March 3, 2012
NASCAR drivers need breakout season
By Dean McNulty, QMI Agency
1. A.J. Allmendinger
The “Dinger” brings as much enthusiasm to racing as anyone in the sport but in spite of this, and a pretty impressive record from his days in open-wheel racing, he has not been able to crack the Top 12 in stock car racing’s top loop. Allmendinger, however, was handicapped in his first two Cup seasons when he signed on with Red Bull Racing, a new team that had zero data to work with coming into NASCAR. The team simply was not ready to compete with the big boys. His move to Richard Petty Motorsports gave Allmendinger a better chance to showcase his talents and last season almost made the post season Chase. Now with Powerhouse Penske Racing, there can be no excuses. This is the season he must make it to the Chase.
2. Joey Logano
When Logano came to the Cup series in 2008 as a teenager to take over the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, veteran driver Mark Martin said, “(Logano) is the greatest thing since sliced bread.” It was a nickname that stuck and at the same time has haunted Logano ever since, especially after winning his first race at just 18 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Since that win it seems that Logano’s career has been on a downward trajectory. And it can’s be blamed on equipment as his JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin regularly make the Chase. There are even rumours floating about the garage area that if Logano doesn’t win this season there could be a new drivers in the No. 20 Toyota in 2013.
3. Clint Bowyer
The past two seasons driving for Richard Childress Racing Bowyer made the Chase but never fulfilled the promise many thought he showed earlier in his career. When he was effectively dropped by RCR near the end of last season when the team contracted from four to three race cars, Bowyer went into the Chase and promptly won at Talladega, showing team owner Richard Childress that he might have made a mistake letting the Kansas native leave the team. He was a high profile signing with Michael Waltrip this season in the No. 15 Toyota, but now must prove again that RCR made a mistake with him.
4. Jeff Burton
Burton is one of the most respected and well liked drivers in all of NASCAR. He is continually being sought out to speak on all issues dealing with the sport. He is said to have political aspirations and is nicknamed “The Mayor” by fellow drivers. But his glory days are clearly getting smaller in the rear view mirror. Although he has an impressive 21 Sprint Cup wins on his resume the last one was three seasons ago at the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. RCR kept Burton in the No. 31 Chevrolet this season but he needs to get back to the Chase if he wants to extend his career.
5. Juan Pablo Montoya
When Montoya came to NASCAR from Formula 1 it was seen as a breakthrough for the sport. Never had an open-wheel driver with such credentials — an Indianapolis 500 win, a CART championship and seven F1 wins — switched to stock car racing in the prime of his career. Add his Hispanic background and NASCAR had though it hit the mother lode in cross over appeal. But other than two road course victories Montoya has not been able to compete for wins on a consistent basis in Cup. Over the past two seasons he has also developed a reputation as a careless driver when in close quarters. Montoya has the backing of team owner Chip Ganassi but he need to win this season in the No. 42 Chevrolet to keep his sponsors happy.