NASCAR Chase Predictions 2012: Who Will Win The Sprint Cup Series Championship?

CONCORD, NC - JANUARY 25: (R-L) Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, speak with the media during the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway on January 25, 2012 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jimmie Johnson wins his sixth championship and all four Hendrick Motorsports cars make the Chase.

There is absolutely no good reason why you should listen to any of the following NASCAR predictions.

Do not take these to the bank. Do not use them for your fantasy league. Do not even allow yourself to think, "You know what? He could be right!"

I won't be. I'm not good at predictions, despite my best intentions (and betting intentions when in Las Vegas).

Nevertheless, these guessing games are somewhat of a conventional wisdom time capsule and I'm a sucker for making myself look foolish.

So here we go again.

Last season, I picked the champion incorrectly for the sixth time in seven years. The only time I've ever gotten it right was after Jimmie Johnson won four titles in a row and I picked him to win No. 5.

Really went out on a limb there, yes?

Anyway, I thought Johnson would win it again last year. Wrong. And I totally blew the Chase predictions, even after posting a "revised" Chase order following the Richmond race – in which I guessed Tony Stewart would finish last (I did guess Carl Edwards would come in second, though).

On my preseason list last year, I also thought drivers like AJ Allmendinger and Joey Logano would make the Chase. How'd that work out?

Overall, I got just eight of the 12 Chase drivers correct – that's 67 percent, which is a 'D' grade. That's not very good.

I always strive for improvement, though, and so this year is going to be different.

Let's start with the Chase locks and fill in the rest:

Carl Edwards. Duh. He might get bitten by NASCAR's second-place jinx, but he'll still make the Chase.

All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers. If any of these guys miss the Chase, it'll be nothing short of a complete failure that will require team owner Rick Hendrick to make some major changes. One of them will win the title.

Kevin Harvick. Even if Richard Childress Racing flops as a whole again, Harvick's team will likely still make the Chase. He's on a mission to win the championship.

So just like that, half the Chase spots are gone. And there are a bunch of dudes who have legit arguments to be in the top 12.

But I don't have a good feeling about the following teams/drivers this season:

• Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing: They still have too much catching up to do after last year's debacle.

• Richard Petty Motorsports: I don't think RPM is currently strong enough to get it done, and I'm not sold on Aric Almirola.

• Phoenix Racing: Kurt Busch can't work miracles with a team that was terrible last year.

• Martin Truex Jr.: If he gets off to a slow start, questions about his contract situation and future will become a distraction to the team.

• Furniture Row, Front Row Motorsports, JTG/Daugherty, Tommy Baldwin Racing, etc.: Just not good enough to contend for the Chase.

So that leaves the following 12 drivers as possible candidates for the final six spots:

  • Tony Stewart
  • Ryan Newman
  • Kyle Busch
  • Denny Hamlin
  • Joey Logano
  • Brad Keselowski
  • AJ Allmendinger
  • Greg Biffle
  • Matt Kenseth
  • Paul Menard
  • Jeff Burton
  • Clint Bowyer
Who will make it from that group?

Tony Stewart might not come out of the box as quickly as expected with new crew chief Steve Addington, but the defending champ will still qualify for the Chase. Stewart's teammate Ryan Newman is an underrated driver in terms of consistency and is driving Hendrick equipment, so he'll make it, too.

Let's make our second cuts from the list:
  • Paul Menard
  • Jeff Burton
  • Joey Logano
  • Clint Bowyer
I cut Menard and Burton because questions remain about RCR's strength as a whole. Is the team ready to put multiple cars in the Chase again? Or is the focus more on getting Harvick his first championship?

Logano gets cut because the kid enters 2012 with enormous pressure to perform – many believe this is a make-or-break year for him – and he has a new crew chief with zero Sprint Cup experience.

And Bowyer misses the Chase because he spends the first half of the season getting up to speed with his new team at Michael Waltrip Racing, then is too far behind to catch up.

So who does that leave?
  • Kyle Busch
  • Denny Hamlin
  • Brad Keselowski
  • AJ Allmendinger
  • Greg Biffle
  • Matt Kenseth
Six drivers and only four spots. This is where it gets really tough, but the decision comes down to this: Which organizations will be stronger than the rest?

I have my doubts about Joe Gibbs Racing these days, because the team seems to have mechanical gremlins that won't go away. Penske Racing caught lightning in a bottle with Brad Keselowski last year, but can it keep the momentum going? And will Roush Fenway Racing be as strong as in 2011 or have a letdown?

Hamlin is a great talent, but I'm going to say he misses the Chase with new crew chief Darian Grubb. As JGR continues to not perform up to its own high standards, Kyle Busch falters in the regular season but wins enough races to get a wild card spot.

I believe Matt Kenseth is too consistent to miss the Chase and Greg Biffle is in store for a rebound season.

So the last spot – a wild-card spot – comes down to this: Keselowski or Allmendinger?

Allmendinger is a talent, but if he has to win multiple races to get a wild card, he may not be able to do it. Brad Keselowski has a better shot of reeling off a few victories before the Chase, so he's my pick for the final position.

And of course, once all the drivers get into the Chase and the playoff begins, Jimmie Johnson will win it all again.
To recap, here are my picks for the 2012 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, with predicted order of regular-season finish:

  1. Kevin Harvick
  2. Carl Edwards
  3. Jeff Gordon
  4. Jimmie Johnson
  5. Matt Kenseth
  6. Kasey Kahne
  7. Greg Biffle
  8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  9. Tony Stewart
  10. Ryan Newman
  11. Kyle Busch (WC 1)
  12. Brad Keselowski (WC 2)
And here's how they'll finish in the Chase:
  1. Jimmie Johnson
  2. Kasey Kahne
  3. Carl Edwards
  4. Matt Kenseth
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Jeff Gordon
  8. Tony Stewart
  9. Greg Biffle
  10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  11. Ryan Newman
  12. Kyle Busch
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