HAMPTON, GA – As the opening of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season approaches with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26, Atlanta Motor Speedway President and General Manager Ed Clark went on the record to give his annual thoughts about the upcoming NASCAR season.
Here are Ed's eight predictions for the 2012 season:
Wins in 2012 will matter even more than they did last season. "Wins mattered a lot in 2011, but they will matter even more in 2012. Consistency was the norm for so long but the whole paradigm has changed to where you have got to run for the win. Because wins are going to mean so much and based on last year's results, you've got to run for the win instead of just a decent finish. It's more and more become the norm and that's something that's going to be a huge interest to fans because that's what they wanted to see all along."
Consequently, 2011 saw a champion in Tony Stewart that won the title by winning races. That's going to be a must again in 2012.
"Tony Stewart won the championship because he won races in the Chase. Anybody who wants to win the championship in 2012 will have to do that again."
Dodge will contend for its first Sprint Cup Championship in several years with Brad Keselowski. "You are going to see a Dodge as a contender for the Sprint Cup Championship right to the very end with Brad Keselowski. Keselowski is going to have a multiple win season again. I think he's got the stuff to be a two-time or three-time champion. He is destined for a big time year. I think to do what he did in his second year was remarkable. Dale Earnhardt was a rookie in 1979 and won the championship in his second year. Good drivers don't take long to get to the top."
Speaking of championships, Carl Edwards will finally claim his first Sprint Cup title in 2012. "Carl Edwards is already one of the most determined guys to ever drive a car in NASCAR. You know he's thinking about the end to 2011 every waking moment. He won't forget what happened last year and he won't let that happen again. You don't want to be in his way because he's going to the front."
As a top-ranked Googled athlete, Danica Patrick will bring a new wave of media interest to the sport. "Aside from bringing new media attention to NASCAR, Danica Patrick is going to have some competitive runs. She's going to surprise a lot of people with some good runs. She's going to be in good equipment and she's going to be working with good people, including Tony Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli."
With championship-winning crew chief Darian Grubb calling the shots, fellow Virginian Denny Hamlin will win five races and be a title contender. "After last season, Darian Grubb has something to prove. And Denny Hamlin still wants to make up for his heartbreaking end to the 2010 season. Grubb's impact will be immediately visible."
Michael Waltrip Racing will win multiple races. "Michael Waltrip Racing has every opportunity, with the new driver and crew lineups, to win races and compete at the front of the field on a regular basis. Many people may be questioning Clint Bowyer's decision to move to the No. 15 car, but he could be a dark-horse Chase contender."
2011 set new records for first-time winners and most winners in a season. 2012 will feature fewer winners and more multiple-race winners. "2012 will see fewer overall winners and more drivers winning multiple races. There will be more drivers winning two to three races and fewer drivers who win a single race. This is no surprise since last year saw so many different winners, and this year will see an even higher premium on winning for points positioning."