Race Weekend Central

Who Will Win the Cup? 2012 Frontstretch Staff Predictions

After last season’s thrilling Chase, with the championship ending in a tie NASCAR enters 2012 with high expectations. It also has itself the most wide-open title race in years, as you can see by our staff predictions below. Who will emerge above the fray in year two, post Five-Time Dominance? Jump in the crystal ball along with us as your favorite writers reintroduce themselves and offer their expert view at how the next nine months will play out.

Note: Did you miss any of our 2012 season preview columns? Check them out below before predictions start becoming reality once the green flag flies at Daytona.

Part I: Head Wrench Musical Chairs & Miracles
Part II: Is It the Economy, Stupid?
Part III: What Next for the Busch Brothers?
Part IV: Danica Hype Versus Reality
Part V: Whacking Those Cup Drivers Away

Tom Bowles, Owner/Editor-In-Chief
Columns: Bowles-Eye View (Mondays), Did You Notice? (Wednesdays)
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionJimmie Johnson
2nd PlaceKyle Busch
3rd PlaceBrad Keselowski
4th PlaceCarl Edwards
5th PlaceMatt Kenseth
6th PlaceTony Stewart
7th PlaceKasey Kahne
8th PlaceKevin Harvick (Wildcard entry)
9th PlaceMartin Truex Jr.
10th PlaceJeff Gordon
11th PlaceAJ Allmendinger (Wildcard entry)
12th PlaceGreg Biffle
Rookie of the YearTimmy Hill. Do I have any other choice? I would say Danica Patrick, but she’s not entered and for good reason. After running 10 races this season, you know the 2013 rookie rules will be magically changed so she can move up and still compete for the award full time.
First Driver FiredJoey Logano. I’m regretting this pick a little bit after seeing him drive during Speedweeks with confidence. But a slow start for the No. 20 will be the final straw for a Sliced Bread sensation whose small list of Cup accomplishments have gotten stale.
Why I Picked This WayI know, I know. Johnson is the easy way out. But after his five-year streak came crashing to a halt at a time when this team had begun to think seven straight was a possibility leaves them entering 2012 thinking revenge. Just ask yourself this simple question: Who’s going to beat a resurgent No. 48? Past history leaves Edwards with a runner-up hangover; Denny Hamlin should struggle with Darian Grubb (see: not on this list); and Gordon remains J.J.’s permanent Hendrick lackey. Harvick? I once thought yes, but that whole baby thing, combined with internal adjustments at Richard Childress Racing will leave him coming up short. The wildcard could be Busch if he takes some steps forward, but the poor Chase track record leaves me hesitant to go out on a limb.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Co-Managing Editor
Columns: Truckin’ Thursdays, Tracking the Trucks
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionTony Stewart
2nd PlaceJimmie Johnson
3rd PlaceJeff Gordon
4th PlaceKevin Harvick
5th PlaceKasey Kahne
6th PlaceKyle Busch
7th PlaceBrad Keselowski
8th PlaceCarl Edwards
9th PlaceRyan Newman
10th PlaceDale Earnhardt Jr. (Yup, I went there!)
WildcardKurt Busch
WildcardAJ Allmendinger
Rookie of the YearPatrick. There just aren’t any real candidates, so at this point, it pretty much gets handed to Danica based on her status as one of the only rookies for the year and the uncertainty of whether Hill or Josh Wise will even run the full season.
First Driver FiredRobert Richardson Jr. Won’t be fired, per se but forced to not run the entire season thanks to the lack of funding that’s out there for the smaller teams trying to break into the world of the larger juggernauts.
Why I Picked This WayThe top-10 Chase drivers are pretty similar every year and since Kurt Busch is with a new team, I’m expecting them to struggle in the beginning before hitting their stride and grabbing at least a couple wins that’ll help them slide into the Chase on a wildcard. And the same can be said for Allmendinger – he’s been so close to victory lane for so long and had bad luck take away a decent run. Now, with better equipment, he has that chance to visit victory lane, but there will likely be a learning curve before they move into a consistent streak.
