The 2013 NASCAR season is upon us, with the Daytona 500 being just around the corner on February 24, 2013. With each new season comes the confidence and optimism (from drivers and their fans alike) that a championship is obtainable. However, optimism and confidence does not always translate to ability and results.
According to the oddsmakers at Vegasinsider.com, these drivers are considered to be the top favorites to take home the 2013 Sprint Cup Championship:
Jimmie Johnson (5/1)
Brad Keselowski (8/1)
Denny Hamlin (8/1)
Kyle Busch (8/1)
Kasey Kahne (8/1)
Matt Kenseth (10/1)
Tony Stewart (10/1)
Jeff Gordon (10/1)
Kasey Kahne had a fantastic season in 2012, winning two races and finishing fourth in the standings. His 2012 campaign is reason to be optimistic, but his career numbers are reason to be realistic.
Kasey has never won a championship and has only made the chase twice in the last five years. During that time span, his average finish in the point standings was 12th, while averaging just over one win per season.
Being a part of Hendricks Motorsports is definitely a step in the right direction for Kasey, but considering him a front-runner in 2013 might be a bit too much.
If it weren't for an amazing run down the stretch by Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch would have made the chase in 2012. Like Kahne, Kyle also does not have a Sprint Cup Championship to his credit. Unlike Kasey, Kyle does have a knack for winning races. Over the last five seasons, Kyle has won 20 races (that’s an average of four per season).
Winning races has never been the issue for Busch—his consistency has been. Despite all the wins, Kyle's average finish in the point standings over the past five seasons has been 11th.
Kyle Busch needs to figure out that Ricky Bobby's "If you're not first, you're last" mentality might win races, but it does not win championships.
Denny Hamlin is a curious case. Hamlin is fairly consistent, having made the chase each of the last five seasons, with an average points finish of sixth. Hamlin also wins races, having won 19 races over that same span, just one shy of the above-mentioned Kyle Busch.
The two things that Hamlin lacks are luck and the ability to come up clutch. Denny's inability to pull out wins (that were very much in his reach) in a few chase races in 2010 caused him to finish second that season to Jimmie Johnson. 2009, 2011 and 2012 were marred by early or late-season bad luck that he was never able to fully recover from.
Denny Hamlin might be a few breaks away from a championship, but that remains to be seen.
I know what you're thinking: Dale Jr. isn't on the oddsmakers' list. That’s because the oddsmakers know what they’re talking about. If you have a conversation with a Dale Jr. fan, though, you will get a whole different story.
Earnhardt Jr. is hands down the most popular driver in NASCAR; I will not even attempt to dispute that. However, I do have to wonder why. Dale has missed the chase two of the last five years, and in the three where he made it, he finished last. Dale has won two races in the last five seasons. Two! Just to put that into perspective, it took Tony Stewart five races in 2012 to win two races.
In the world of NASCAR it seems like every year is destined to be Dale's year, if nothing else you can at least say that is consistent.