While Brad Keselowski celebrated his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2012, several of the sport’s biggest names struggled to match their own expectations of success.
Here are some of the year’s biggest disappointments:
1. CARL EDWARDS — The numbers for Edwards paint a troubling story: In 2011, the Missouri native scored exactly the same number of points as Tony Stewart, losing the championship on a tiebreaker for most race victories. All told, in 2011, Edwards posted one victory and a series-high 19 top-five finishes, along with 26 top 10s.
In 2012, Edwards nose-dived to 15th in points, with only three top fives and 13 top 10s. Worse yet, he almost never seemed competitive during 2012, with his familiar No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford seemingly way off the pace. How bad was it? In 36 races, Edwards failed to lead even a single lap 31 times. And in the five races he did lead laps, three times he led just one lap each. In the final 31 races of the season, Edwards scored only one top five.
2. AJ ALLMENDINGER — One of the most unfortunate stories of 2012 was the season — or maybe half-season is a better description — of futility for AJ Allmendinger, who finally got his big break and failed to capitalize on it. Picked as a late addition to Penske Racing, the ‘Dinger finally got on a true top-tier team after five mostly frustrating years at Red Bull and Richard Petty Motorsports.
Alas, it was not to be. After an average finish of 24.2 in his first five starts for Penske, Allmendinger finished second to Ryan Newman at Martinsville. But in his next nine races, his average finish slid to 23.3. Finally, at Kentucky Speedway, Allmendinger failed a NASCAR-mandated drug test, which showed Adderall in his system. Team owner Roger Penske released Allmendinger, who completed NASCAR’s “Road to Recovery” program and drove four races for James Finch at the end of the season.
3. DENNY HAMLIN — Just to be clear here, Hamlin didn’t have a bad season. In fact, his five victories, 14 top fives and a sixth-place points finish were huge improvements from 2011, when he was ninth in points, with just one victory and five top fives. So what was so disappointing?
That’s easy — 2012 was supposed to be Hamlin’s championship season. He nearly won the title in 2010, slid back last year but was primed for a title run this time out, hiring away the then-reigning championship crew chief, Darian Grubb. Hamlin had lots of speed all year, but was plagued with gremlins, from gas-mileage woes to phantom electrical problems and erratic pit stops. Hamlin finished outside of the top 10 six times in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.
4. KEVIN HARVICK — After finishing third in the Chase in both 2010 and ’11, Harvick was another driver who on paper was poised for a title run. He had team owner Richard Childress relieve crew chief Gil Martin and replace Martin with Shane Wilson, who was Harvick’s crew chief during a championship season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. What could go wrong?
Turns out, most everything went wrong, mostly with the cars across all three RCR teams. Put bluntly, they were all bog slow for most of the season. In a 20-race stretch from the first Pocono to the second Martinsville, Harvick posted just one top five and two top 10s. And by the end of the year, Wilson had been replaced by Martin.
5. KYLE BUSCH — The strangest season of all these five by far belonged to Busch, who missed the Chase for the second time in four seasons, not the expectation at Joe Gibbs Racing. From the time he joined JGR in 2008 to the end of the ’11 season, Busch won a staggering 83 times in 321 starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. In 2012, he won once in 60 starts.
That said, he was blindingly fast, finishing second to Jimmie Johnson in laps led in the Cup Series. In the Chase, Busch led 864 laps, posting seven top-five and eight top-10 finishes. What he couldn’t do, though, in this most frustrating of seasons, was find victory lane. Busch’s only victory in any of NASCAR’s top three divisions came in the spring Cup race at Richmond.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.