8 NASCAR Drivers Under the Most Pressure Heading into the 2012 Season

David DeNennoContributor IIIFebruary 6, 2012

8 NASCAR Drivers Under the Most Pressure Heading into the 2012 Season

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    Pressure combines high expectations, multiplies that by heightening stress levels and adds a dose of natural competitive nature. NASCAR drivers experience this on a daily basis.

    At some point, all drivers feel pressure, whether from sponsors, fans or the media. More often than not, it is a simultaneous onslaught of all three.

    Some drivers, whether fortunately or unfortunately, feel more pressure than do others. Some drivers are under more pressure for past transgressions and/or the expected results of the 2012 season.

    Here are a few drivers that will be subject to the greatest grind and the most constant scrutiny in 2012.

A. J. Allmendinger

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    After filling the vacancy left by Kurt Busch at Penske Racing, 'Dinger will be feeling pressure all season to win and make the Chase as a member of a top-tier organization.

    He has never done either in his NASCAR career, thus dealing with the pressure will probably play a large role in how the season pans out for A.J. Allmendinger.

    It could also determine the length of his stay under the employment of Roger Penske.

Jimmie Johnson

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    After basically coming off of the worst season of his career on the heels of five straight championships, only a fool would believe that Jimmie Johnson will not be under enormous pressure for the duration of 2012. Or will he?

    Of any driver in NASCAR, perhaps any active athlete today, Johnson appears second to none when it comes to handling stress and remaining calm. He even gets chastised for it as a criticism of his overall vanilla personality.

    It doesn't matter. Johnson will be under pressure, too—more so than almost any other driver in NASCAR—until the final race ends in 2012. Most of that pressure will stem from attempting to get back to the mountain top of stock car racing.

    The question is, what portion of that pressure will he actually feel and let affect his performance on the race track?

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Dale Earnhardt Jr. could make this list every year, easily—and 2012 is no different. He still needs a win. That is probably the most poignant pressure-related item on his agenda.

    For Junior to get a win this year would be serious relief off of his own shoulders, as well as those of his crew chief, Steve Letarte's.

    Additionally, as a member of Hendrick Motorsports, he is expected to make the Chase. He made it last year and, if he gets a win early in the season, he will immediately start feeling the pressure to make the Chase.

    This may happen as soon as he exits Victory Lane when he does get that eventual, streak-breaking win.

    But who am I kidding? Even if he wins the Daytona 500 and locks up his Chase spot early, Junior Nation will provide no respite from the pressure cooker that comes along with being the sport's most popular driver for nearly a decade.

Kasey Kahne

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    To the (relative) victor go the spoils, as well as the pressure.

    Rounding out an almost complete sweep by Hendrick Motorsports of 2012 under-pressure drivers, Kasey Kahne has to make the Chase for 2012 to be considered a success.

    As a driver who has never been there, this has to create pressure upon the organization's newest driver.

    It will be a subject that is constantly speculated upon, and the driver himself will most likely be questioned about it infinitely during the course of the 2012 season.

Kurt Busch

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    In a sense, Kurt Busch should feel less stress in 2012.

    Even though he had to take what was the equivalent to a demotion after being released by Penske Racing, Busch is likely to feel pressure once again.

    It will be of a different flavor than in seasons past.

    Now, he must drive well enough and conduct himself in an acceptable manner in order to get back to one of the premier teams in the sport.

    Busch has the talent, but does he have the ability to control himself during the course of an entire season? For Busch, 2012 will be all about managing pressure-packed situations in order to move on from his current ride at Phoenix Racing.

Kyle Busch

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    Much like his brother, Kyle Busch will be challenged in 2012 with controlling himself. His every move will be watched and scrutinized for the duration of the season.

    As it stands, he is currently on a rather slippery banana peel with NASCAR and his sponsors.

    As an added bonus, though Busch is almost a lock to make the Chase, once it commences he will face the pressure of finally getting his first victory in the Chase, if not winning the whole thing.

    For the most part, this is one of the few accomplishments eluding Busch during the course of his already outstanding NASCAR career.

Danica Patrick

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    It is fairly clear that Danica Patrick will never be out of the pressure cooker for very long, for however long she decides to stay in NASCAR.

    Her career will probably be defined by how well she handles the daily pressures of being the most highly touted female professional driver in the history of racing.

Carl Edwards

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    Carl Edwards was the guy who didn't get it quite done in 2011.

    Though most would consider 2011 a phenomenal success for Edwards, he now has to do it all over again in 2012. That is simply to get another shot at winning the title.

    2011 champ Tony Stewart, as a three-time champion, is not under half the pressure as is Edwards to win his first.