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Pedley: 12 Topics Which Will Define NASCAR In ’12

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 15 2012

Danica Patrick will add some heat to the NASCAR dialogue in 2012. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

A quick check of the topstoryometer shows that the 2012 NASCAR season should feature a wealth of immenently interesting subplots.

Only a couple are mega and capable of pegging the holygeezometer, but quantity promises to make up for a dearth of quality.

Here is a rough list of sidebar offerings that will rear their buzz-producing heads from time to time in 2012:

1. Danica Patrick. The former IndyCar driver gets her first taste of Sprint Cup. That taste will come by way of the dollar menu as she will only race in a carefully selected smattering of events, but each time she does plant herself in a Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy, it will be big news. Should she win a race, Linsanity will give way to Hersteria. Her best shot comes this month at the Daytona 500, a place and a race where dreams come true and talent and experience mean relatively little.

2. EFI. A good story for the tech heads. Electronic fuel injection has been the norm in street cars for decades. You know, since the days when The Weather Channel was actually in the business of forecasting the weather. Viewers won’t notice much difference with the move away from carburetors but the wrenchers and engineers – and to a lesser extent, drivers – will be in for a re-adjustment period. For non-tech heads, John Darby, I thought, had a good abridged explanation of EFI. The NASCAR competition guy said fuel will now be squirted into engines instead of sucked. He said sucked, lol.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Is this the year he breaks through? Though hardly a new topic, it is one that will spritz the storyometer until he either starts winning races, dances with the stars or retires. Boding well,

The Dale Earnhardt Jr. saga – and debate – continues. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

possibly, for Junior is the fact that he is entering Year 2 with crew chief Steve Letarte. Also, the arrival of Kasey Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports may serve as a pressure-skimmer for Earnhardt. Whatever happens, the Junior haters will keep on hating and the Junior lovers will keep on loving.

4. Kasey Kahne and friends. A decent-sized handful of marquee drivers have moved around. Drivers like Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch.  It will be interesting to see if these moves turn will allow these guys to maintain their stardom or, force them into witness protection situations where they will disappear into the background. Ditto for their old and new teams.

5. Jimmie Johnson. There is zero doubt that in 2011, Johnson lacked the zest that was so abundant during his historic run of consecutive championships. Was he just taking a breather last year or did his 5-Year Energy Drink metabolize? The pieces remain in place for a return to the top but are those pieces no longer tightly interlocking with each other. And will some daily newspaper part-timer award Johnson a Comeback Driver of the Year Award if he does win No. 6.

6. 2011. Last season was epic in terms of competition and storylines. Start at Daytona where young, crazily likable Trevor Bayne and the ever-classy Wood Brothers Racing team win, and end with a Chase and championship that headlined by two biggest names – and most polarizing personalities – in the sport on the final lap at Homestead. NASCAR’s supporters dubbed it all as vindication of everything the Brian France-era of the sport has implemented, while detractors viewed the racing as a hideous freak show. Further in from the margins are those who enjoyed it for what it was. Can 2012 prove to be equally enjoyable – or divisive – or was last year a case of the 36-race fever.

7. Relevancy. After five years of giving up ground in the battle for relevancy on the American sports scene, NASCAR came back. It didn’t really bounce back. Not with a super ball-tyype bounce, anyway. It didn’t have that kind of elasticity. More like a shot put hitting wet turf and then kind of blopping upward and forward, bring with it pieces of organic debris. A lot of people with a lot of different connections to NASCAR, and American racing in general, will be focused on the 2012 season as they calibrate their interestometers for the long term.

8. Joey Logano and friends. This is that handful of drivers whose careers need to leave the incubators and start breathing on their own. It starts with Logano who absolutely needs to become a factor. Now. If

Go time for Joey Logano? (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

he does not, talk will start about “changing scenes” and because of the economics of the day, that can mean good-bye private jets and hello standby and insane baggage fees. Loosely lumped into this group are folks like Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Martin Truex Jr.

9. Tandem racing. This story will flash into headlines only four times this year but it will flash for four of the biggest races on the schedule. NASCAR officials deemed tandem racing at the plate tracks to be evil in motion. And they attacked it over the off season with hammer and tongs and nicotine. Yet it appears that tandems are for NASCAR, The Thing That Will Not Die. Who knows, by the time a cure is found, the disease may become enjoyable.

10. The ladder system. If not in trouble, the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series are undergoing fundamental alterations. Marquee names, the kind that generate mass interest, are moving out. Cup star Carl Edwards is thinning his participation and Kevin Harvick Inc. is history. Old reliables like Ron Hornaday Jr. have been transplanted into less fertile soil and phrases like “partial season” and “will start the year” are getting more frequent use. Oddly, it may be participation by the black sheep Busch brothers and the squeaky clean Dillon borthers who provide some fodder for the umphometer.

11. Social media. As the war on depth and substance in news and information rages on, as the implements of the destruction of education and understanding proliferate, so too will chances for Kahne-breast-feeding-type drama. Scattered among the ego-boosting name-dropping by media members and the insatiable desire among personalities to inform us what they and their children are having for breakfast, there will surely be some bombs that will shatter niche sensibilities and sensitivity. Use those thumbs judiciously.

12. Hall of Fame. The first three elections have produced some controversy, but not the kind which produces angry mobs. That’s probably because the first three elections resulted in fairly obvious choices. This year, and every year after, the pace of the dialogue will pick up and the list of candidates more closely scrutinized. This year, and every year after, somebody is going to get in or left out who will turn out to have very vocal supporters and detractors. Consider this a plea for perspective.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 15 2012
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Richard Petersen says:

    I still think to this day that Dale Earnhardt Jr made a horrible decision going over to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. And I think he made an even bigger one when he signed through 2017. I mean face it, Earnhardt has just ONE win with the power house team or NASCAR. What is one win in over 4 years now going to do for someone who is the most popular of NASCAR? People think, “Oh, he is going to do better this year. This is his year, because he is improving”. Well, I mean that is find and dandy, but I still don’t see any wins what so ever. Rick Hendrick promised Dale a moon with a fence around it and still to this day has got nothing but that. Next year, he will have Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and now Kasey Kahne as teammates next year. He went from being #1 at Dale Earnhardt Inc. to being #4 at Hendrick Motorsports. That right there is pretty sad. To this day, I wish he would have stayed at Dale Earnhardt Inc. He was winning more, very successful, I mean, he was living life. Then he comes here and it all goes down the drain.