12: AJ Allmendinger: The Dinger finally has found a good situation. He inherits the number 22 Shell/Pennzoil ride from Penske after Kurt Busch left the team. It’s the first time in his short Sprint Cup career that Allmendinger has had a good car and a team that isn’t on the verge of bankruptcy. He has come close to winning a race before, but hasn’t come through. I expect AJ to win at Dover in June, and win another race before the cutoff race at Richmond to get himself the last wildcard spot.
11: Paul Menard: Paul got himself his first win in the Brickyard 400 last year and was able to contend for the Chase, but the wheels fell off right after. This year things will be different. Paul will double his win total from last year and take the first wildcard spot.
10: Denny Hamlin: Hamlin will rebound from last year, and probably win a few races, but won’t truly contend for the title, even with his new crew chief Darian Grubb.
9: Brad Keselowski: Brad will make the Chase again to prove that 2011 wasn’t a fluke, but won’t be as strong this year as he was last year.
8: Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Dale will make the Chase again, and contend to win a few races, but the losing streak will continue.
7: Carl Edwards: Most people will probably expect Carl Edwards to compete for the championship again, maybe even be stronger than he was last year, but I expect Edwards, Osborne, and the rest of the team to struggle much in the same way that Hamlin struggled in 2011 after just missing the title in 2010. He won’t struggle as Hamlin did last year, but he also will not repeat last year’s performance.
6: Kyle Busch: Kyle will once again have a great regular season, but fall apart once the Chase starts. He can obviously win, and win often, but those wins will not come after race 27.
5: Matt Kenseth: Kenseth will contend for most of the Chase just like in 2011, but will slip out of contention at Phoenix again. Hopefully this year it isn’t because he gets wrecked in retaliation again though.
4: Jeff Gordon: Gordon will also not be in contention come Homestead, but will have a better Chase than last season.
3: Jimmie Johnson: Jimmie’s 2011 Chase did not end the way he wanted it to. As Jeff Gluck said, Johnson now has the title of “former” ahead of “5-time champion” and I’m sure that aggravates him. 5-time will be in contention at Homestead, but won’t become “6-time” this year.
2: Tony Stewart: Smoke will follow up last year’s amazing championship season with a runner-up finish this year.
1: Kevin Harvick: Happy will finally win his first Sprint Cup Series championship. He has finished third the last two seasons and has won a total of seven races combined over that time, but that is not good enough for Harvick and the 29 team and they know that. Harvick is now matched up with Shane Wilson, who was the crew chief for Harvick in the Nationwide Series when he won the 2006 championship. Wilson and Harvick will recreate their 2006 magic.