for Kahne. With better cars and better teammates to rely on, 2012 could be the season Kahne wins his first NASCAR championship.
I would love to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. win a championship. Not because I am a fan of Earnhardt, but because I would love to see the reaction of the fans.
Earnhardt winning a championship would be one of the biggest stories in NASCAR history. Some people asked how the Chase could get any better than it was last year when Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards finished in a tie. I say, add Earnhardt to the equation and the story is twice as big.
Earnhardt went through a hot streak last year between the spring Martinsville race and the first Pocono race. During those nine races, Earnhardt scored six top ten finishes. If Earnhardt could race like he did during those nine races on a constituent basis, he could compete for a championship.
I don’t know if Earnhardt will ever be a champion in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, but I would sure love to see it happen.
Follow me on Twitter @HuskerMagic
If you are a fan of Fantasy NASCAR, LIKE my Fantasy NASCAR Facebook page at: