Top Storylines of the 2012 NASCAR Season
By Jack Payton
The 2011 NASCAR season reached a thrilling climax in the final laps of the final race, when Tony Stewart edged Carl Edwards for the Sprint Cup Championship by a single point. We certainly don’t know what this year’s Chase for the Cup holds for us, but the first 19 races have provided plenty of storylines to discuss while we await the final seven regular season races and another sure-to-be thrilling postseason. Here are five of the biggest narratives that have unfolded this year:
5. Carl Edwards’ hangover
In 2009, Carl Edwards had a great year, ultimately finishing second to Jimmy Johnson. He was a chic pick to win it all the following year, but instead he slumped and limped into the Chase, before rallying in the final couple races to finish a respectable 4th. Despite that finish, his year was considered a disappointment, as he really didn’t get things going until after he was out of contention.
Edwards was back with a vengeance in 2011, and spent almost the entire year atop the point standings. Unfortunately for “Cuz”, Tony Stewart was on a mission and the 99 car had to settle for another second place finish.
His 2012 season has looked disturbingly like his much-maligned 2010 campaign, thus far, as the pride of the Roush/Fenway Racing Team has struggled to get any momentum through the first dozen and a half races. He boasts only two top five finishes and zero wins, and sits in a precarious position: 11th points in the standings – if the chase started today, he’d be on the outside looking in. To top it off, he just lost his crew chief Bob Osbourne, who stepped down, citing health concerns.
4. Waltrip trio making waves
Martin Truex, Jr. hasn’t won yet, but nine top tens and four top five finishes has the #56 team right in the thick of things heading into the stretch run prior to the Chase, as Truex resides in 8th place. Meanwhile, Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Clint Bowyer sits one spot behind in 9th, and he boasts a win on his 2012 resume, having taken the checkered flag at Sonoma. The third of the MWR trio, the #55 car, has been shared by Mark Martin and Brian Vickers, and they’ve combined for four top fives and five top tens in 16 races.
3. Changes Brewing
Shockwaves were sent throughout the NASCAR world when it was reported that Matt Kenseth is bolting Roush/Fenway Racing after this year, and according to the rumor mill, Joe Gibbs Racing is the favorite to land the former champion. Meanwhile, Penske Racing has announced that they will be switching from Dodge to Ford next season, a curious move considering the success the #2 car, driven by Brad Keselowski has had driving a Dodge the last two years. Finally, it appears that one-time boy wonder Joey Logano also appears headed for a 2013 switch, as Joe Gibbs Racing and major sponsor Home Depot are expected to put someone new in the #20 car next year. Logano, who came into the sport a few years ago with a massive amount of hype, will need to continue his recent hot streak in order to keep his job for next year.
2. A.J. Allmendinger mess
It’s hard to know at this point where this situation is heading, as NASCAR officials have been tight-lipped about any of the details regarding the positive drug test that A.J. Allmendinger allegedly supplied two weeks ago. At this point, we don’t know if the substance detected is a hard drug, such as amphetamines, or something more benign, perhaps a banned supplement or something that causes false positives. If it turns out to be the latter, A.J. and the rest of NASCAR can breathe a sigh of relief; if it turns out to be the former, A.J.’s career is almost certainly over and NASCAR has another black mark to go alongside Jeremy Mayfield’s fiasco a couple years back.
1. Junior in contention, wins a race
Love him or hate him, you’ve got to admit that when Dale Earnhardt, Junior is in contention for individual races and Sprint Cup Championships, it is good for the sport. And this year, the #88 is doing both, having gotten the gigantic monkey that was his winless streak off his back, and has solidified his contender status with 14 top ten finishes. He currently sits in second place in the point standings, and barring a collapse reminiscent of last year, he should be in the mix for a title this year, which again, love him or hate him, is a good thing for NASCAR.
Jack Payton is a car nut in the purest form. He loves to write about everything gear related, having rebuilt his first engine at 15. He works as a publisher for the online tire retailer Tires Easy. In his spare time he enjoys cruising, attending car shows, and agonizing over the outcomes of NASCAR races.