NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Best Driver/Crew Combos in NASCAR

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2012

NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Best Driver/Crew Combos in NASCAR

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    Drivers in NASCAR's top series receive all the adulation for wins and top finishes, but without the carefully choreographed dance of the pit crew being executed with precision, there is no glory. 

    There must be chemistry between the driver and crew chief, but also a solid working relationship with members of the crews who service that car on pit road.

    Pit crews are no longer a team of people that work on cars during the week at the shops, and assemble to jump over the pit road wall on raceday.

    The pit crews of today are highly trained athletes, some of which have come from professional sports, who spend many hours each week under the guidance of their coaches.

    In addition to their athleticism, they must be skilled in not only the routine pit stop duties of fueling, jacking the car and tire changing, but able to repair many of the things that can go awry during a race.

    Pit crew members must be trained to execute their specific duties at optimal speed during the 13 seconds or so a car is on pit road. They spend long hours rehearsing those tasks.

    This slideshow will highlight the top pit crews in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. They are listed based on overall performance in 2012 with an outlook for the upcoming season.

10. Kyle Busch's No. 18 Team

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    Kyle Busch, driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, pulled back from racing in the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series to concentrate on Sprint Cup racing.

    Busch is a racer, so not racing as much may have contributed to him only winning one Cup race with 13 top-five finishes and 20 top-10 finishes in 2012. He failed to make the Chase and finished 13th in the standings.

    His team led by crew chief Dave Rogers is more than capable of getting their driver to the lead in any given race.

    During many races, it appeared Busch would win with him leading the most laps, but it was not to be. Bad luck, problems with the car and poor restarts were more to blame than any failure by his team.

    Look for Busch to be on his game next season with some of the fumbles that affected all three JGR teams remedied.

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Team

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    The No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team of Dale Earnhardt Jr. led by crew chief Steve Letarte looked to be headed for possible series title contention.

    Earnhardt had the most top-10 finishes for a good part of the preseason. He won at Michigan and ended the season with 10 top-five finishes, 20 top-10 finishes and an average finish of 10.9.

    The team was not as strong heading into the Chase, and Earnhardt sat out two races because of the concussions he suffered in a Kansas testing incident and wreck at Talladega.

    This team remains weak on qualifying, but they have had fast cars. The driver is as happy as he as ever been during his racing career.

    The No.88 team is a cohesive group with a cheerleader in Letarte. Look for Earnhardt and his team to perform better in 2013, especially with the new G6 car that should be more to the driver's liking.

8. Kasey Kahne's No. 5 Team

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    Kasey Kahne finally made it to Hendrick Motorsports for the 2012 season along with his crew chief Kenny Francis. The expectations were high for the No. 5 Farmers Insurance team.

    The season didn't start out as well as expected with Kahne falling deep into the points standings as far back as the 30s. Under the guidance of Francis, the team rallied with two wins, 12 top-five finishes and 19 top-10 finishes.

    Francis has brought a great deal of experience and knowledge to Hendrick Motorsports. Much of what happened to drag him down in the standings related to just plain bad luck. 

    Kahne did finish fourth in the final point standings. He and Francis should be able to build on the momentum they gained as the 2012 season played out.

    This is a driver who communicates well with his team, and knows what he needs out of a race car. You can count on the driver of the No. 5 to be fast.

    Kahne is the youngest of the drivers in the Hendrick Motorsports stable, and he could easily become their hottest performer within the next couple seasons.

7. Greg Biffle's No. 16 Team

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    Greg Biffle struggled with his No. 16 team out of Roush Fenway Racing in 2011. The chemistry with then crew chief Greg Irwin was no longer working and Matt Puccia was brought in to replace him.

    Biffle and Puccia have great chemistry and they have turned the team around this season. The driver of the 3M Ford dominated the point standings for much of the preseason.

    Biffle won two races, finished in the top-five 12 times with 21 top-10 finishes and an average finish of 10.2. He ended the season fifth in the standings.

    The No. 16 team should have strong performance in 2013 and Biffle should make the Chase, but with the competition level as high as it is, he probably won't be a serious title contender.

6. Martin Truex Jr.'s No. 56 Team

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    Michael Waltrip Racing stepped up their operation in 2012 to a top-tier level with both full-time drivers Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer in the Chase.

    Truex did not win any races, but he did have seven top-five finishes and 19 top-10 finishes. His team was fast and consistent during pit stops. The driver could rely on them not to have costly miscues.

    At the post-season NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Award Luncheon in Las Vegas, the NAPA team led by crew chief Chad Johnston was awarded the Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew Award for 2012.

