Choosing the Chase: Skirts and Scuffs editors predict the Top 12 in 2012

Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR
Each year the women of Skirts and Scuffs predict the title winners in all three series, but we've never taken a shot at predicting the entire Chase field. Today our editors share their picks for the top 10 in points and the two wildcard positions. So in no particular order (neither the drivers nor the editors), here are our contenders for the 2012 Sprint Cup title.

Did we get it right? Leave your comments below. 

Rebecca Kivak:

Picks: Harvick, Johnson, Edwards, Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Stewart, Keselowski, Kahne, Allmendinger

Wildcard: Gordon, Hamlin

Kevin Harvick is my pick to win the Sprint Cup title, but he'll have to battle five-time champion Jimmie Johnson for the trophy. It'll be a good year for Hendrick Motorsports - with the addition of Kasey Kahne to the stable, all four drivers will make the Chase. Kahne's long-term future is set with Hendrick; having that stability will give him confidence and lead him to victory lane. This may sound surprising, but I see Jeff Gordon as a wildcard - he'll have the wins but not the consistency. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will build on last year's progress with crew chief Steve Letarte, and yes, folks, the winless streak ends this year. Reigning champion Tony Stewart is a shoo-in, but I don't see him having the incredible hot streak he did last year in those final 10 races. With Stewart's former crew chief Darian Grubb now at Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin will make the field, but as a wildcard - he'll have the wins but may lack consistency. Kyle Busch is ready to move on from the scandals of 2011; paring down his racing schedule will help him do that. Roush Fenway will carry its strength from last season into this year, so Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth are locks. I think Greg Biffle will improve over last year but will fall short, allowing Penske's newest face AJ Allmendinger to make the Chase. Now top dog at Penske, Brad Keselowski carries the momentum from 2011 into this year.

Amanda Ebersole:

Picks: Edwards, Stewart, Johnson, Harvick, Gordon, Keselowski, Kenseth, Biffle, Kyle Busch, Allmendinger

Wildcard contenders: Burton, Hamlin, Kahne, Newman

The Hendrick Motorsports camp is a lock - who in their camp is more difficult to say. A lot of faith is being put in Kasey Kahne in just his first season, but I am tending to err on the side of caution with this prediction. I believe Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are in for the Chase. Roush Fenway was oh so close with Carl Edwards in 2011 - "it was a tie dammit"- and I expect nothing less then a repeat performance for this season. I honestly expect all three RFR cars to make the Chase. Richard Childress Racing is an ever-present Chase staple: Kevin Harvick occupied third place for two years in a row, lock him into the Chase. Teammate Jeff Burton is a wildcard for me. I need to see some steady performances this season before I can lock him in. Penske Racing's new dynamic duo looks great in preseason testing and after the success of Keselowski in 2011, I think Allmendinger will be following that same path. Finally, the Stewart-Haas teammates of Tony Stewart (who is a lock) and Ryan Newman are contenders for the championship.

Lisa Janine Cloud:

Picks: Harvick, Kyle Busch, Gordon, Johnson, Kahne, Edwards, Keselowski, Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Newman

Wildcard Contenders: Spot 1 - Kenseth, Hamlin; Spot 2 - Biffle, Truex, Allmendinger

As I stated in my championship picks, I believe that Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch will battle to the end, though after the way Busch drove in the Shootout, I'm not sure I made the right choice for ultimate winner. Beyond that, I think it's  the usual suspects with a couple of new faces. The House of Hendrick should all make the Chase. Only bad luck would keep Roush Fenway's consistent fraternal twins Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth out of the running, though perhaps Kenseth might falter under the pressure of sponsorship concerns. I'm betting that SHR's offseason changes bring more consistency to the defending champion and company. Brad Keselowski's newly-discovered leadership skills and AJ Allmendinger's experience should blend well, so I see Keselowski solidly in the Chase with Allmendinger as a contender for a wildcard spot. Greg Biffle's due a good season and he looked strong in Daytona qualifying, but he'll have to step up his game not to be outraced by Dinger and Denny. Hamlin may surprise me and place higher but I just don't see the non-Busch JGR teams improving much this season. Finally, I think Martin Truex Jr. could finally have the support system he needs to have a break-out season for MWR, maybe even good enough to claw his way into the top 12.

Katy Lindamood:

Picks: Keselowski, Johnson, Harvick, Stewart, Edwards, Biffle, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Kahne,  Kenseth

Wildcard: Earnhardt Jr., Bowyer

Moving to Hendrick Motorsports, Kasey Kahne finally has stability and solid equipment under him. While he may not be the eventual title winner, Kahne will be under the spotlight in 2012 and is a shoo-in for the Chase. HMS teammates Dale Jr. and Jimmie Johnson will also make the field, but Earnhardt will have to rely on wins to get in as consistency will remain an issue for the No. 88. Limiting his schedule to only a partial Nationwide Series ride and lessons learned in 2011 will see Kyle Busch finally capitalize on his Chase berth with at least one win in the final 10 races while teammate Denny Hamlin will rebound from a dismal 2011 with the help of a new crew chief. Jeff Burton will once again miss out on the fun, but Kevin Harvick will be back and in fighting form as he hopes to break his streak of third-place finishes. Edwards and Kenseth will share the name “Mr. Consistency” in 2012 but the driver who will fly under the radar is Greg Biffle. A new crew chief in the form of Steve Addington will help Stewart in his efforts to become a four-time title winner, but don't expect him to turn on the heat until at least halfway through the season. Bowyer may be a long shot for the title, but he's a proven winner who now has a place to shine. It might take a wildcard, but don't count him out just yet. Keselowski's made it his mission to be the first driver to bring the Cup title home to Penske Racing and this might be his best opportunity to prove he's not a one-hit wonder.

Kristina LaFountain:

Picks: Edwards, Johnson, Stewart, Kenseth, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Newman, Keselowski, Earnhardt Jr., Gordon

Wildcard: Kahne, Hamlin

Much of the 2012 Chase lineup will remain the same as the 2011 season. Team Hendrick will dominate as all four drivers (Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne) will make an appearance. I see Johnson making a comeback because it's not like him to stay out of the spotlight. Earnhardt will find himself competing for the title once more, although it won't come easy without a win (or a few) under his belt. There has been much speculation surrounding Kahne and whether his stability with Hendrick will be enough to put him in contention for the title in just his first season driving for HMS. Talent and a new team will likely be enough to earn him a wildcard spot, but I think it will take him another year of adjusting in order to really compete for the championship.

A notable change in the lineup will be Kyle Busch, who has obvious talent as seen through past performances and most recently, his driving in the Bud Shootout in which he was able to get around defending champ Tony Stewart at the last possible second to pull out a win. As long as he is able to put aside the shenanigans, 2012 is looking like a good year for Busch. After two difficult seasons, Denny Hamlin will finally be ready to make his comeback, driving under new crew chief Darian Grubb, who helped Stewart earn his title as the 2011 Sprint Cup Champion. Grubb also led Johnson to a Daytona 500 win as an interim crew chief. Although I don't see a championship just yet, I definitely think the change in leadership will help Hamlin earn a wild card spot. Meanwhile, I think the change in leadership may have the opposite effect on Stewart. With Steve Addington (former crew chief for Kyle Busch) as his new crew chief, I think the relationship may take some getting used to; however, with momentum from his 2011 championship win and coming in to 2012 with something to prove, Stewart will definitely make a Chase appearance.
Choosing the Chase: Skirts and Scuffs editors predict the Top 12 in 2012 Choosing the Chase: Skirts and Scuffs editors predict the Top 12 in 2012 Reviewed by Admin on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 Rating: 5