Amy Henderson, Co-Managing Editor
Columns: “Holding a Pretty Wheel, Kenny Wallace Driver Diary
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionKevin Harvick
2nd PlaceBrad Keselowski
3rd PlaceJimmie Johnson
4th PlaceJeff Gordon
5th PlaceCarl Edwards
6th PlaceTony Stewart
7th PlaceDenny Hamlin
8th PlaceKyle Busch
9th PlaceMatt Kenseth
10th PlaceDale Earnhardt Jr.
WildcardAJ Allmendinger
WildcardKasey Kahne
Rookie of the YearNone. Without a full-time rookie candidate that has proper funding, this category could be a wash in 2012. Thank you, NASCAR, for your wanton destruction of the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series in recent years and the subsequent lack of sponsor support for drivers who are not already proven Cup stars. This crisis is the end result of the big-picture scenario that the sanctioning body refused to even consider until last year and still has not fully addressed.
First Driver FiredLogano. Is that a given? Absolutely not. But the No. 20 program is being built completely around the young driver for the first time since he came on board. That means that there’s a new focus by the organization on “Sliced Bread,” but also that the pressure ramps up. If Logano finally performs to the level many think he is capable of, he’s safe. But if performance lags, look for Joe Gibbs to seriously consider wooing some free agents.
Why I Picked This WayHarvick has been knocking on the door for years now, and he’s got one more thing going for him this year: no inevitable distraction from being a team owner. If that’s not replaced by a new distraction when Harvick becomes a first-time father this summer, he’s got nothing to focus on but the prize and that could change everything for Happy.
Toni Montgomery, Senior Editor
Column: Aric Almirola Driver Diary
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionCarl Edwards
2nd PlaceKevin Harvick
3rd PlaceTony Stewart
4th PlaceJimmie Johnson
5th PlaceBrad Keselowski
6th PlaceJeff Gordon
7th PlaceMatt Kenseth
8th PlaceKyle Busch
9th PlaceDenny Hamlin
10th PlaceDale Earnhardt Jr.
WildcardRyan Newman
WildcardAJ Allmendinger
Rookie of the YearNone. Can they opt to not award Rookie of the Year if no one is seriously running for it? That would be my vote.
First Driver FiredNone. All major drivers keep their jobs through the season.
Why I Picked This WayEdwards learned his lesson about sandbagging in the Chase, isn’t running any other series full time to distract him and finally puts it all together. It’s bound to happen sooner or later.
Bryan Davis Keith, Senior Editor
Column: 5 Points to Ponder
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionJimmie Johnson
2nd PlaceJeff Gordon
3rd PlaceTony Stewart
4th PlaceKevin Harvick
5th PlaceMatt Kenseth
6th PlaceCarl Edwards
7th PlaceKyle Busch (Wildcard entry)
8th PlaceDenny Hamlin
9th PlaceBrad Keselowski (Wildcard entry)
10th PlaceGreg Biffle
11th PlaceDale Earnhardt Jr.
12th PlaceClint Bowyer
Rookie of the YearWise. Hill isn’t even going to qualify for races, making Wise my pick by default.
First Driver FiredJJ Yeley. He is going to be out of that seat quickly, either because he’s frustrated over the equipment or there’s simply not enough money to run the car.
Why I Picked This WayI picked J.J. this year because there’s no clear-cut favorite. So when in doubt, lean on the guy who’s won five of the last six Sprint Cup titles.
Phil Allaway, Senior Editor
Column: Couch Potato Tuesday
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionKevin Harvick
2nd PlaceJeff Gordon
3rd PlaceTony Stewart
4th PlaceJimmie Johnson
5th PlaceDale Earnhardt Jr.
