NASCAR's Biggest Breakout Stars for 2012

David DeNennoContributor IIIJanuary 10, 2012

NASCAR's Biggest Breakout Stars for 2012

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    Picking a diamond in the rough always has its rewards and pitfalls.

    Though a good pick can make the chooser seem as though he "knows" what he's talking about, more often than not, it boils down to a science somewhat akin to choosing the right lottery ticket.

    Added to this, the current economic climate has whittled down the field of possible breakout stars to a mere handful.

    I can confidently say that I am only mildly confident that any of the following drivers will truly enter the stratosphere.

    For now, I humbly submit the 2012 "lottery tickets" that may prove to provide a large return come the end of the season.

Kasey Kahne

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    Kasey Kahne has already enjoyed moderate success in the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

    His move to Hendrick Motorsports has the potential to take his career to places that were, in prior seasons, impossible.

    The proverbial bar is set fairly high for Kahne: missing the Chase would, probably by most, be considered a fairly large disappointment.

    Additionally, according to many women, Kahne is pretty easy on the eyes.

    If he starts winning consistently, he could attract an abnormally large segment of the female fan population by season's end.

A. J. Allmendinger

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    A.J. Allmendinger is often regarded as near the top of the list of drivers poised to get their first Sprint Cup win in the near future.

    Being the beneficiary of Kurt Busch's departure from the Penske Dodge organization probably brings the added pressure, like Kahne, of making the Chase to him.

    Allmendinger was pretty close in 2011.

    Who knows? Maybe the change in car and climate will be ground zero for the launching of a fabulous career.

    At the very least, he should notch his first victory this year.

    That alone will not give him "breakout" status, but it will nudge him in that direction.

Paul Menard

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    Call this simply a hunch. Paul Menard got his first taste of NASCAR Sprint Cup victory in 2011.

    2012 could be his "coming out" party.

    I see him possibly being the 2012 version of Brad Keselowski in 2011. No one should be shocked if Menard backs himself into a wild-card spot simply on the basis of wins.

    Consequently, he may replace Brad K in the 2012 Chase. This may be a little harsh, but Keselowski's hot streak in 2011 had the feel of a fluke.

    Though the subject of the slide is "breakout" stars, namely Paul Menard, consider Keselowski as a strong candidate for a "breakdown" 2012.

Austin Dillon

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    2011 Camping World Truck Series champion Austin Dillon has a great opportunity to further his career and distinguish himself in the Nationwide Series in 2012.

    The key to him earning breakout status is to perform well in races where fewer NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars have entered.

    Concentrating heavily on races where Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch are not present will help him get stronger finishes, thus perhaps attracting more willing sponsorship for Cup racing.

Regan Smith

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    Why not? He's somewhat similar to the situation of Paul Menard, though he races for a one-car ensemble known as Furniture Row Racing, based in the unfamiliar-to-NASCAR region of Colorado.

    It really just depends on his on-track success. If Regan Smith can consistently capture in a bottle whatever it was that led him to victory at the Southern 500 in 2011, then he will be a star.

    He already has a great biography; the story is already there.

    He just needs to cross the finish line first and more often to solidify his star power.

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