What are the ingredients of a deserving Sprint Cup driver? The ability to win, the tenacity to finish and the decency to support the sponsors are probably on the short list.
Beyond that, the driver must show promise. In other words, he must convince others that he/she is the best investment that the team and sponsors can make.
These 10 drivers have shown that they either are untrustworthy or unable to achieve a desirable result at the Sprint Cup level.
David Reutimann, former driver of the No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine for Michael Waltrip Racing, is currently without a ride in 2012.
Though it may not be completely fair, he was replaced by the organization at the eleventh hour with Mark Martin.
Apparently, the deal came through so quickly and unexpectedly that Reutimann was blindsided and unable to actively seek sponsorship for 2012.
Reutimann has not been bad at MWR, but he has not been great. No one likes to see a decent person left out in the cold, but the circumstances of the availability of a legend like Mark Martin were clearly too good for Micahel Waltrip to avoid.
2012 is uncertain for Reutimann: currently he has nothing lined up, officially, in any NASCAR circuit.
Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota in 2011, is now without a race team. His teammate, Kasey Kahne, was fortunate to have a 2012 deal locked up with Hendrick Mototrsports
Vickers, on the other hand, did not help his case in 2011. He raced a full season and only accomplished three top-five finishes and seven top-10s.
Additionally, he was part of many wrecks, both intentional and unintentional, that surely would not inspire a sponsor to back him in 2012.
He may very well be relegated to the Nationwide Series in 2012.
Landon Cassill made 32 starts in the Sprint Cup in 2011. This landed him in a paltry 55th place overall for 2011.
In terms of points, he finished behind several drivers that made less than 10 starts. Among them are Steve Park, Geoffrey Bodine and Boris Said.
He averaged about 29th place for the season.
Cassill seems like a driver that would benefit from a remedial year in the Nationwide Series.
Although Elliot Sadler has participated in the Sprint Cup Series in years past, he was demoted to the Nationwide Series for 2011.
No doubt, he had a great year and finished in second place overall. He even emerged as the the circuit's most popular driver.
The only problem? He never won a race. It is difficult to imagine that he would have much success were he to return to Cup racing.
One more year in the Nationwide Series would logically be more beneficial.
It is not all his fault. Roush Fenway is scaling back from a four-car ensemble down to three. Among Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, Ragan is the easy choice to drop.
Perhaps things would not be so bleak for Ragan had he not been black flagged on the last restart of the Daytona 500 and handed it to Trevor Bayne.
That way, at least some sponsor/team could make a stronger case for keeping him in the Sprint Cup in 2012.
Danica Patrick will not be a Sprint Cup Series regular in 2012 for good reason: she will race full-time in the Nationwide Series.
Still, there seems a small contingent that would prefer that she go straight to the Sprint Cup to boost ratings and fan appeal.
She will more than likely get to the Sprint Cup as a regular driver one day, but she does not deserve to do so in 2012.
Mark Martin looked and drove his age in 2011. He was lucky that Michael Waltrip signed him in favor of David Reutimann.
It does not appear that Martin will return to his 2009 form that saw him finish second overall in points. Rather, he will be racing less with a team that is less well-equipped than Hendrick Motorsports.
At some point, enough is enough.
Like Mark Martin, Jeff Burton is not getting any younger and had a relatively poor 2011.
Had Richard Childress Racing been able to work out a deal with Clint Bowyer, he may have found himself the odd man out in the equation.
Certainly, he improved towards the end of the season, especially during the Chase races. Still, he ended up in 20th place.
He will drive again for Richard Childress in 2012; it is just not completely convincing that he deserves to after his performances over the past three years.
Traditionally, winning the Nationwide/Busch Series was a stepping-stone into Cup racing. This year, it was a bit different because drivers could only earn points in one series.
In other words, while Stenhouse was crowned the champion, he still did it on the strength of only two victories. If he could repeat this or something close in 2012, then an argument could be made for him to make the jump to the Cup in 2013.
One more full year in the Nationwide Series would probably be more beneficial to him. Remember, he had a fairly weak 2010 season, thus he needs another full season to prove who he really is.
In terms of talent, Kyle Busch is one of the most deserving drivers of a Sprint Cup ride.
Morally and ethically, the debate enters into a much more gray area. Currently, he is one mistake away from possibly ejecting himself from his No. 18 Toyota.
After getting parked in 2011 for intentionally wrecking another driver, Busch appears to have little room for any more NASCAR infractions. This was the latest episode of a long saga of both on and off-track incidents going back a few years.
He will drive in 2012, but he might not completely deserve it.