6th PlaceCarl Edwards
7th PlaceDenny Hamlin
8th PlaceAJ Allmendinger
9th PlaceKasey Kahne
10th PlaceBrad Keselowski
WildcardClint Bowyer
WildcardPaul Menard
Rookie of the YearHill. We have no real, funded candidates for the full season. Heck, we outright had nobody at all (who knows if Wise will even run?) until Hill announced out of nowhere that he’s moving up. So unless Danica decides to make 2012 her official rookie year, there aren’t many choices. And let’s face it, the chances of that happening are equal to someone getting 108 points on the final answer in Fast Money on Ray Combs’s Family Feud.
First Driver FiredTravis Kvapil. I have no clue how long Kvapil’s going to last in that second BK Racing car. Or, for that matter, how long the team’s going to last.
Why I Picked This WayI feel that Harvick will finally get over the hump this year. He no longer has 140 dudes’ livelihoods to worry about and can buckle down and get to “brass tacks.” Earnhardt’s improvement will continue, hopefully with that all-important and much-needed victory to shut everyone up. We’ll likely see the last of the first-time winners for quite a while when Allmendinger gets to victory lane in the first half of the season. Hendrick Motorsports will be strong, but they won’t win the title. Meanwhile, Roush Fenway will go into a swoon (at least in Sprint Cup). For the wildcards, the MWR team will be much stronger this year. The No. 55 is ineligible for the Chase due to split seat and I just don’t think that Truex can get there, so in Bowyer goes. Also, I predict Menard’s going to surprise everyone and snag another win. Don’t know where, but it will be somewhere.
S.D. Grady, Senior Editor
Column: Fan’s View – Frontstretch Newsletter
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionKyle Busch
2nd PlaceBrad Keselowski
3rd PlaceCarl Edwards
4th PlaceJeff Gordon
5th PlaceTony Stewart
6th PlaceDenny Hamlin
7th PlaceJimmie Johnson
8th PlaceMatt Kenseth
9th PlaceAJ Allmendinger
10th PlaceKevin Harvick
WildcardRyan Newman
WildcardKasey Kahne
Rookie of the YearNone. No solid candidates.
First Driver FiredKurt Busch. If he does something incredibly stupid, yet again, I suspect we’ll see him self-terminate. Otherwise, it’d be some start-and-park team that I wouldn’t even care if it happened.
Why I Picked This WayUmmm … I just have this funny feeling that it will be the make-or-break year of Kyle Busch. Otherwise, it’s sort of random – although I firmly believe anybody in that top 12 could actually win the Cup. The years of domination are over! Call me tickled pink.
Vito Pugliese, Assistant Editor
Column: What’s Vexing Vito – Frontstretch Newsletter
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionCarl Edwards
2nd PlaceBrad Keselowski
3rd PlaceJeff Gordon
4th PlaceKyle Busch
5th PlaceMatt Kenseth
6th PlaceJimmie Johnson
7th PlaceDenny Hamlin
8th PlaceJeff Gordon
9th PlaceTony Stewart
10th PlaceKevin Harvick
WildcardGreg Biffle
WildcardAJ Allmendinger
Rookie of the YearNone. Umm … you know … that one guy … with the, uh … hair. Do they still have a ROTY award?
First Driver FiredScott Speed. Not because of Scott, but because the team will fold.
Why I Picked This WayEdwards gets it done. Simple as that.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer
Columns: Thinkin’ Out Loud, MPM2Nite
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionJimmie Johnson
2nd PlaceCarl Edwards
3rd PlaceJeff Gordon
4th PlaceMatt Kenseth
5th PlaceTony Stewart
6th PlaceKyle Busch
7th PlaceKasey Kahne
8th PlaceDenny Hamlin
9th PlaceKevin Harvick
10th PlaceBrad Keselowski
WildcardRyan Newman
WildcardAJ Allmendinger
Rookie of the YearDanicaBorg. Midway through the season, Ford Motor Company will introduce their genetically engineered answer to Patrick, a cyborg designed to look like a 20-something Heather Locklear but have the reflexes of Tim Richmond. Driving with the aid of stealth onboard My-Synch/GPS technology, Stephanie 2.8 will be unstoppable until a circuit shorts out and she inexplicably quits racing to campaign for Mitt Romney.
