It’s like Christmas and your birthday rolled into a roaring, screeching package. Just thinking about it makes your palms sweat and your heart race. It’s one of the most amazing things in the world.
The Daytona 500 is coming up hard on us, folks, and I can’t wait.
You never know how much you need something until it is rudely stolen from you, and NASCAR is no exception. Life got darker when I wasn’t sitting on the couch every Sunday afternoon, screaming at the television for my driver to go low. Good thing we installed a DVR before the last two races of the year; I recorded the Phoenix race and have watched it twice a week during this off-season. To say I’m suffering from withdraws is a complete understatement. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve raced my dad in Wal-Mart with shopping carts and put him into the wall in the shampoo aisle. Don’t say I’m crazy: you’ve done it, too, and it’s okay. We’re all going through this pain together.
But the wait has been extra hard this year. Why? Because this is going to be one of the best seasons NASCAR has ever had. Now, that’s a lot to say, since last season ended with a Chase to remember and a final race you can never forget, but there are four reasons why the 2012 NASCAR season will be crazy good (in no particular order):
1. Kurt Busch’s New Ride
The eldest Busch brother was abruptly released from Penske Racing following the 2011 NASCAR Awards Banquet in Las Vegas. This was after countless outbursts at his (now ex) crew chief Steve Addington and rants full of curse words. The final straw is believed to be after Busch’s DNF at Homestead, when he gave the finger to NASCAR officials and called reporter Dr. Jerry Punch a few choice words (it’s on YouTube if you are curious to see it). This cost Kurt a hefty fine and, well, his job. Yet, he rolled into Daytona Testing with a smile on his face and sponsors on his new firesuit, now driving the #51 for Phoenix Racing. Now, he will share the #54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota with his brother-slash-owner, Kyle. Is this a second chance for ole Kurt? Or is it a disaster waiting to happen? Time will only tell.
2. Hendrick Gets Stronger
At the end of 2011, three of the four Hendrick drivers finished sixth, seventh, and eighth in The Chase, the odd one out Mark Martin, who has left to drive for Michael Waltrip Racing. Jimmie Johnson didn’t finish in the Top Five in points for the first time in his career, Jeff Gordon won his 85th race, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his best season for the first time in a while. That seems like the polar opposite of where those three drivers were a year ago. Now, there is a new young gun in the seat of the #5, and Kasey Kahne is ready. Bringing over his long-term crew chief Kenny Francis, he is focused on using this opportunity to do something amazing for himself and the team. Off-season chatter has boasted that Kahne will be a Championship threat from the get-go, and testing sessions at Daytona has showed promise. His new teammates have said only good things about the duo coming in, and fans of Kasey Kahne are excited for what may be his best season yet. Like adding gasoline to a bonfire, Kahne and Francis will help Hendrick strengthen and burn even brighter.
3. Carl Edwards Goes For The Gold . . . Again
Carl Edwards is probably the most classy loser in the sports’ history. His natural charisma and sense of humor helped ease the pain of not winning the tiebreaker, and people felt for the driver. Consistency and perseverance got him into The Chase, yet it only got him so far. His problem? He didn’t win enough, only getting the checkered flag once last year, which coward in comparison to champion Tony Stewart’s five. But, there is no doubt that Edwards can win a championship, especially when Stewart says so himself. With an abundance of physical and metal toughness, the driver of the #99 will strive to show his worth once again. It will be interesting to see how he handles the ‘so-close-yet-so-far’ weight that has settled on his shoulder, but he is strong enough to take on the challenge and push himself to the limit.
Many drivers are going into this season with one thing on their mind: if they don’t show up, something must change. Three drivers in particular are Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick. Last year was anticipated to be the year of Denny Hamlin, who was so close to winning the 2010 championship. Yet, it turned out to be a bust for the driver of the FedEx Toyota. He didn’t reach the standards placed on him, and he knows it well, proclaiming this year will be his redemption year. It is obvious Hamlin can come back from adversity, winning eight races after tearing his ACL back in 2010, and the wait makes us wonder what the driver has up his sleeve. Next, Joey Logano. When he became the youngest driver to win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, many believed he would be The Next Best Thing. Things people didn’t expect, however, were blown engines and wrecks from the star. After a few rough seasons, Logano goes into 2012 with hope that he can make something happen and step into Victory Lane for the first time in three years. Kevin Harvick may have the opposite problem. In 2011, he gained the nickname The Closer because of his ability of coming from the back and winning the race. However, when it comes to The Chase, he has yet to win the title. He has been in contention in past seasons to win it all, but hasn’t been able to seal the deal, ironically enough. Nothing can be more sour than imagining The Sprint Cup in your trophy case, only to have the opportunity to make it real taken away from you time and time again. Something tells me Harvick will come back stronger than ever, what with the job of being a team owner gone. All three drivers have something to prove, and it will be exciting to watch.
With all the changes to the cars, teams, and equipment, 2012 is fixing to be an epic year in NASCAR, one where there will be surprises, letdowns, and, hopefully, good rivalries. As a dedicated fan, I’m hoping there will be many moments that will make me pull a Trevor Bayne and say: “Are you kidding me?!”