The 5 Best Underdog Stories in NASCAR Today
NASCAR has had a long history of underdogs-make-good tales, drivers who have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Sometimes those drivers are the only ones that believe in themselves and their ability.
And often facing seemingly insurmountable odds, those underdogs achieve the impossible and end a season not as an afterthought, but as the champion.
Among my personal favorite underdog stories are the late Alan Kulwicki's drive to the 1992 Winston Cup championship, the late Benny Parsons' route from Detroit taxi driver to NASCAR champ and even the early years when the late Dale Earnhardt was considered one of the biggest underdogs in the sport.
Most recently, Brad Keselowski became the latest member of the underdog-made-good club by winning the 2012 Sprint Cup championship.
Looking at the crop of drivers that fall into the underdog category in Sprint Cup racing, who may be next in line to have a breakout season in 2013? Here's my top five picks:
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The Enumclaw, Wash., native has been a perennial underdog ever since he first made his Sprint Cup debut in 2004.
In nine seasons, he's made the Chase just three times (2006, 2009 and 2012). But after eight years of up-and-down performance and the long-awaited jump to Hendrick Motorsports, we finally saw Kahne's real true potential and talent this past season when he flew under the radar through most of the Chase and wound up with his career-best season finish (fourth).
Based upon what he did this past season, Kahne is ready to make the permanent jump from being considered a yearly underdog to a perennial championship contender.
The proof will be in how he finishes in 2013. But given the huge uptick in performance he enjoyed this past season, we think the best is still yet to come for Kahne.
Martin Truex Jr.
Given what his teammate, Clint Bowyer, did in 2012, it's only natural to feel Truex may have his own long-awaited breakthrough season in 2013, as well.
Truex has been an anomaly of sorts in his seven-year Sprint Cup career. He's had two Chase appearances (2007 and 2012), but finished a distant 11th both times.
With just one win in 261 career Cup starts, Truex is far overdue for a second win, without question. Even though he finished 11th, Truex enjoyed arguably his best season ever from a performance standpoint in 2012, with seven top-fives and a career-high 19 top-10 showings (plus one pole).
In addition, he finished 29 of the season's 36 races on the lead lap and had an outstanding and identical average start and average finish of 12.1 per race, both single-season career bests, too.
Truex has had somewhat of a knock against him that it's just a matter of time before he breaks out. In our minds, that matter of time is at hand in 2013, when this underdog teams up with Bowyer to potentially bid to become NASCAR's top dog.
We have been waiting for Ambrose to have a breakthrough season for the past couple of years. But because of a combination of bad luck, inconsistency and oftentimes getting caught up in other drivers' wrecks, the Australian native has not been able to achieve some of the high expectations he and many fans have of him.
That being said, Ambrose is kind of like Logano in the sense that 2013 will be the fifth full-time season for both of them in Sprint Cup competition.
And with the defending Cup championship organization, Penske Racing, now moving to Ford, an argument can be made that there may be some carryover of success and good fortune that rubs off on Richard Petty Motorsports, which has been somewhat of the poor stepchild to Ford's heretofore larger organization, Roush Fenway Racing.
Not many people realize that Ambrose had a lengthy racing career in his homeland before seeking fame and fortune in NASCAR.
He's not a young kid by any stretch; in fact, Ambrose will turn 37 in September.
If he is to make a move upward in the standings and be a potential candidate to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, 2013 is the year for this underdog.
Ever since he joined Joe Gibbs Racing as the heir apparent to Tony Stewart, Logano has flown under most people's radar.
In 147 starts over slightly more than four seasons, starting at the precocious age of 18, Logano has accumulated two wins, 16 top-fives, 41 top-10s and five poles.
And across the breadth of his four full-time seasons, Logano has finished 20th, 16th, 24th and 17th from 2009 through 2012, respectively.
Particularly over the past two seasons, Logano has appeared somewhat trapped behind JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
Not anymore. He has left JGR and joins Penske Racing for 2013, teaming with reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski and Sam Hornish Jr.
On paper, the move offers a great deal of promise for Logano. Not only is he out of the shadows of Hamlin and the younger Busch brother, but he also has a teammate who is defending series champ and a team owner who is one of the most legendary figures in motorsports. For as good of a move as it was for Logano to go to JGR, his move to the Penske camp has the potential to turn out much better.
We envision Logano having a significant performance improvement in 2013 and potentially making a run toward making the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in his career.
Some people may think this is a stretch, that choosing Almirola is picking the underdog of underdogs.
But when you look at his statistics in 2012, there is definitely cause for optimism. After pursuing and being passed over for a full-time ride for several years, Almirola replaced A.J. Allmendinger at Richard Petty Motorsports last season and did very well.
Almirola finished 20th in the overall standings with one top-five, four top-10 finishes and his first career pole.
What makes that achievement stand out is Almirola didn't race even once in the Cup series in 2011. But what caught team owner Richard Petty's eye as a replacement for Allmendinger is the fact that Almirola finished an outstanding fourth in the Nationwide Series in 2011 (his only full-time campaign in the NNS).
Call it a gut feeling, but we have high hopes and expectations for Almirola in 2013; we feel he'll be up to the task and he may be able to drop the underdog tag once and for all.