First Driver FiredKurt Busch. The pairing of James Finch and Busch has seemed an uneasy odd couple from Jump Street. Busch doesn’t seem to really want to drive for the team but had limited choices available. He’s also freely admitting he wants to be somewhere else in 2013. Finch doesn’t seem to want to have Busch driving for him (already warning Kurt he’s not going to put up with his crap) but didn’t have anyone with a resume like Busch’s banging at his door seeking a ride. Maybe Busch and Finch will surprise everyone and win a bunch of races. Sure, and maybe me and Stephanie 2.8 will run off to Hawaii and grow old together sipping boat drinks on the beach.
Why I Picked This WayMatt let Stephanie 2.8 pick out of a hat … and then realized Johnson and Knaus were primed for a comeback year like no other.
Summer Dreyer, Senior Writer
Columns: Power Rankings, Four Burning Questions
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionKevin Harvick
2nd PlaceBrad Keselowski
3rd PlaceJimmie Johnson
4th PlaceKasey Kahne
5th PlaceCarl Edwards
6th PlaceKyle Busch
7th PlaceMatt Kenseth
8th PlaceJeff Gordon
9th PlaceAJ Allmendinger
10th PlaceDenny Hamlin
WildcardClint Bowyer
WildcardPaul Menard
Rookie of the YearAric Almirola (since there are no strong freshman candidates). No, he’s not a rookie, but it’s a second chance in the Sprint Cup Series and I think Almirola will make the most of it.
First Driver FiredKurt Busch. Phoenix Racing won’t put up with his crap for very long.
Why I Picked This WayHarvick has been very close the last couple of years and just needs that extra “something” to propel him to the top. The addition of Shane Wilson to the team may be just what the doctor ordered and I expect to see both driver and crew chief atop the standings in November.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer
Column: Professor of Speed
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
ChaserJeff Gordon – His performance in 2011 shows a return to both confidence and consistency.
ChaserTony Stewart – 2011 Sprint Cup champion based on number of wins. ‘Nuff said.
ChaserMatt Kenseth – His talent, team affiliation and experience make him a triple threat.
ChaserKyle Busch – If he stays calm, he’ll make trouble … for his competitors.
ChaserCarl Edwards – Has something to prove and will do so through driving consistency and team chemistry.
ChaserDale Earnhardt Jr. – My outside shot for making the Chase this year. He got pretty lucky in 2011.
ChaserBrad Keselowski – The main man at Penske has some solid experience on which to build, so long as he stays healthy.
ChaserKasey Kahne – Good driver, good crew chief, great organization – finally a place to call home.
ChaserKevin Harvick – Less responsibility means more success. And baby makes three …
ChaserJimmie Johnson – Down, but not out.
WildcardGreg Biffle – Always a threat for the Chase, but wrestling with some mighty steep competition yet again. Wins will give him the emotional boost needed to slide into the postseason.
WildcardJuan Pablo Montoya – Recent organizational changes will mean a return to the successes of yesteryear.
Rookie of the YearWise. This season looks like slim pickings, if there’s even a realistic candidate, but expect a dogfight in 2013.
First Driver FiredJamie McMurray. He has to run better and produce more than he has as of late. Unless, of course, Kurt Busch freaks out in public again …
Why I Picked This WaySee above.
Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer
Columns: Voices From the Cheap Seats, Frontstretch Top 10
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionCarl Edwards – Why not? Without the distraction of the Nationwide Series, the No. 99 team will be able to focus full-time on getting more wins. After all, Tony and Carl scored the exact same amount of points during the Chase, resulting in a tie. It won’t happen again.
