NASCAR: 5 Drivers I Want to See Win This Season
Most NASCAR fans have one or two favorite drivers.
However, rooting exclusively for just a couple of drivers can lead to a lot of disappointing weekends, since even the Jimmie Johnsons and Tony Stewarts of the world have their slumps from time to time. It's important to be able to celebrate the success of other drivers without sacrificing your primary allegiances of fanhood.
This isn't to say that you should be happy for any driver who visits Victory Lane. To be a true fan, you need to have an Enemy Number One to root against week-in and week-out. But you can't root against everyone, and it's healthy to feel good about seeing a variety of drivers experience success.
With that in mind, here are five drivers I would like to see win in 2012. There are good reasons why NASCAR fans of most persuasions would feel good about seeing these guys in Victory Lane.
I suppose there are fans out there who wouldn't like to see these guys win, and, to make things interesting, I've included possible reasons to root against these drivers as well.
Old-timer or not, just about every NASCAR fan was captivated by Mark Martin's incredible run in 2009. In his return from semi-retirement, the old man scored five wins (his best in over a decade) and finished runner-up in the championship standings for the fifth time in his career.
The equipment at MWR has been improving steadily since the team entered the Cup Series in 2007, so there's no reason to believe the 53-year-old can't continue his winning ways.
With a win, Martin would become the oldest driver in Cup Series history (Harry Gant currently holds the record with a 1992 win at Michigan at the age of 52). And with five wins already after passing the half-century mark, Martin even has an outside chance of surpassing Gant's record of eight wins after turning 50.
Why root against Martin?
I know there are die-hard Roush Fenway Racing fans who hold a severe grudge against Martin for leaving the Ford camp and going over to the hated enemy, the Chevrolets. And now that he's with a Toyota team, well, I can't imagine them liking that much better.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Isn't it about time now for Dale Jr. to break his nearly four-year winless streak and re-energize the long-suffering Junior Nation?
The driver of the No. 88 came agonizingly close on multiple occasions in 2011, and he's looking strong in 2012 (already Earnhardt has led more laps this year than he did all of last season). And you can bet NASCAR would love to see its most popular driver win. A victory by Junior is a win-win-win scenario, with the only loser being the guy who finishes in second place.
Why root against Earnhardt Jr.?
Let's face it, there are plenty of Junior haters out there. They are annoyed by the legions of Junior's fans; they root against him because they also rooted against his father, the Intimidator. Some just enjoy knocking a driver while he's down; there will always be those who cheer with every weekend that sees Earnhardt's winless streak grow longer.
Regan Smith (or David Gilliland or David Ragan or Bobby Labonte or Dave Blaney)
Let's score one for the little guys.
Regan Smith is the clear front-runner in this group to pull out a W in 2012, having performed the feat last season in impressive fashion over Carl Edwards at Darlington Raceway.
Ragan and Gilliland of Front Row Motorsports have the potential to pull off a shocker (most likely at a restrictor-plate race), while Labonte and Blaney have come close to winning the Daytona 500 the last two years.
A win by an under-funded team would be a heart-warming and wonderful story for NASCAR, proving that the sport isn't completely dominated by the "big boys" with all the A-list sponsors.
Why root against these guys? I can't think of a good reason, unless you hate underdogs or your driver happens to be the one who gets beat by the little guy that could.
For the past few seasons, Allmendinger has been, "the next guy who's going to win a Cup race."
Well, if he's ever going to do it, 2012 is the year.
For the first time, he is in top-notch equipment—last season, Kurt Busch won three races in what is now Allmendinger's No. 22 ride with Penske Racing.
Personally, I've been a fan of the 'Dinger since his inaugural season with Red Bull Racing, and I've perennially picked him to break through with a victory. To see him finally get that elusive W would be a validation of my continuing fanhood.
Why root against the 'Dinger? Richard Petty fans might not be happy with the way he treated his boss at times during his days with RPM. But come on, A.J. is generally a nice, outgoing, fun-loving guy.
I'll admit, as a Wisconsin native, I'm a bit of a homer with Menard. I witnessed him win his first NASCAR race at the Milwaukee Mile back in 2006 in thrilling fashion over Kevin Harvick (who won 10 races and the series title that year).
It was fun watching him hold off a hard-charging Jeff Gordon at the Brickyard for his first Sprint Cup victory last season, and it would be great to see him move on from the dubious ranks of the one-hit wonders of NASCAR.
Menard has the talent and the equipment to get it done, and with a second win, he could silence the naysayers who call him a "daddy's boy" once and for all. Menard might not be racing in the Sprint Cup Series without his family's sponsorship, but he belongs just the same.
Why root against Menard?
Because of his last name. Paul wouldn't be where he is today without his daddy's sponsorship dollars, and there are some people who can't recognize his talent because of that fact.
But let's keep in mind, Menard isn't the only driver in this type of situation. Where would Dale Jr. be without his father? Let's make sure we don't have any double standards here.
Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer
Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer get honorable mentions.
Truex Jr. has had some of the worst luck of anyone in the Cup Series not named Robby Gordon over the last few seasons. (Okay, I know, a lot of Robby's bad luck is brought on by himself.)
Bowyer proved himself to be a winner during his time at Richard Childress Racing, but to see him validate his checkered-flag credentials by winning with his new team would be cool.
Keep in mind, the only driver to win races (two) for MWR to date has been David Reutimann, who was cut loose by team owner Michael Waltrip after a disappointing 2011 season. Anything less than multiple wins in 2012 by the current MWR stable of drivers would be a disappointment.