    This award is especially meaningful because it is voted on by crew chiefs within the Cup series.

    Look for Truex and his team to find Victory Lane in 2013 with a high likelihood that he will make the Chase.

5. Matt Kenseth's No. 17 Team

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    Matt Kenseth may have been a lame duck driver at Roush Fenway Racing after announcing he was leaving the organization back in June, but that didn't stop him from winning races and making the Chase.

    Under the guidance of crew chief Jimmy Fennig, Kenseth won the season opener at Daytona and two races in the Chase. He had 13 top-five finishes and 19 top-10 finishes that left him seventh in points.

    The team will be split up in 2013 with Kenseth heading to Joe Gibbs Racing as the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota.

    Kenseth should be a formidable contender with his crew chief Jason Ratcliff at JGR in 2013.

    Fennig will move to the No. 99 team with driver Carl Edwards. The No. 17 car will be driven by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. next season, and he will likely be the Rookie of the Year.

    Edwards struggled in 2012 with a winless season. Fennig should provide some rejuvenation for the team with his wealth of knowledge and old-school style of leading a team.

    Edwards should make it to Victory Lane in the 2013 season.

4. Clint Bowyer's No. 15 Team

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    Clint Bowyer took a leap of faith with his decision to move to Michael Waltrip Racing from Richard Childress Racing for the 2012 season. It turned out to be the best move of his career.

    Bowyer won three races with 10 top-five finishes and 23 top-10 finishes for an average finish of 10.9. The driver of the No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota finished second in points and contended for the championship.

    Bowyer and his crew chief Brian Pattie have great chemistry. They ran consistently strong most of the season with an engine failure and a couple accidents that gave them bad finishes.

    One accident was a true game-changer for this driver when he and Jeff Gordon tested each other, and Gordon wrecked him at the next to the last race.

    Look for Bowyer to come back strong in 2013 with the usual runner-up syndrome probably not an issue for this easy-going driver. Pattie should have his driver in the Chase once again.

3. Denny Hamlin's No. 11 Team

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    Denny Hamlin surely thought the 2012 season would bring him his first championship under the guidance of Darian Grubb, who led Tony Stewart to five wins in the 2011 Chase and a series title.

    Hamlin did win five races with 14 top-five finishes and 17 top-10 finishes. He ended the season sixth in the point standings.

    Though Hamlin had fast cars that gave him good finishes, he had problems with his cars, a couple accidents and some pit miscues.

    Hamlin and Grubb seemed to be working out their relationship this season even though both have great faith in each other.

    Matt Kenseth is moving to Joe Gibbs Racing next season where he will play a role in leadership among the Cup teams. His experience should benefit Hamlin, so look for him to be in the 2013 Chase.

2. Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Team

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    Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was aiming for his sixth title this season, but it started off with him being caught up in a crash during the Daytona 500.

    Accidents and mechanical problems made for some bad finishes for the No. 48 Lowe's team led by crew chief Chad Knaus.

    Johnson and Knaus still have a strong bond and they thrive under pressure. Despite some adversity, Johnson won five races with 18 top-five finishes and 24 top-10 finishes.

    Johnson ended the season third in points, one point behind second place driver Clint Bowyer. A problem with the rear gear at Homestead took him out of runner-up position and perhaps even the championship.

    There is little doubt that Johnson doesn't expect several more titles before he steps away from his duties as a driver. The new G6 car should favor Johnson's driving style though his titles came with the COT.

    It would be a bit naive to think this Hendrick Motorsports team won't be in the fight for the 2013 series title just as he was against Brad Keselowski this year.

1. Brad Keselowski's No. 2 Team

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    Brad Keselowski drove his Penske Racing "Blue Deuce" Dodge to the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship in a fierce battle against five-time champ Jimmie Johnson.

    Both Johnson and Keselowski had five wins each, but Lady Luck was absolutely riding with the driver of the No. 2 when he slid threw racetrack carnage, and failed to have typical blown engines or tires.

    The calls made by he and his crew chief Paul Wolfe were gutsy at times, and it may well have contributed to some top-10 finishes because of his ability to gain position.

    Keselowski is a talented driver who almost wills himself to accomplish his goals. He had 13 top-five finishes, 23 top-10 finishes and an average finish of 10.1.

    This is a young team at Penske and the future looks bright. If they adapt well to the switch to Ford and new generation of race car, they could be dangerous contenders for wins in 2013.

    Things will be different next year at Penske with the Ford alignment and Joey Logano taking over as driver of the No. 22.

    Next year may be more challenging for this team, but their cohesive attitude and obvious talent will propel them to Victory Lane, but likely not another series title.