2nd PlaceJimmie Johnson – Still stinging from the embarrassment of last year, Jimmie and or Chad will try harder. We still don’t know if the No. 48 team is more Jimmie or Chad, as they have never been apart. Personally, I think it may be Chad.
3rd PlaceJeff Gordon – Again, why not? Predicting these things this far in advance is a crapshoot at best. Might as well throw darts at a board of driver pictures.
4th PlaceKevin Harvick – Actually, I would like to see Kevin finish higher, but the No. 29 team can be streaky.
5th PlaceTony Stewart – Again, just putting names in here as they come to me. Unlike the No. 48, we know Tony is the better half of the team no matter who is on the pit box.
6th PlaceMatt Kenseth – Just good old Wisconsin stubbornness will have Kenseth in the Chase again.
7th PlaceGreg Biffle – Same deal as Kenseth (except for the Wisconsin part).
8th PlaceKyle Busch – Had to put Kyle in there somewhere and realized I was down to number eight already. There is no doubt about Kyle’s talent; too bad there is no such thing as a ‘total personality transplant’ to go along with it.
9th PlaceJeff Burton – Always liked Jeff. Always hope he does well. Seems to get the short end of the stick at RCR, though. Maybe he needs to be more assertive.
10th PlaceMarcos Ambrose – Actually, I hope Ambrose does a lot better. He is a highly talented, delightful change from the norm in NASCAR. He has also gained respect and worked his way up into respectful equipment, showing that he is just as good as anyone out there. I’d like to see Chad Knaus paired with Marcos! Wouldn’t that be something!
11th PlaceKasey Kahne – Totally forgot about Kahne and he deserves to be higher on the list. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna go back and rewrite it all now!
12th PlaceDale Earnhardt Jr. – Gotta throw Junior in there just to appease the “Nation.” With Junior, it always has been a 50/50 chance if he will make the Chase. He’d be better suited to be a TV meteorologist.
Rookie of the YearNone. Are there any? I’m sure they will find some deserving young lad. It’s not like this honor holds the same meaning or promise (due to the way drivers are no longer groomed like they once were) as it once did.
First Driver FiredKurt Busch. Kurt will have a mental meltdown at some point during the season and will spend many hours with Hamlin making some quack very rich as they continue their mental therapy.
Why I Picked This WaySee above.
Mike Neff, Short Track Coordinator & Senior Writer
Column: Full Throttle – Frontstretch Newsletter
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionJimmie Johnson – The No. 48 team still has what it takes but now they’ve lost a championship. They’re going to come back with a vengeance in 2012.
2nd PlaceKyle Busch – Finally makes it through the Chase without a bad finish and still comes up short because the five-time champs are just that good.
3rd PlaceDenny Hamlin – Hamlin has been a contender for the title before but has been held back by racing conservatively. Darian Grubb doesn’t do conservative, which will result in Hamlin making a run at the title.
4th PlaceDale Earnhardt Jr. – Letarte and Earnhardt have come a long way in a year and they’re now ready to make the next step. The No. 88 will be relevant again in 2012.
5th PlaceBrad Keselowski – Adding Allmendinger to the company might put more of a strain on the organization than people think.
6th PlaceCarl Edwards – Edwards is going to be a Chase driver again but still won’t get over the hump, ending in the upper half of the final standings for the Chasers.
7th PlaceMatt Kenseth – Probably will make me look bad by winning the title, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he does.
8th PlaceJeff Gordon – Going to win a few times this season but will have a stumble in the Chase that hurts his chances.
9th PlaceTony Stewart – Last year was magical; this year will be ordinary.
10th PlaceKasey Kahne – He’s in Hendrick equipment, but it’ll take a wildcard to put him in the Chase.
11th PlaceKevin Harvick – Being a new father will keep him from making noise in the Chase.
12th PlaceKurt Busch – Makes the Chase as a wild card but the organization can’t keep up in the final 10 races.
