NASCAR Chase 2012: One Reason Each Chase Driver Could Win the Sprint Cup Title
2012 marks the ninth edition of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup; the final 10-race shootout for the most prestigious championship in American motorsports. Only three drivers have ever taken a Chase trophy home, and seven of those eight titles belong to drivers in this year's running.
This year's field may be the deepest ever, as only two drivers have failed to take race wins this year and the majority seem to have a legitimate shot at the title. In fact, there are good reasons why any of this year's field could come home with the championship.
Since the breaking down of who can win—and why they can win—is our job, then we're going to go through the entire Chase field and give you one reason why each driver can take home the championship. Without further ado...
Jeff Gordon: The 'Old School 'Stache'
Gordon has received plenty of attention for bringing back the mustache that he wore during his early career, after making a bet with his crew that he'd do so if he snuck into the Chase at Richmond. The hope is that a return to his old look will also help him return to his old form, bringing back the "Refuse to Lose" attitude that allowed Gordon to win three championships and 40 races between 1995 and 1998.
Kasey Kahne: My Time Is Now
Kahne signed a contract with Hendrick Motorsports for this season in early 2010, effectively running two lame-duck seasons before finally taking over the famed No. 5 Chevrolet. Now that he's there and in the Chase, Kahne is determined to prove that he and Kenny Francis can be just as strong of a driver-crew chief combo as teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, with the right equipment.
Martin Truex Jr.: The Company Man
Truex stuck with Michael Waltrip Racing through two mediocre seasons behind the wheel and was rewarded this year with a significant upgrade in equipment. Now locked up to a long-term deal with both MWR and sponsor NAPA, Truex is ready to establish himself as part of the next era of dominant Sprint Cup performers in his second career Chase appearance.
Kevin Harvick: Reunited and It Feels so Good
Harvick and crew chief Shane Wilson struggled to run at the front of the pack through the first 24 races of the season, so team owner Richard Childress brought Gil Martin back to work with his lead driver. In the two weeks since, a rejuvenated Harvick led 101 laps in the Sprint Cup race at Atlanta and finally scored his first win of the season, in the Nationwide Series at Richmond.
Matt Kenseth: A Final Hurrah
Kenseth's departure from Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the 2012 season has been well documented, but the 2003 Cup champion isn't going to race with one foot out the door. This year's Daytona 500 winner is determined to leave his relationships with owner Jack Roush and crew chief Jimmy Fennig on a high note, aiming to score his second championship before joining Joe Gibbs Racing next year.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Back in the Saddle
Earnhardt Jr. is part of a bona fide, front-running team for the first time since 2004, having spent the majority of the year in the top five in points. His four-year winless streak with Hendrick Motorsports has been snapped; now, the sport's most popular driver can get down to business and keep racing up the top five finishes that have brought him this far already.
Clint Bowyer: The Dark Horse
Bowyer is to this Chase field what George Harrison was to the Beatles: an incredible, underrated talent buried beneath the lengthier resumes of his racing compatriots. If anyone could make a surprise charge to the front of the pack and steal the championship from the frontrunners, last week's winner at Richmond is the guy.
Greg Biffle: Seizing the Moment
Biffle missed last year's Chase by a wide margin, failing to win a race for the second time in three years and dropping from sixth in points to 16th. This year, he posted the best regular season of all Chase drivers, and with the disappointment of last year behind him, he's determined to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win a championship in all three national series.
Brad Keselowski: The Next One
Keselowski is one of the hottest new drivers in NASCAR, breaking out in last year's Chase with a fifth-place finish. He's got everything behind him—a top-flight team in Penske Racing, an up-and-coming crew chief in Paul Wolfe, and all the confidence in the world—and there's no doubt that he'll take home a Sprint Cup someday, maybe even this year.
Tony Stewart: Been There, Done That
Stewart had the Chase to define all Chases last season, ripping off five wins in 10 races to take down the more consistent Carl Edwards on a tiebreaker. Just like last year, Stewart barely made it into the top 10, but this year he's scored race victories in the regular season as well, giving him more momentum and confidence in his ability to defend the title.
Jimmie Johnson: The Man, the Myth, the Legend
Johnson is the all-time master of the Chase, winning five consecutive championships from 2006 to 2010. Motivated by last year's disappointment, which saw his title hopes fade away after an accident at Charlotte, Johnson has plenty of reason to strike fear in the hearts of his opponents, only one of whom (Tony Stewart) has even won a Chase title.
Denny Hamlin: Retribution
Hamlin's crippling giveaway of the 2010 championship in the final round at Homestead sabotaged his entire 2011 season and necessitated a crew chief change for this year. With defending champion Darian Grubb calling the shots, Hamlin scored a series-leading four wins, scored the top Chase seed, and best of all, set himself up to make up for the disappointment of two years ago.