Found February 16, 2012 on NASCAR Racing Scene:
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And on with the countdown
20. 27-Paul Menard; Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
0 wins; 4 top 5s; 11 top 10s
Menard finally captured that Sprint Cup victory that had eluded throughout his career. The win gave Menard a shot at a Chase berth, but he fell just short. Menard's victory was a fuel mileage victory at Indianapolis last August. While I believe this team will improve, it will be marginal improvement, and another win would be a huge bonus for this group.
19. 42-Juan Pablo Montoya; Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
0 wins; 6 top 5s; 12 top 10s
It is no secret that the 2011 season was complete disaster for Montoya and the entire EGR contingent. Not only were the cars sluggish, but Montoya seemed to be involved in more conflicts than any driver without the last name Busch. This team made some wholesale personnel changes this offseason, so it will be interesting to see how much impact they have on this group. Montoya should improve upon his 2011 results, but I'm not sure if they are ready to consistently compete for victories yet.
18. 56-Martin Truex Jr; Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
1 win; 6 top 5s; 12 top 10s
Truex Jr's move to MWR has seen few bright moments, and now that it is the third year of the deal, it is time for both parties to step on the accelerator. Truex ended the 2011 campaign with several solid performances, so there is hope that they can right this ship. While I believe that Truex has the tools to creep back into the win column, I believe that they are still on longshot to qualify for the Chase.
17. 9-Marcos Ambrose; Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
1 win; 7 top 5s; 13 top 10s
The amicable Aussie finally broke through with his first Sprint Cup victory last year at Watkins Glen. We all saw it coming for years. Now, Ambrose must take the next step and win on the oval facilities. When Ambrose figures out the ovals, he will become a dangerous threat to qualify for the Chase. As it is, he is the favorite each time the series visits Infineon and Watkins Glen. The odds are that Ambrose will win at least one road course race, so if he can pull out an oval win, he could position himself as a Wild Card in the Chase for the Championship.
16. 31-Jeff Burton; Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
0 win; 5 top 5s; 15 top 10s
Burton would rather forget the 2011 season ever took place, as it was his worst since joining Richard Childress Racing in 2004. A humbling season can only provide intense motivation for the veteran. Expect Burton and his RCR team to display dramatic improvement in 2012. He will contend for a few wins, and he will be one of the drivers battling for one of the final spots in the Chase. I believe he will fall just short of another Chase appearance.
15. 22-A.J. Allmendinger; Penske Racing Dodge
1 win; 8 top 5s; 16 top 10s
Allmendinger has all the tools at his disposal to engineer a breakout season. For the first time since arriving at the Sprint Cup level in 2007, he has stability. Allmendinger will likely become NASCAR's next first-time winner in 2012, and will be a factor when it comes to the race to the Chase next fall. Allmendinger should be able to do enough to earn an extension with Penske Racing, where he could emerge as a future star in this sport alongside teammate Brad Keselowski.
14. 15-Clint Bowyer; Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
1 win; 7 top 5s; 17 top 10s
Many believe that Bowyer was taking a step down in quality when he opted to leave a championship caliber team to join MWR. On the surface that appears to be the case. However, Bowyer sees something in this budding organization, and it's not just the dollar bills. For years, Waltrip has maintained a solid organization that seems to be a step or two away from serious contention. Hiring Scott Miller should help elevate this team to the next level. Look for Bowyer to return to the winner's circle and compete for a spot in the Chase. The 2012 season will be similar to his years at RCR.
13. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr; Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
1 win; 6 top 5s; 16 top 10s
This is the year I believe Earnhardt Jr will finally break into the win column. He came oh so close at Martinsville and Charlotte last spring. For the first time since 2008, Earnhardt Jr seemed to have shown more progress than decline, and much of that can be attributed to crew chief Steve Letarte. Look for another solid year for Earnhardt Jr. With that said, there are a few drivers that were behind Earnhardt last year that will improve, so in order for Earnhardt Jr to return to the Chase, he must significantly improve from 2011.
12. 16-Greg Biffle; Roush Fenway Racing Ford
2 wins; 9 top 5s; 18 top 10s
After a dismal 2011 campaign, many are willing to write off Biffle. After all, his most memorable moment of the season was his fight with Boris Said after the Watkins Glen race. I believe Biffle will bounce back in a huge way in 2012. The last time he missed the Chase was in 2007. All he did a year later was win two races and finish third in the championship standings. Look for Biffle to win multiple races and return to the Chase for the Championship.
11. 5-Kasey Kahne; Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2 wins; 10 top 5s; 19 top 10s
Kahne is a trendy pick to enter his first year with HMS as a serious championship contender. While I believe he will win multiple races and qualify for the Chase for the Championship, I am not so sure that he will suddenly obtain the consistency it takes in order to run with Chase-masters such as Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson for 10 races. Kahne has always been fast, but consistency has never been his strong suit. Nevertheless, for the first time since 2006, he has stability in his program. Oh yeah, he won six races that season.






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