NASCAR's season is grueling. It's long for fans, and we're just watching it on TV. Then you've got race teams, who, for 36 weeks a year, are traveling to a track to bang and bump against 42 other drivers. It's taxing, mentally and physically, and unless you're some freak like Jimmie Johnson, things aren't always going to go your way.
Take the drivers on this list. 2012 was not their year. They missed the Chase by a sliver, or they completely whiffed on it altogether. Or, in the case of Danica Patrick, her credentials to be at the Sprint Cup level were brought into question.
To use the old cliche, what a difference a year makes. Just ask Carl Edwards, whose post-victory flip earlier this season embodies what this piece is about: drivers who've turned it around in 2013.
While victories have never been a forte of Patrick's (she had one win in Indy Car racing), running well is enough for her to make news. Leading laps at the Indy 500 is what helped make her a star, and qualifying on the pole at Daytona this season helped bolster her reputation as well.
2013 is all about learning for Patrick, and along the way, she's done just that. After two bad races in a row to follow up her performance at Daytona, she's not finished below 30th place. So far, the highlight is a 12th-place finish at Martinsville, which is no easy task.
Does Patrick have a long way to go? Of course. But after a 2012 where a lot of people were questioning if she was worthy of a Sprint Cup ride, so far, she's proving that she is. Right now, she's 26th in the standings, which is only four spots worse than her boss, Tony Stewart.
With a finish of 12th in the standings, 2012 wasn't a terrible year for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
First off, he finally found Victory Lane after a prolonged period away from winning that was making fans of the sport's most popular driver restless for years.
But, for a driver with Hendrick Motorsports resources, he could be doing better. And so far in 2013, Junior has. Though he dropped down three spots in the standings after a rough (29th place) finish at Saturday's NRA 500, No. 88 is still ranked sixth thanks to five top-10 finishes this season.
And with a large chunk of the season left, Victory Lane could be calling his name once again.
After just missing the Chase in 2012, Busch is well on his way to making sure that doesn't happen again in 2013. Saturday's race is a good example of why. The mercurial 27-year-old started on the pole of the NRA 500 and brought home the victory as well—his second of the season.
To go with those two victories, Busch has five top-10s. Even if his production were to completely drop off the map (not likely), those wins definitely would help out in the wild card department. But considering he's third in the standings right now, it's a good bet he'll be just fine.
Carl Edwards' season took a turn for the better in just the second week. Ever the company man who never misses a chance to plug his sponsors, Edwards obliterated his winless streak at Phoenix at the Subway Fresh Fit 500 while driving a Subway-liveried Ford Fusion.
For a guy like Edwards, that's huge. Not only because he's a walking commercial when he does his Victory Lane flip, but because it represented that Roush's golden boy was back in contention. While a second victory hasn't happened yet, Edwards is fifth in the standings and i the best performing driver at Roush.
Not bad at all.
What do Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman all have in common?
Each of them is behind Paul Menard in the standings. Which, for those of us (me included) who have questioned if he's even worthy of driving a Sprint Cup car in the past, symbolized a huge helping of crow.
Menard, whose family owns the home improvement company that sponsors him, thus helping him land a ride at RCR, has been the target of fans and other drivers. Many have cried foul about nepotism and the lot, but many have missed in the process that he's actually a very proficient driver.
Take this year, for example. He's 10th in the standings (six spots up from his final finishing spot in 2012) and has a trio of top-10s to show for it. If the season ended today, he'd be in the Chase.