Ranking the 10 Best NASCAR Teams of 2012

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent INovember 2, 2012

Ranking the 10 Best NASCAR Teams of 2012

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    NASCAR is full of variables that can wreak havoc with even the best teams. In any given season teams expected to be title contenders can quickly fall short.

    There are teams that have performed in a stellar manner throughout the top-three series in NASCAR, but the best teams are obviously at the elite Sprint Cup level.

    It is not just a saying, but a fact in this sport that to be the best you have to beat the best.

    With the many moving parts of a team, a race car and a race, it not only takes being better than the rest, but how Lady Luck has played her hand.

    In this slideshow the teams that have performed best this season will be highlighted. Let's take a look at why they are ranked as they are. See what you think.

10. Greg Biffle

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    Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, and his crew chief  Matt Puccia proved to be very solid with the driver leading the points most of the first half of the pre-Chase season.

    Biffle has won two races with 11 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes. Currently he is ranked ninth in the point standings, 69 markers out of the lead.

    Though the "Biff" is out of contention for the title, it is evident the team is strong and will likely win races next season and make the 2013 Chase.

9. Tony Stewart

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    Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart has had an erratic season that includes three wins, 11 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes.

    Under the guidance of his new crew chief for 2012, Steve Addington, the car has had some great runs, but the team has had some self-inflicted miscues and poor qualifying.

    Stewart's wins came on the bigger tracks, so there is a chance he will come on strong during the last three races to gain momentum heading into 2013. Currently he is 10th in the point standings.

8. Matt Kenseth

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    Matt Kenseth has driven his Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 to three wins, 12 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes during the 2012 season. He is ranked eighth in the point standings.

    The finishes for this driver overall were somewhat better during the first half of the season. In June Kenseth announced he was leaving RFR, but it was not official until September that he was going to Joe Gibbs Racing.

    Typically a lame duck team does not perform optimally. Under the guidance of his veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig, this team contradicted that with two of his wins coming during the Chase.

    Kenseth will drive the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota next season for JGR.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    The 2012 season finally saw the end to the 143-race winless streak for Dale Earnhardt Jr. with his one win at Michigan. The team led by Steve Letarte has had 10 top-five and 18 top-ten finishes with an average of 10.7.

    For much of the season leading to the Chase, Junior had the most top-10 finishes. Qualifying continues to need more improvement and consistency, but the team has had fast cars.

    Many expected another win or two out of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team. Now that the driver is destined to remain 12th in the standings, perhaps the lack of pressure will take him to victory.

    Earnhardt may not be best known for his performance in 2012, but rather his honesty to step away from his driving duties during the Chase because of two concussions.

    His input to NASCAR and the general public about the seriousness of brain injury from concussion may save others in the future from the resulting issues that can be life-changing.

6. Jeff Gordon

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    Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, had so many things go wrong during the bulk of the season leading to the Chase that he thought it almost laughable.

    The team led by Alan Gustafson had strong cars capable of wins, but his only one came at the Pennsylvania 400. Despite his troubles, Gordon did have 10 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes.

    It looked as though he would not be in the Chase but his second place finish at Richmond before the Chase let him slide in. Currently he is ranked sixth in points, 54 markers out of the lead.

5. Kasey Kahne

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    Kasey Kahne's debut with Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 5 Chevy was less than impressive with bad finishes that included accidents and even engine problems.

    Kahne found himself deep in the points, but his team led by Kenny Francis proved how stout they were with two wins, 11 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes.

    Currently this driver finds himself fourth in the point standings.

    He is 29 points out of the lead and it will take a win or two for him and a touch of bad luck for the top two contenders to have a shot at the championship. Kahne cannot be counted out for the title though.

4. Denny Hamlin

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    Denny Hamlin thought sure this would be the year he would drive his No. 11 FedEx Toyota to a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

    He has top-tier equipment and his crew chief Darian Grubb had led Tony Stewart to a title in 2011 with five wins during the Chase.

    Hamlin has won five races this season with 13 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. He looked to be a strong contender for the title, but miscues and problems with the car have been costly.

    Hamlin is fifth with a 49 point deficit in the standings. This season will find Hamlin once again denied a title.

3. Clint Bowyer

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    Many thought Clint Bowyer wasn't thinking clearly when he left a ride with Richard Childress Racing to drive the No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing.

    It turned out to be the best move of his career where he has driven to three wins, nine top-five and 21 top-10 finishes under the guidance of his crew chief Brian Pattie.

    Bowyer is 26 points out of the lead in the standings at third place. He is not out of contention for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title, but it will be tricky to blast past the top two in the points.

    Bowyer and his team have proven they are formidable contenders to win most any race. One of his wins came on a road course.

2. Jimmie Johnson

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    Jimmie Johnson knows how to win races with his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet and he knows how to win championships with the five in a row that he garnered.

    Johnson and his team led by Chad Knaus missed the sixth title in 2011, but they look to be roaring back in championship form. Currently the driver leads the point standings with three races to go.

    This Hendrick Motorsports team knows what to do when they are under pressure. They have performed well during the season with four wins, 17 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes for an average finish of 10.1.

    It was difficult to not rank them as the No. 1 team, but because they have experienced the challenges of winning titles repeatedly, they are in the second slot. It almost seems easy for them though we know it is not.

1. Brad Keselowski

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    Brad Keselowski has piloted the Penske Racing Blue Deuce to five wins with 12 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes under the guidance of his crew chief Paul Wolfe.

    Keselowski is a sly, cerebral racer reminiscent of David Pearson's style of racing. His crew chief makes bold calls as does the driver. He is currently second in points, two markers behind Jimmie Johnson.

    This team is in uncharted territory in the battle against a veteran championship team. They are fully capable of winning the 2012 title, but they can't get over-confident and qualifying needs to improve.

    Johnson and company are pros at the title game while the No. 2 team is relatively young. In the final three races we can expect some trash talk, mind games and aggressiveness between the two.

    This team gets the top ranking because they have blended gutsy calls and strong equipment with lucky breaks to rise to the challenge of contending for the 2012 title against one of the best teams in NASCAR history.