What Lincoln is Thinkin' - NASCAR Preview

Was last year's Chase the most exciting ever?  Tony Stewart beating Carl Edwards by winning at Homestead, and only earning the title because of the tiebreaker of more wins because the both drivers had the same exact number of points? Yeah, I don't think you can argue, NASCAR had an incredible season last year.  Is that a harbinger of more excitement to come, or was just it an anomaly?  Will I ever stop asking questions?

I guess that's what's great about the start of the season - all there is questions.  So here are some that I'm excited to see answered in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Plus, what I think the answers will be.

How will the crew chief change help Denny Hamlin? Whatever may have been Hamlin's issues in 2011, I really don't think Mike Ford was to blame. But JGR decided to shake things up, and Hamlin got the best free agent crew chief out there - the reigning Cup winner, Darian Grubb. One thing about Hamlin's personality, is that I think he lets pressure get to him.  He's sometimes wound a bit too tightly.  Maybe Ford felt that pressure as well, and he wasn't the right fit. Grubb just led a driver who was the last guy to qualify for the Chase, win the championship.  He knows that little issues during the season can be overcome.

ANSWER:  Hamlin will make the Chase and win more races in 2012.  This is not his year to win a championship, but the change to Grubb will make him more competitive.

Will Hendrick Motorsports rebound to rule NASCAR once again? Somewhat lost in Tony Stewart's incredible championship last year, was that Jimmie Johnson didn't win, and the most incredible title-winning stretch in the history of the sport came to an end.  With Jeff Gordon hungrier than ever to get a title again, Dale Earnhardt Jr. making strides in the right direction in '11, and Kasey Kahne added to the stable, Hendrick is as strong as it's ever been.  On paper.

ANSWER: For a long stretch, Hendrick had been the dominant team in the sport, but last year the other teams seemed to catch up to HMS, and with the addition of Stewart-Haas, there are just too many good drivers out there.  Certainly they have four guys who could all win a title.  But I'm guessing that one of them won't make the Chase, likely Kahne.

Will Danica Patrick find success in Nationwide and in her handful of Cup races? There have been other women to race in Nationwide and in Sprint Cup, but none of them are coming with the same type of support staff, pedigree and scrutiny. She will run 10 races in Sprint Cup, and a full season at Nationwide.

ANSWER: I think Danica is going to do very well in Nationwide.  In fact, I think she's going to win a race this year. She's not just "some girl trying to compete with the big boys", even when she was juggling open wheel racing and stock car racing, she had a few good finishes.  I bet she'll struggle in her Cup races, but she will find her way into victory lane this season in Nationwide.

What's next for the Busch Brothers? Just when you thought the bad days for Kurt and Kyle were behind them, they combined to have one of the worst years of their careers.  Kurt was booted from his ride at Penske despite being the team's most important driver.  Kyle was infamously pulled over for going 85 miles over the speed limit, and then was suspended for a Cup race after wrecking a competitor in a truck race.  In 2012, Kurt is now the main driver for little fish Phoenix Racing. Kyle must be on his last of 9 lives with Joe Gibbs Racing.

ANSWER: Kurt will have a quiet year.  He'll play nice, won't make many bad headlines, but won't make many good either.  He will fail to make the Chase for Phoenix Racing. I believe that Kyle Busch is the most talented driver who hasn't won a Cup title. But I think he needs one good season with his head on straight before he'll win a title.  He'll make the Chase, win his share of races, and will finish in the top 4 when it's all said and done.

Who should be the favorite to win the Cup this year? Tony Stewart is your reigning champ.  Jimmie Johnson has won 5 of the last 6.  Jeff Gordon has won 4, and seems extremely hungry for another.

ANSWER: Carl Edwards. The man came one point away from winning it last year. Roush Fenway has streamlined their operation by cutting a team, and they know that Carl is their best chance of getting the Cat in the Hat another Cup.

So does Carl Edwards take the title?


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