Rookie of the YearDanica Patrick. Danica realizes that no one else is going to run, so she applies and wins it only running 10 races.
First Driver FiredJamie McMurray. The pressure is ramped up on the No. 1 and poor results through Charlotte will end up costing McMurray his job.
Why I Picked This WaySee above.
Danny Peters, Senior Writer
Column: The Yellow Stripe
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionJimmie Johnson
2nd PlaceKevin Harvick
3rd PlaceDenny Hamlin
4th PlaceTony Stewart
5th PlaceCarl Edwards
6th PlaceJeff Gordon
7th PlaceBrad Keselowski
8th PlaceMatt Kenseth
9th PlaceDale Earnhardt Jr.
10th PlaceKyle Busch
WildcardKasey Kahne
WildcardJuan Pablo Montoya
Rookie of the YearNone. They still award this?
First Driver FiredKurt Busch. How long can the new “nice guy” act last? Not long, I’d wager. Should be fun to watch, regardless.
Why I Picked This WayWho knows? It’s all so subjective at this stage. I’d love to tell you I have some Moneyball-esque rating system but I just don’t. Sorry, folks. These are mere educated guesses without any real sense of how good teams really are heading into the 2012 season. You just never know year to year. So I’m backing Chad and Jimmie to pick up title number six for no other good reason than that they’re just that good. As for the rest of the top ten, it’s a pretty obvious bunch. Kahne and Montoya (on a road course and (finally!) an oval) should pick up the wild card spots.
Brett Poirier, Senior Writer
Column: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in NASCAR
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionCarl Edwards
2nd PlaceJimmie Johnson
3rd PlaceKevin Harvick
4th PlaceMatt Kenseth
5th PlaceTony Stewart
6th PlaceKyle Busch
7th PlaceBrad Keselowski
8th PlaceDenny Hamlin
9th PlaceJeff Gordon
10th PlaceKasey Kahne
WildcardMarcos Ambrose
WildcardAJ Allmendinger
Rookie of the YearNone. They still award this?
First Driver FiredAric Almirola. If there was one team in the garage that I felt downgraded in the offseason, it was Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola has yet to prove that he can be competitive at the Sprint Cup level; while the former Drive For Diversity candidate hasn’t had a host of opportunities, what he has done in the Camping World Truck and Nationwide series hasn’t impressed me.
Why I Picked This WayEdwards’s average finish of less than five in the 2011 Chase was overshadowed by Stewart’s heroics, but Edwards and the No. 99 team proved they are ready to win a title. Ambrose may come as a surprise wild card pick, but given the wild card format he shouldn’t. It is unlikely that the No. 9 team competes for a top-10 position, but Ambrose can easily crack the top 20 and win both road-course races, which is what I’m predicting he will do.
Tony Lumbis, Marketing Manager
Column: Dollars and Sense
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Predictions
Chase ChampionCarl Edwards
2nd PlaceJimmie Johnson
3rd PlaceTony Stewart
4th PlaceMatt Kenseth
5th PlaceKyle Busch
6th PlaceJeff Gordon
7th PlaceKasey Kahne (Wildcard entry)
8th PlaceDenny Hamlin
9th PlaceBrad Keselowski
10th PlaceKevin Harvick
WildcardAJ Allmendinger
WildcardJoey Logano
Rookie of the YearNone. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will get a few more races and perform admirably, qualifying as the best “rookie” on the circuit, but no newbies will run enough to truly earn this title.
First Driver FiredLandon Cassill. Cassill is a very good driver with a lot of potential but the No. 83 team was put together too fast, too late. The performance will show and the driver will take the fall.
Why I Picked This WayEdwards already fell victim to the runner-up curse in 2009. I think the team learns lessons from that year and the one that got away last year, putting it all together in 2012. Kahne and Allmendinger make it in as wildcards and Logano saves his career for at least one more season by making his first Chase.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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