As of February 6, 2012, there are 37 full-time teams, (39 if we include the unknown Red Bull team) and 11 part-time teams. So all together there's a list of 50 teams and driver combinations that I could choose from.
But which of those 50 teams and driver combinations have the most to prove in 2012? Well that will be depicted in this article coming up.
First of course, we get two honorable mentions:
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmer's Insurance Chevrolet
Kasey's long anticipated move to Hendrick Motorsports is finally coming to fruition in 2012. Kahne signed here in the summer of 2010 while still a member of Richard Petty Motorsports. Then he moved on to Red Bull Racing in 2011, and won the second to last race of the season at Phoenix.
What Kahne needs to prove is simple: Moving Mark Martin out of this seat and inserting yourself was the right move for Hendrick Motorsports' future.
Prediction: I think Kahne will absolutely live up to expectations. He and Kenny Francis, as tough as it may be to believe, are the second longest driver/crew chief combination in the sport right now, and will prove they belong. This team is strong and powerful, and will definitely be a contender for the chase, as well as my pick to win the 54th running of the Daytona 500. What a debut that would be.
Mark Martin/Michael Waltrip, No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota
Now on to the man who Kahne replaced. Mark Martin. Martin enters 2012 with a new team for the first time in three years, and Michael Waltrip, his counterpart for seven races, will drive the most races he's ran in two years.
As Mark limits his schedule to 24 races, the now 53-year-old driver, will try and put Michael Waltrip Racing back in victory lane for the first time since Chicagoland in 2010.
Meanwhile, while he's taking the other 12 races off, team owner, and two time Daytona 500 winner, Michael Waltrip will step in for what is now looking like 7-9 races. Who knows? It could be all 12. Michael, who turns 48 in April, hasn't had a top-5 finish since a rain shortened 2nd place finish at Loudon in 2008. Before that we'd have to go back to his DEI days in 2005!
So it's been 7 years since Michael's had a fully finished top-5. Clearly, Aaron's didn't choose Waltrip because they think he can get the job done. Let's hope they didn't sign Mark Martin for the same thing.
What this team needs to prove: Very simple. Firing David Reutimann was the right move, and bringing in a driver combo that together reach over a century in age, was the right move. Also, MWR needs to prove that they are even a team that can win. Reutimann had 2 wins in his tenure here, and no one else has even been close, is Mark Martin going to make that much of a difference?
Prediction: This team will run a little better than they did in 2011, but will wind up about 23-25th in owner's points. Reutimann finished 27th last year. If Mark Martin has 7 top-5's it will be erased by 7 crashes by Michael Waltrip. Michael will weigh this team down more than ppl know, and Aaron's may be regretting their decision, especially if people don't laugh at their commercials.