NASCAR Sprint Cup: The 10 Most Likely Comeback Drivers of 2012
2011 was a disappointment for many. In reality, it will be a disappointment for everyone who does not win the championship, but that goes without saying.
Unfortunately, some drivers' seasons did not come close to expectations of the individual drivers, the team and, probably most important, the sponsors.
Here are 10 drivers that failed to meet expectations in 2011 but seem poised to have a better 2012.
10. Marcos Ambrose
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It is, in a sense, difficult to say that Marcos Ambrose had a disappointing season. After all, he finally gained his first win at Watkins Glen. It was certainly not a total disappointment.
What is most disappointing is to see him run so well, relatively, in the Chase. If he could have translated his three top 10 finishes and an 11th place after eight races in the Chase into that as a regular season average, he very well could have challenged for one of the Wild Card Chase positions. He has a great foundation on which to build for next year.
The "Tasmanian Devil" really seems to have gained a grasp on the oval tracks, which had been severely lacking in prior seasons.
9. Joey Logano
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I am not certain as to anyone's most optimistic expectations for Joey Logano in 2011. He may have exceeded some, but the results were somewhat meager.
He did grab two poles and four top 5 finishes. This is encouraging. Unfortunately, I have a sinking feeling that Joe Gibbs Racing was hoping for much more. He has finished 20th or worse in 18 races this year.
It can only get better for him, otherwise he may need to withdraw the "Sliced Bread" nickname.
8. Jamie McMurray
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The frustration of Jamie McMurray's season was epitomized at Martinsville during the Chase. Spun out by Brian Vickers in the middle of turns three and four, McMurray lost his car battery from the collision but still raced around the track to find Vickers for retribution.
He ended up missing Vickers' No. 83 Red Bull Toyota and damaging his car further. That has been a microcosm of McMurray's season.
After three wins in 2010, including the Daytona 500, McMurray has mustered no better than a fourth place finish in 2011.
It could be worse for McMurray, but not much.
7. Mark Martin
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Mark Martin did not finish out his final year at Hendrick Motorsports in style. He was the only member of the team to not make the Chase. Two top five finishes are minuscule enough to qualify as a disappointment.
With a fresh start in 2012 at Michael Waltrip Racing, hopefully things will turn around for Martin. A new change of scenario may be just what he needs to get back to to his 2009 form. It should get better, if but a little.
6. Jeff Burton
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Jeff Burton had a hideous year. It is plainly difficult to say that he will not rebound, in some form, in 2012.
This year has to be an anomaly. He still has poise. He almost won the Chase race at Talladega, but was edged out when his partner, Cliff Bowyer, deemed it safe to remove himself from tandem drafting and pass for the win.
If Jeff Burton still has a pulse in 2012 he will almost definitely improve upon his 2011 campaign.
5. Greg Biffle
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Greg Biffle is just ahead of Jeff Burton because he has been able to grab three poles in 2011. Disappointingly for Roush Fenway Racing, he has been unable to convert any of these into a win and only has three top five finishes.
After two wins in 2010 and his pole results in 2011, "The Biff" appears ready to meet the challenges of the 2012 season. He cannot be held off forever.
4. Clint Bowyer
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Clint Bowyer's season was nothing but a disappointment until the Talladega Chase race. After making the Chase in 2010, Bowyer failed to deliver a repeat performance with the same equipment. He finished in 13th place.
With a new team and new attitude for 2012, Clint Bowyer can, at the least, assert himself into another Chase birth. Anything less would be a disappointment, even if he is now with Michael Waltrip Racing.
3. Jimmie Johnson
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It is difficult to deny that anything less than a sixth straight championship would be less than desirable for the No. 48 My Lowe's Chevrolet team. Apparently, it was just not in the cards this year.
By most standards, JJ's season would be considered an unmitigated success: two wins, a Chase birth and a possibility to finish in the top 5 overall.
Not so for Jimmie Johnson. Perhaps this was good for him; a dose of humility can do wonders for future performance. Do not count him out in 2012.
2. Denny Hamlin
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After almost unmitigated success in 2010, Denny Hamlin succumbed in the final race at Homestead Miami to Jimmie Johnson.
That traumatizing disappointment seems to have hindered his efforts in 2011. With the expectations of a follow-up gone, Hamlin is now, literally, in the driver's seat to rebound in 2012.
He wasn't bad in 2011; it just appeared as though he never recovered from 2010. One full season removed from his disappointment, do not be surprised if Hamlin resurfaces in 2012 to claim "all we do is win."
1. Kasey Kahne
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Kasey Kahne did not make the Chase. Despite this, he has run quite solid during the Chase. In eight races, he has four top five finishes and one sixth place. He has performed exponentially better in the Chase vice the regular season.
By replacing Mark Martin in Hendrick Motorsports' fourth car, he will almost assuredly have a better season than with his current, soon-to-be-defunct, Red Bull team.
Kasey Kahne, as it stands right now, is the most likely winless 2011 driver to get back to Victory Lane in 2012.