2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Predictions

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HICKORY, N.C. —  The 2011 Sprint Cup Season must have been viewed as just about perfect in the eyes of Brian France, Mike Helton, and the rest of the NASCAR power hierarchy.  It was a season of ups.

Attendance was up at most of the circuit’s tracks.  TV ratings were consistently up among the plethora of NASCAR broadcasting partners.  Controversy (and the ensuing drama) was certainly up.  The on-track action was competitive and the series received its dream finish.

When setting out to forecast goals for the 2011 season it is difficult to imagine that NASCAR could have set their collective sights more ambitiously than the ensuing reality of the year that would follow.

If you had told those occupying top-floor office suites across from Daytona International Speedway that their 2011 champion would end up being determined by a tie-breaker, because 10 races in the chase were just not enough, I think many of them would have uttered a quick where do I sign.

They would have signed up for last seasons results without even so much as wondering what all would ensue along the way in order to get to that showdown Sunday in Homestead.  The “all that would ensue” would serve simply as icing on the cake.  All of that is not to say that the 2011 season was flawless, because it was not and no season ever will be. Still, 2011 certainly went a very long way in giving all of us hope for tomorrow, hope for the future of the sport.

Now comes the hard part, continuing to build on that momentum and continuing to make marked strides in 2012.  Those first strides must be taken today.  When the green flag drops on the 55th running of NASCAR’s biggest race in just a few short hours the race will be on in, in more ways than one.  What does this season have in store?

Can “Smoke”, aka Tony Stewart, repeat as champion and etch his name even higher in the annals of all-time greats?

Will “Cousin Carl”, aka Carl Edwards, find a way to secure his first championship at NASCAR’s highest level, and in the process exercise the demons of  a virtual tie-break runner-up 2011 finish that must undoubtedly haunt him?

Or will “Five-time”, aka Jimmie Johnson, find a way back to the top rung of the series ladder and in the process reclaim that prime P1 hauler parking spot that his Hendrick Motorsports team had owned for half a decade?

Subplots are substantial.  What will the racing be like on the restrictor plate tracks now that NASCAR invoked changes appear to have assisted in eliminating tandem racing and restoring the pack racing that had become synonymous with Daytona and Talladega in the earlier part of the century ?  That question will begin to be answered quickly, today in fact.

Other subplots such as those surrounding Kurt Busch (and Kurt Busch’s new found temper control) and his move to Phoenix Racing, Danica Patrick’s 10-race “Welcome to the Big Show” introduction tour with Stewart-Haas Racing, Kasey Kahne’s finally arriving at Hendrick Motorsports and the seat of the some-would-say jinxed #5 car, Roush Fenway Racing’s power consolidation via reduction of its stable from four full-time cars to three, and the true impact of NASCAR’s introduction of Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) as a replacement for traditional carburetion will all take more time to glean measurable results.

2012 has much promise.  That promise must start to be realized today, on the biggest stage in NASCAR racing.  Today will set the tone for what we witness over the next 36 races and where things will stand as we arrive in South Florida in November with hopefully, for the sake of NASCAR, a championship once again on the line.  So just who will emerge as the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion?

Below is my forecast for the Top-12, from 12th to champion.  Just remember, I called it.

12.)  Ryan Newman  (Hometown: South Bend, Indiana)

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11.)  Greg Biffle  (Hometown: Vancouver, Washington)

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10.)  Matt Kenseth  (Hometown: Cambridge, Wisconsin)

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9.)  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  (Hometown: Kannapolis, North Carolina)

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8.)  Kyle Busch  (Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada)

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7.)  Denny Hamlin  (Hometown: Chesterfield, Virginia)

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6.)  Brad Keselowski  (Hometown: Rochester Hills, Michigan)

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5.)  Jeff Gordon  (Hometown: Vallejo, California)

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4.)  Kevin Harvick  (Hometown: Bakersfield, California)

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3.)  Tony Stewart  (Hometown: Columbus, Indiana)

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2.)  Jimmie Johnson  (Hometown: El Cajon, California)

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…and winning the Sprint Cup Series Championship that so barely alluded him last season…

1.)  Carl Edwards  (Hometown: Columbia, Missouri)

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