NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ 2012 season is more than half-way over. With only a few races left until the Chase for the Sprint Cup, we take step back and identify some of the summer’s most surprising trends.

1. Carl Edwards is in a massive hole — and there’s no hope in sight.

Carl Edwards was 2011’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series runner up, but this year he’s mired in 11th in points. And with no wins to his name, he’d be on the outside looking in if the Chase for the Sprint Cup started today. Things are so bad that Edwards’ long-time crew chief Bob Osborne has been replaced by Chad Norris.

Edwards’ drop-off is jarring, and his runner’s up slump is akin to Denny Hamlin’s last year. To be fair to Edwards, his performance hasn’t been terrible. But simply being okay is substandard for a team who was nothing short of excellent last year.

Summer's Top 5 Surprising Drivers so Far

2. A “lame-duck” Matt Kenseth leads the points — convincingly so.

The biggest surprise of the year — bar none — was Kenseth announcing his plans to leave Roush Fenway Racing after the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Kenseth has been with the organization since 1999, and it was he who won Roush his first Sprint Cup Series championship.

Despite the contractual negotiations and subsequent announcement of his departure, Kenseth has been stellar so far in 2012. He has been dominant at the restrictor plate races, and incredibly consistent week in and week out.

That said, no one has ever won a championship after announcing his impending departure. If Kenseth and crew chief Jimmy Fennig can keep the team together, don’t be surprised if they pull it off.

(Editor’s Note: Could Kenseth’s replacement, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., be a future star? Read more>>)

3. A resurgent Kasey Kahne — who once seemed down for the count — is poised to make the Chase.

Kasey Kahne had a miserable spring in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports. He didn’t crack the top ten until the seventh race of the season — mostly because of terrible luck. After Martinsville, he was stuck 31st in points.

What a difference a couple of months make. Since then, he’s reeled off 10 top 10s, including two big wins which have positioned him to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. As I previously wrote, Kahne’s resurgence and streaky tendencies make him a dark horse to win it all.

4. Brad Keselowski’s success is no fluke.

Brad Keselowski’s first full season with Penske Racing in 2010 was forgettable at best. He finished 25th in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points with only two top tens. But in the second half of 2011, he roared back with three wins and surged to make the Chase. He ultimately finished fifth in the standings, a turnaround as dramatic (if not more so) as Tony Stewart’s.

Many wondered if Keselowski’s success was a fluke. But so far in 2012, he’s proven the doubters wrong. He sits 10th in Sprint Cup Series standings with three wins — tied for most in the series. And in an organization rocked with turmoil (see #5 below), Keselowski has been a stabilizing force. Who would have thought it a couple of years ago when he was the Nationwide Series’ public enemy number one?

5. A.J. Allmendinger’s season couldn’t have gotten any worse — then it did.

The other half of Penske Racing is not so impressive. A.J. Allmendinger was already having a disappointing 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Season so far. Expectations were high because he had a solid 2011 with less competitive Richard Petty Motorsports.

In 2012, though, Allmendinger has struggled. He has only three top tens (in a car that won twice in 2011 with Kurt Busch), and he seemed to have squandered his big opportunity. Then came the infamous positive drug test. Now, he’s serving an indefinite suspension.

Even if his suspension is revoked, don’t expect Allmendinger to find success this year — and don’t be surprised if someone else is in the “double deuce” in 2013.

(Source for statistics:

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Bill Sutton
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Summer’s Top 5 Surprising Drivers so Far