NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Who's Where in 2012 (Part 1)

Russell SchmidtContributor IDecember 12, 2011

Jamie McMurray
Jamie McMurrayJared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Racin’ with Russ

Each year at this time, I dive into the many driver, crew, sponsor and paint scheme changes for next year. I’ll also throw in my predictions as to how well the various combos will fare. Either take some notes or save these articles to keep up with the many changes.

Car No. 1: Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurray will return behind the wheel of this Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevrolet ride after a pretty dismal 2011 season. Finishing 27th in points with no win— after winning several times the year before—is certainly not what this group had in mind.

Perhaps changes in upper management, along with crew chief Kevin Manion, will turn things around for what could be a winning combo.

Chase material? Probably not. The paint schemes for sponsors McDonald’s and Bass Pro Shops look pretty similar.

Car No. 2: Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski surprised many people last year with three wins, a berth in the Chase and fifth overall in the standings. His crew chief, Paul Wolfe, can certainly be patted on the back for helping this young Penske pairing achieve one pole, three Top Fives, 14 Top 10s and $5 million in earnings.

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Driver Kasey Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis.
Driver Kasey Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis.Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

Miller is back aboard the Dodge racer and the paint schemes remain similar to 2011. I’d predict more of the same—success for this year. A top three overall is not unattainable.

Car No. 5: Kasey Kahne

After winning one final time for the now defunct Red Bull team, Kasey Kahne moves over to this Chevrolet Hendrick ride vacated by Mark Martin. Kahne will bring his crew chief, Kenny Francis, with him to help meld things together at a faster rate—read "win"!

Sponsors Farmers Insurance, Carquest and perhaps GoDaddy will help pay the bills with fresh paint schemes. My crystal ball says this combo should work well and land at least one win and a berth in the Chase.

Car No. 7: Robby Gordon

Independent owner and driver Robby Gordon will return in a part-time situation with Speed Energy Drinks as his major backer. Several other associate sponsors will be primaries along the way for this also-ran Dodge entrant.

Just getting in the races is an accomplishment. Certainly, top 10 runs at the road-course venues are possible.

Robby Gordon and Marcos Ambrose.
Robby Gordon and Marcos Ambrose.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Car No. 9: Marcos Ambrose

As part of Richard Petty Motorsports, Marcos Ambrose had some impressive performances. That was especially true on the road courses, where he had one win, five Top Fives and a dozen Top-10 runs overall.

Most of the team's ingredients are still in place—including Stanley tools as the major backer. Todd Parrott may be the crew chief; the paint scheme on the Ford has more black in it and is more attractive.

Results? I’d say more of the same: top 20 in points and he may even break through the barrier to earn that first win on an oval.

Car No. 11: Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin has had the tools to win a title for the past two seasons. He blew it last year—read "choke"—and this year...well, this year, while he made the Chase, he was never a threat and barely cleared the Top 10 in points. One win, five Top Fives and 14 Top 10s does not equal a champion.

The Joe Gibbs Toyota driver is at the tail end of his contract. I would predict another lackluster season that end up with the Virginia driver on the unemployed list for 2013. Crew chief Mike Ford was just replaced with Darien Grubb—certainly a move in the direction of success.

Fed Ex is back as check signer with several slightly more attractive paint schemes, but still predominantly black with white numbers.

Results? The kid needs to get his head in the game and Grubb just might be the guy to get him back on track. Chase? Yes. Title? No.

From Rumorville

Don’t be surprised to see unemployed Kurt Busch driving the James Finch No. 51 this year among the cup ranks. It’s probably one of the few decent rides available at this time. I had to laugh when team owner Finch was asked about Kurt’s talent and in-car tirades and what he thought of them. Finch replied, “He’s not first on my list and as long as I’m paying him, he won’t talk like that to me!”

While Kurt Busch is beating the pavement for a job, so is David Ragan, only Ragan is looking in the Penske direction and is the most likely candidate to land a one-year deal….or will it be Scott Speed? What do you think? Drop me a line.

That’s it for this week. Next week, RWR will continue with Part 2 of Who’s Where for 2012 NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, along with racing news from around the globe.

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