It’s hard to stand out in a field of 43 when there is so much talent in the pool. Some float to the top time and time again, always ready to break through the surface and outshine everyone else. Others sit at the bottom, hoping for a lucky break that will let them see the glimmer of the spotlight. The tougher thing is to classify who goes where; one week, a driver can be dead as a doornail, but, then, they’re getting drenched with Gatorade seven days later.
The overlooked drivers, however, rest in between the two groups. Silent yet powerful, three of them are gearing to have a breakout year:
1. Marcos Ambrose
Marcos Ambrose gained attention in the worse way back in 2010 when he shut off his car under caution at Sonoma, making people wonder if he really knew what he was doing. However, last year, he redeemed himself at Watkins Glen. It was his first win in the Sprint Cup Series, and I doubt it will be his last. With AJ Allmendinger gone from Richard Petty Motorsports’ stable, this Aussie is top dog, as he deserves to be. This year will be his chance to make a statement.
Prediction? Marcos Ambrose gets his first win on an oval but barely misses The Chase.
2. Paul Menard
Now that Clint Bowyer is driving for Michael Waltrip Racing, Paul Menard should get more attention. Richard Childress will most likely focus on helping Kevin Harvick clinch a championship, but Menard is worthy of some special care. Why? Because he won a small race called The Brickyard 400. That win got his name in the history books, even if it turned out to be a fuel mileage face. A win is a win, no matter how it comes your way, and it gave him a burst of momentum. In the last three races, a top twenty, top fifteen, and a top five topped off his year. Even after a controversial radio conversation that rose eyebrows, Menard showed that something good lies ahead for him at RCR.
Prediction? Paul Menard wins two races and is in The Chase because of the Wild Card.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
You know those guys who run really well, but something happens? Martin Truex Jr. is one of them. All season, he had great runs going for him, but problems plagued his efforts to get a win. Though there were issues, he finished the season with three top fives and twelve top tens, proving he can recover. The pressure is really on now, with Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer coming on board as new teammates. It will be interesting to see how Truex Jr. does as lead driver at MWR, but he needs better equipment. There is no doubt that he has the ability to become a top driver, and this is his year to do it. With new blood in the stable, Martin needs to rise to the top this season.
Prediction? Martin Truex Jr. comes close to winning races, and he may secure one, but it’s hard to tell.
The common factor in these drivers? Their 2011 teammates left. When something like that happens to an organization, it’s the perfect time for adjustments as a whole. Each one of these men probably took a step back, glanced at the season they had, and said, ‘Hey, I can do this. Next year will be better.’ Maybe all they need is self-confidence, and that’s hard to have when you’re in the pool, just waiting for your shot to bolt to the surface.