The 2012 NASCAR season is now in the record books, so it's time to break out the red pen and hand out report cards to the sport's top teams.
When evaluating teams with cars inside the top 25 in the owner point standings, we graded on a curve based on a combination of talent, preseason expectations and resources at their disposal.
So while not every team was graded equally, all were graded fairly. Here's our team report card for 2012:
With all four cars qualifying for the Chase and three of its four drivers winning multiple races along with Jimmie Johnson being in title contention, this is an easy grade for Hendrick Motorsports. And despite not winning the championship for the second straight year, this organization is still the benchmark every team in the garage measures itself against.
Michael Waltrip Racing
No team made bigger strides in 2012 than Michael Waltrip Racing, which not only placed multiple cars in the Chase – a first for the team – but also saw new addition Clint Bowyer win three times and finish second in points. In addition, Martin Truex Jr. turned in an impressive season and came close to winning several times, while Mark Martin and Brian Vickers both did the same in limited starts.
If we were just focusing on Brad Keselowski and his team, then Penske Racing would have scored an A+. However, Penske Racing fielded two cars this year and, unfortunately, that's what brings down the overall organization a full grade. Between AJ Allmendinger and Sam Hornish Jr., the No. 22 team finished in the top 10 on just four occasions and was well off the pace more weeks than not.
Roush Fenway Racing
If you think about it, Roush Fenway Racing might have been the most schizophrenic team in Cup. While Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle combined to lead the points for 21 of 26 weeks in the regular season, Carl Edwards was a nonfactor throughout and came nowhere close to matching his performance from a year ago.
Then there is the matter of Roush officials not being more proactive in signing Kenseth to a long-term deal, which resulted in the Daytona 500 winner leaving the team he's been with since 2000. It was a stark contrast to how Roush bent over backwards last season to re-sign Edwards.
Joe Gibbs Racing
Out of all the teams, Joe Gibbs Racing was the hardest to grade.
While Denny Hamlin flourished with five victories and a Chase berth, the same couldn't be said for either Kyle Busch or Joey Logano. Although both Busch and Logano scored one victory apiece, both struggled with consistency and missed the Chase.
However, in Busch's case his inconsistency had more to do with engine reliability than anything else, as he still led over a 1,436 laps – second-most overall – and only bad luck prevented him from making more trips to Victory Lane.
After winning three of the first six races, Stewart-Haas Racing had the look of a team ready to dominate. But following Ryan Newman's April victory at Martinsville, SHR won just once more. Tony Stewart seemingly had difficulty gelling with new crew chief Steve Addington, while Newman went through an 11-race stretch where he finished no better than 12th. As for Danica Patrick, she struggled to keep pace in her Cup starts but did show noticable improvement when Tony Gibson took over as her crew chief.
Richard Petty Motorsports
On one hand, Marcos Ambrose again went to Victory Lane at Watkins Glen and had his moments on the ovals – consecutive top-fives at Michigan and Bristol, for example. But from Atlanta onward, the Aussie struggled as he shuffled through three crew chiefs with a best finish of 12th.
Despite a summer swoon, Aric Almirola's first full season in Cup should be considered a success, highlighted by a fourth-place run at Martinsville and a potential win at Kansas that went away with a blown right-front tire.
Furniture Row Racing
After a breakthrough season in 2011, expectations were high for Furniture Row Racing. However, for the majority of the year, the team failed to live up to those standards, which ultimately led to Regan Smith's release.
But optimism was restored when Kurt Busch joined the single-car team and ended the season with three straight top-10s – a first for the team.
Richard Childress Racing
After two successful seasons where Richard Childress Racing won multiple races and contended for the championship, the team regressed in 2012. Most notably, Kevin Harvick went from winning four races in '11 to just one this past season and fell from third in points to eighth. Meanwhile, Jeff Burton went winless for the fourth straight year and was at the front of the field for just 38 laps.
Then there is the curious case of Paul Menard, who finished a career-best 16th in points and improved his average finishing position by 2.5 over the year before, yet saw his top-five finishes decrease by three and led all of 26 laps.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
There is underachieving and then there is Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. After an offseason overhaul designed to help it replicate its magical 2010 season, EGR was a virtual nonfactor from Daytona to Homestead, as neither Jamie McMurray nor Juan Pablo Montoya finished in the top five and combined to lead a measly 80 laps.