News & Media

2012 Preview: Says here the Chase will have a familiar look

January 06, 2012, ,

Seven drivers from '11 unanimous choices; firsts for Allmendinger, Ambrose?

As Daytona inches closer on the calendar, the NASCAR.COM writing staff looks ahead to the 2012 season and offers up some predictions. The focus for Thursday is which drivers will make up the 12-member Chase field, and which will be the last driver will be the unlucky 13th after 26 races.

Of the eight-person vote, seven drivers were unanimous selections to return to the Chase: Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. Five drivers who didn't make the Chase in 2011 were predicted to make it this year, led by Kasey Kahne and his move to Hendrick Motorsports, with seven votes.

Two drivers who split the NASCAR.COM staff's collective voice were A.J. Allmendinger and Greg Biffle. Allmendinger, who will be in his first season with Penske Racing, received three votes to make the Chase, but also was the unlucky 13th by two prognosticators. Biffle received two assenting and dissenting votes apiece.

Other notable results: One staff member picked Denny Hamlin to miss the Chase for the first time, and another staffer doesn't have faith that Dale Earnhardt Jr. can improve upon his 2011 season; Kurt Busch got one vote of approval, and besides Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose was the only other driver selected to make his first Chase.

Kyle BuschDale Earnhardt Jr.Kyle BuschKyle Busch
Dale Earnhardt Jr.Carl EdwardsDale Earnhardt Jr.Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Carl EdwardsJeff GordonCarl EdwardsCarl Edwards
Jeff GordonDenny HamlinJeff GordonJeff Gordon
Denny HamlinKevin HarvickDenny HamlinDenny Hamlin
Kevin HarvickJimmie JohnsonKevin HarvickKevin Harvick
Jimmie JohnsonKasey KahneJimmie JohnsonJimmie Johnson
Kasey KahneMatt KensethKasey KahneKasey Kahne
Matt KensethBrad KeselowskiMatt KensethMatt Kenseth
Brad KeselowskiRyan NewmanBrad KeselowskiBrad Keselowski
Tony StewartTony StewartTony StewartTony Stewart

The following results are in alphabetical order, per staff member and driver:


Mark Aumann: Kurt Busch

On the positive side, Busch remains one of the most talented drivers in the series. Team owner James Finch gets his equipment from Hendrick Motorsports -- supplier for the past six Cup champions. Phoenix Racing has shined on restrictor-plate tracks in the past, with its lone victory and all three top-five finishes coming at either Talladega or Daytona. And Busch carries the past champion's provisional, so the team shouldn't be concerned about missing races. But make no mistake, Finch doesn't have pockets deep enough to rival Busch's past two employers, either in the ability to acquire top-of-the-line personnel or technology. And no matter how far Busch may be willing to carry this team on his back, he won't be able to do it alone.

Jarrod Breeze: A.J. Allmendinger

No one outside the top 12 steals a win and a Chase spot in 2012, making the wild card moot. I'm not convinced everyone in the top 12 will have a victory come some 400 (plus, possibly) miles on a steamy (not quite fall night) at Richmond a few days following Labor Day weekend. Allmendinger makes a good transition from Petty to Penske but lets not forget he has only four top-fives and 26 top-10s in 152 career starts.

David Caraviello: Greg Biffle

The Roush Fenway stalwart is still searching for the consistency on-track to keep up with teammates Edwards and Kenseth. Biffle will be better than he was a year ago -- he's too talented to linger in 16th -- and he'll contend for race wins, and he'll almost certainly be in the mix for those Chase at-large berths as we get close to the regular-season cutoff. But as Biffle's results from the end of 2011 show, rebuilding this No. 16 program remains a work in progress. There's still one more step to take before making the leap back to championship-contender, which at the present seems about a year away.

Jill Erwin: Greg Biffle

When the team switched crew chiefs at the midpoint of the 2011 season, Biffle said it was obvious the team wasn't going to make the Chase at the pace it was going at the time. He had five top-10s in the first half the season; he had five in the second half with Matt Puccia. Biffle was 14th in points when Greg Erwin was replaced; he finished 16th under Puccia. So until Biffle, and his whole team, figure out what's really wrong, I don't see him returning to the Chase. Biffle has had at least 20 top-10s only once, in 2005. Since that season, his teammates Kenseth (four) and Edwards (three) have put him to shame in that department. And Kenseth has had plenty of turnover at crew chief, too, so it's not that. Biffle needs to find some consistency and more speed for his car before he starts planning a speech for Las Vegas.

Kyle BuschGreg BiffleKyle BuschKurt Busch
Dale Earnhardt Jr.Kyle BuschDale Earnhardt Jr.Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Carl EdwardsCarl EdwardsCarl EdwardsCarl Edwards
Jeff GordonJeff GordonJeff GordonJeff Gordon
Denny HamlinDenny HamlinKevin HarvickDenny Hamlin
Kevin HarvickKevin HarvickJimmie JohnsonKevin Harvick
Jimmie JohnsonJimmie JohnsonKasey KahneJimmie Johnson
Kasey KahneKasey KahneMatt KensethMatt Kenseth
Matt KensethMatt KensethBrad KeselowskiBrad Keselowski
Ryan NewmanBrad KeselowskiRyan NewmanRyan Newman
Tony StewartTony StewartTony StewartTony Stewart

The following results are in alphabetical order, per staff member and driver:


Bill Kimm: A.J. Allmendinger

I know plenty of people think Allmendinger's move from Richard Petty Motorsports to Penske Racing will catapult him into the Chase, but I just don't see it. Allmendinger is talented, but he won't crack the top 12 ... not even close. The No. 22 was successful because of Kurt Busch and Steve Addington -- Allmendinger and new crew chief Todd Gordon are nowhere near those two. Allmendinger will have a strong season, maybe even score his first victory, but will finish outside of the Chase.

Joe Menzer: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Even though he continues to be the sport's most popular driver, and he finished a respectable seventh in the points last year after making the Chase for the first time in three years, the facts are the facts. He's still won only one race since joining Hendrick Motorsports prior to the 2008 season, and no 2011 Chaser had fewer top-fives or top-10s on the year. Regardless of his supposed new-found chemistry with Steve Letarte, his latest crew chief, he faces an uphill battle to make the Chase again in 2012.

Dave Rodman: Denny Hamlin

Hamlin just has too many uncertainties to overcome in 2012 to bounce back, for sure, from the worst statistical performance of his career. The most likely way that Hamlin would qualify would be as a wild card, but he first has to prove that he can consistently be competitive with new crew chief Darian Grubb.

Chris Stanfield: Clint Bowyer

Compilation: Chase predictions

Ky. Busch********8
Ku. Busch*1
Dale Jr.*******7

After Clint Bowyer finished just outside of the Chase in 2011, and with his move to Michael Waltrip Racing, both driver and his new team will have at least one thing in common: inconsistency. Aside from a strong run in 2007, Bowyer's inability to rack up wins and top-fives puts him at a disadvantage during a time when competition under the Chase format is increasing. Can MWR give him the tools to compete for a title? That remains to be seen, but Bowyer needs to first chase Victory Lane before he can chase a title.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writers.